The Questions for this quiz…
What are the largest challenges that you have faced in your career and how did you overcome those?
1) The first one of these, I still laugh at when I remember it. I got involved in the IT industry later in life than most (mid-20s) and found quickly that I had a knack for learning and applying new things quickly. I was doing tech and sysadmin work and there was an acute shortage of those skills, so I probably received more praise and recognition than I really deserved at the time. During those early days I started to imagine myself as the alpha ubergeek, and believed that I could be an expert at all things technical. I started to learn programming, jumping from C++ to Java and Perl to PHP, then onto non-Windows system administration – Linux/UNIX and even a little OS/2, and finally database administration in MySQL, Oracle, and of course SQL Server. I remember at the time thinking that I would be able to set myself apart as an expert on all these disciplines. Need an enterprise application built? I’m your guy. It’ll be a web app? That’s still me. I’m also the database guy (architect, dev, and DBA), and I’ll do the sysadmin as well. Oh, and I maintain the hardware too. I actually created a schedule that encompassed about two years, and included time for me to self-train in each of these topics. I wish I still had that schedule, which would now be good for a hardy laugh, but I can remember that I had allocated a mere three months to teach myself everything about both PHP and MySQL. This story does have a happy ending, in that I realized the absurdity of my intentions before I got myself in over my head. My youthful inexperience allowed me to convince myself that I could learn everything about everything, and could maintain this knowledge as the technologies changes. Another positive result is that my study in these other disciplines gave me a cursory understanding of other technologies to which I might not have otherwise been exposed.
Lesson Learned: Don’t try to be an expert in everything. Identify a few things that you enjoy and do well, and maximize your time in those areas.
2) This challenge is ongoing, but I’ve gotten much better at this, particularly in the past year. I’m a big believer in hard work, and I have seen that a person who learns a craft that is in demand and puts his or her nose to the grindstone will do well. However, when I think about the people that I perceive as successful, these are not people that simply work hard (although most of them do work very hard). Those who are exceptional are people-persons as well. They work to know their constituency, including executives, end users, and fellow technical staff, and are comfortable at explaining difficult concepts to all groups. They are good enough at office politics so that they are rarely blindsided. In short, these successful people have soft skills to accompany their technical prowess. One of my favorite lines used to be “I’m not a salesman, and I don’t play office politics”. However, I’ve learned that everyone has to be a salesman to some extent, even if you don’t sell anything, if for no other reason to do enough self-promotion to ensure that you don’t become an office wallflower. Office politics is not necessarily an evil thing – at its root, it’s about knowing people and understanding interpersonal dynamics.
Lesson Learned: Keep working hard, but you’ll do even better if you also spend some time talking to and getting to know the people you work with/for.