IT is a demanding, ever-evolving field. In my more than 20 years of experience in IT I have learned many things. Here -- in reverse order -- are the 10 things I wish I'd known before I started an IT career:
10. Learn good troubleshooting techniques. Be prepared to troubleshoot -- in toolset and in attitude. Have the right tools in your toolkit and be sure of how to use them. And don’t cause more damage in the process. Get detailed information about the symptoms. Try to reproduce the problem, and isolate and attack one issue at a time. Repair or replace the defective system, test to ensure the fix works, and try to prevent future occurrences.
9. Not all users are created equal. In business, some employees expect a higher level of support due to their position in the organization. This can give rise to resource scheduling conflicts. For example, what should you do if the CEO calls with an issue at the same time you are working on the manufacturing line, restoring services to get a product out the door? This is where you have to weigh the needs of the one (the CEO) versus the needs of the many (customers).
8. Decide whether your skills will be broad and shallow or narrow and deep. There are many career paths in information technology. You can specialize in a specific technology or language or be a jack of all trades (JOAT in Internet-speak). Whatever you do, make sure you get the education and the support you need to be effective.
7. Communicate to those above, below, and beside you, and to those outside of IT. In other words, be prepared to communicate at the right level and understand the requirements of that communication.
6. Be a sponge. With information technology changing at such a fast pace, constant learning is crucial to remaining relevant and valued as an IT professional. Read all you can and understand what is relevant to your career and company (see No. 8).
5. Training does not make users -- or IT professionals -- smart. Users will always depend on IT to help them, even when they have been shown 20 times how to do the same task. On the other side of the fence, how many IT professionals do you know who have gone through training and certification programs and still cannot deliver expected levels of support?
4. Home technology is not equal to enterprise technology. Every IT professional’s nightmare is hearing, “Hey, I bought this cool thing last week and tried it at home and now I want to use it on the office network/PC/server.” Yes, there really is a difference between Windows 7 Home and Windows 7 Enterprise.
3. Vendors stretch the truth. You don’t have to buy top-dollar gear every time you buy something. I like this statement from Professor Ravi Sandhu of George Mason University, from a 2003 IEEE Internet Computing article: “1. Good enough is good enough. 2. Good enough always beats perfect. 3. The really hard part is determining what is good enough.” You will know you have a good vendor when they tell you, "This product performs as documented and may not be suitable for your purpose."
2. Get HELP! Learn when you have reached the limits of your capabilities. Many IT folks are driven to be the final problem solvers, but sometimes you can be a better troubleshooter when you know when and where to go for help.
1. Have FUN! Hey, geeks rule the Internet, right? Who else understands ID10T or PEBCAK errors?
[Editor's note: ID10T is a geek way of writing "idiot"; PEBCAK stands for “Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard” -- in other words, the user is an ID10T.]
— Troy Tate is IT Manager at CTS Corp. His IT certifications include CNE, CNA, Security+, and CEH.