Why The 3 Rs Are Still Vital To Job Advancement

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There was a time in our country when the so-called '3 Rs'Readin', 'Riting', and 'Rithmetic were the backbone of our educational system. The theory was that if a person could read, write and "do sums", that person could get a decent job, make an honest living, and learn anything else that he or she might ever need to know. But as time went by the world became much more technical. There was too much to learn. The basics seemed insufficient. The world progressed into the Machine Age followed by the Computer Age and the 3 Rs no longer seemed relevant. Unless you were one of a handful of geniuses that designed the machines and computers, you were told don't worry about it. The machine will do your work and the computer will do your thinking. Want a good and secure job? Get a CNE or an MCSE, or better yet, one of each. The world will beat a path to your door. Feel the need to get ahead in your job? Add some Cisco certifications or some other high-end technology and someone will promote you and give you a raise. Now we have once again come full circle. Wages in many areas of IT have stagnated. A help desk analyst today is being hired at approximately the same wages, perhaps less, than they would have been a few years ago. Likewise, the person whose job it is to sit in a server room and monitor event logs. Many IT professionals develop a feeling of being a nameless, faceless cog in the enterprise network, much as did the assembly line workers of an earlier generation. Many also have a perception that they are qualified for greater responsibility but can't attract the attention of anyone who matters.
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So does this mean that IT has now become a dead end career path? Hardly. What it really means is that corporate executives are looking for more, a lot more, out of those in the IT ranks who are going to move up the ladder. It is no longer enough to know Windows OS; too many users are power users and believe they know Microsoft products as well as help desk analysts. Knowing how to say, "shut down and reboot" is not enough any longer. Instead, in addition to the technical knowledge, and if anything, broader and deeper technical knowledge, the key to getting ahead in the IT game lies in going back to the 3 Rs.

Reading: The person who gets recognized will be the person who readsand I don't mean the guy reading the DaVinci Code on his lunch hour. I mean the person who is constantly staying abreast of industry trends. This is the person who can step up when the IT director or CIO says; "We may be vulnerable in some areas. Does anyone know what is state-of-the-art when it comes to intrusion detection?" Or, "The board wants to know if this SOA is worth anything to our enterprise but I don't have time to look into it. Who around here is a good researcher?" Or, as my son the college professor tells his students, "One day your boss is going to throw some books on your desk and say 'read these over the weekend and give me your assessment'." Writing: It isn't enough to have read it in most cases. One must be able to articulate it and do so in writing. Imagine you are bright professional, eager to get ahead (and I am sure you are). Now imagine one of the above scenarios. You hear what your boss is tasked to do and you walk in his office and start spewing all of the material you have been reading on the subject. You sound great and assume that the boss will now see you as an SME (Subject Matter Expert). Instead he glances nervously at his watch as you continue to drone on and finally dismisses you with a comment along the lines of, "Gee that sounds great. Uh remind me sometime and we will talk in more detail." You think you are delivering value; the boss thinks you are prattling on and wasting time. Now see what happens when you approach it this way: you walk into the boss' office with a well written proposition and say, "On that subject you mentioned last week, I put some thoughts together over the weekend. You are welcome to use them if you find them helpful." WarningDanger Will Robinson If you do this, it had better be accurate, cohesive, and flawless in grammar and spelling. Otherwise, you may as well put on an "I'm with Stupid" shirt with the arrow pointing to yourself. Rithmetic: Here is where we truly separate the wheat from the chaff. Take accounting classes to understand costing and cost justifications. Here is what happens every day in corporate America. The CEO meets with CIO and discusses the need for disaster recovery and business continuity plans. (And, for goodness sake, don't say, "We back up all of our data every night." That isn't even a good beginning and the CEO knows itcontrary to conventional wisdom, CEOs do not get where they are by being stupid). Now understand, the CEO hates this conversation because he already perceives IT as a money pit of geeks who will spend the company into bankruptcy because they are never satisfied with the systems they have. The CIO passes this baby down the line until it finally lands in your lap. This is your chance to shine. You sit up nights doing the research; you spend your weekends writing the mother of all reports. You lovingly deliver 82 bound copies to the CIO who thumbs through them and mumbles, "nice work" as he puts the whole stack on his credenza. The next meeting he has with the CEO, he takes a copy with him and on his way out, leaves it as an afterthought. The CEO scans it quickly and shouts to no one in particular, "damn that is a lot of money." No one sees your report again until you produce your own copy after the building burns down and nobody knows how to restart the business. Now turn back the clock and rewrite it. This time you avoid the temptation to load it with IT jargon that requires a CIS degree to understand. (This step alone eliminates several pages of mumbo jumbo). Instead you tell a cogent story and you load it with numbers that CEOs and CFOs, the people who write checks understand. "Here is the probable response from Wall Street in the event of an unprotected disaster: Don't worry about restarting the business; our stock will have already been downgraded to junk status." (Yes, in your reading, you better get a grasp of how business works). "This is the potential liability from regulatory agencies, stockholder suits, etc. etc." (For example, if you are a bank, the Fed requires certain things from the institution, come hell or high water). Now lay out a concise plan that covers these contingencies. Explain how much better your insurance carriers, your bankers, and other stakeholders are going to like the organization for its planning effort. Poke into the organization and the IT budget and help uncover not only the justification, but also dollars in the budget to implement your plan. Again, you give it to your boss. A few days later he stops by your cube and tells you to put on your emergency tie and meet him in the boardroom. The big boys have some questions for you. (Fortunately for you, for the sake of your career you gave up baggy Dockers, your favorite unwashed sneakers, and concert shirts a long time agoyou are even smart enough to keep a blazer in the closet). Off to the boardroom you go where you dazzle them with your understanding of their problems, their issues, and their business. As you exit the room, you hear the CEO ask the CIO, "Can that guy manage the implementation of this plan?" Fortunately again for you, in your insatiable quest for knowledge, you also included some material from PMI, so, instead of paying $400 an hour to some outside consultant who doesn't understand your company's business model, you get to run with the ball. At this point, due solely to your commitment to the 3Rs, you are now walking around with a sign on you that says, "Keep an eye on this guy. He is an up and coming corporate superstar." By the way, if you take this approach, heed one warning: Your phone is going to ring off the hook with calls from recruiters and executive search firms. "They tell me you are the guy who spearheaded (insert here whatever it is you did). Soon word leaks that the other team is courting you. Only now, instead of the response being, "Who cares?", the response is, "Oh noWhat will it take it take to keep him?" All in all, not a bad career position in which to find yourself. The generation that preceded mine had a favorite song, "School Days," wherein the 3 Rs were "Taught to the tune of a hickory stick". Today the new 3 Rs are taught to the tune of "revitalize your stagnating career." Other recent articles from TechCareers Career Profile: Mark Slaga, Dimension Data CTO Why You Need To Map Out Your Value Proposition Before Seeking That Next Job
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