Today's IT world, with its constant whirlwind of activity, can make it very difficult to take any amount of time to catch your breath, focus on your own career plan, and take the steps you need to reach your personal goals. That being said, it is possible to incorporate things into your day-to-day activities that can help set you apart from the rest, and get you that promotion you've been working so hard for!
Below are seven traits that IT managers look for, both in the people they want on their teams and in the people they are looking to promote.
1. Love What You Do
This one is, hands down, the most important trait I look for in people I want to add to my team, as well as the people I'm looking to promote. Without it, everything else isn't going to happen, so you might as well start here. The reality is, in IT things move too fast for managers to focus on those who aren't really loving what they do and looking to really give their all to the role that they are in. We rely on our people to think on their feet, to come up with and provide solutions quickly and efficiently. I have yet to meet someone who can pull this off in a position that they view as "just a day job". If you aren't loving what you do, then you owe it to yourself, your team, and your boss to take a long, hard look at what it is you really want to do, and then do it; even if that means a change in career paths.
2. Own Your Current Role
There is a huge difference between someone who's performing their job function and someone who is "owning" their current role. When you own your role, you are fully accountable, fully engaged, and 100% committed to doing everything within your power to ensure the best possible outcome. And believe me: Your boss knows the difference.
When you own your role, you are executing with a level of gumption that shows your teammates, as well as your boss, that you are in this to win... not just on a good day, but every day, regardless of what obstacles may come up. When obstacles do come up, you are on the front line, tackling them with your team, and you come out with a plan of attack... and most of the time, it works. Even when it doesn't, you still keep moving forward, you learn from it, and you come up with a better solution next time.
Your activities are intentional and well thought out, and you are self-motivated to do whatever it takes, to get the job done, and to do it well, most of the time with little to no direction.
3. Own Your Career Growth
It's important to remember that your manager is there to help facilitate your personal growth and to provide opportunities for advancement. It is not their job to advance your career for you. Recognizing that you alone are responsible for your career advancement can be incredibly empowering and can be just the kick in the pants you need to have that conversation with the boss about where you see yourself going, and work with them on figuring out what steps you need to take to get there.
The reality is that good managers want to see their employees grow and succeed in their careers. Making them a partner in helping you reach your goals instead of looking to them to lay out your path for you tells your boss that you know what you want, and that you are committed to activities that will help you reach those goals.
4. Think Outside The Box
The world of IT thrives on innovation more than ever before. The ability to come up with creative solutions to complex problems is essential for a team's ability to evolve, adapt, and keep up with the demands that are placed on it every single day. This past year, I experienced this firsthand when one of my teams was blindsided by last-minute software changes that were done on a system that we had direct dependencies on for our product line and would require a large development effort, as well as testing effort, to turn around a fix. The large scope of work, combined with an extremely tight deadline that could not be changed, was the perfect storm with a very low likelihood of success. After the team sat down and went through a number of options, the team realized that the only way to possibly pull out a win on this scenario was to pull in some help from outside of the teams we were currently using. With the help of these outside resources going above and beyond to help the greater team succeed, we were not only able to meet our deadline but met it with a couple of days to spare. Ultimately the project was a great success, and I eventually promoted one of the external team members who helped onto my team as a result of their efforts.
This ability to tackle issues from different vantage points, looking at both short-term and big-picture goals, and using that information to drive your personal activities and serve as an influence to the larger team by bringing ideas to the table, is a trait that will quickly earn the respect of your peers and the larger organization alike.
5. If You Don't Know It, Learn It
When I attended college back in the '90s, one of my professors at the time gave some great advice that I have kept at the forefront of my mind for my entire career. He said, "Guys, the world of IT is constantly changing, constantly evolving. If you want to be a part of it, and be successful, one of the most important things you need to realize is that you will never be done learning. Whether it's tech magazines, books, online, or other avenues, you MUST keep your skills current and relevant, or you will quickly become obsolete!"
The term "Google it" really does apply here and, if you haven't made it part of your toolkit yet, you need to add it today. Don't wait for your manager to ask you; make it part of your daily routine to learn something new on a regular basis, especially as it relates to the work you are currently doing or the challenges you are facing. In the era of blogging and tech-worthy news that can be found on sites like LinkedIn and wired.com, people love to share their thoughts, ideas, and real-world experience with the world. This information is at your fingertips 24 hours a day and can really help give you an edge on how you look at the technology you are working with.
Investing in yourself by researching new technologies, even if it's on your own time outside of work hours, will help you feel more confident in the ideas you present, and the contributions you make to your team and your company. It also shows your boss that you care about the industry you are a part of, and you understand the importance of evolving with it to meet the constantly changing demands.
6. Build Relationships
Yes, IT is about moving bits and bytes around, but your success will be very limited if you aren't building relationships with the people around you. Ultimately, the human element is what makes or breaks the success of any IT project, and in order to succeed and grow, you must be able to communicate and interact with the people around you— your peers, your customers, and yes, even your boss. If you aren't able to do this, eventually you become the weak link in the chain, and it will show in your day-to-day activities.
Building and maintaining these healthy relationships establishes trust between people and teams and creates an environment where teams become greater than the individual, which is a critical component to a successful IT organization. I can't tell you how many times I've seen teams pull together when difficult obstacles come up, and as a group, they were able to pull together and make the impossible possible. It's this type of synchronicity that allows a team to run like a well-oiled machine. Making this a priority in your day-to-day interactions will demonstrate to your boss that you recognize that you will always be stronger as a team, and that you are committed to being a part of that type of an environment.
7. Know When and How to Say "No"
A key quality in advancement is having a really good understanding of how to prioritize tasks you are assigned and, yes, even when to start saying "no" to new tasks so that you continue to be successful.
Chances are, at some point you are going to become the "go-to guy" and, despite your best efforts, will be in a situation where there simply aren't enough hours in the day to complete everything you've been tasked with. As an IT manager, I'll be the first to admit that there are times when we aren't so great at recognizing this, not for lack of trying, but simply because it's nearly impossible for a manager to keep track of every request that's being asked of every single member of their team.
If you find yourself in this position, the worst possible thing you can do is to simply start saying "no" to any new request, or worse, agree to more tasks, and then not deliver on what you've agreed to. Both of these not only add up to a very frustrating situation for you but can also have adverse effects on your relationships and reputation.
Instead, it's important to recognize when you are starting to get to that overburdened point, before you actually reach that point. This allows you the opportunity to sit down with your boss, be open with him about what items are currently on your plate and why you are unable to take on additional items, and then work together on either re-prioritizing activities or redistributing the work to other teams. This not only results in less frustration for you, but also sets you apart as someone who recognizes their limits and, more importantly, understands the importance of communicating those limits in a way that allows you and the team to continue to be successful, without ever using the word "no."
Western Governors University is a nonprofit, accredited, online university. WGU offers bachelor's and master's online degree programs in IT. Find out more about WGU's degree programs in Information Technology.
Gwen Dobson is a mom first, a working professional and lifelong student second, with a lifelong passion for technology and the teams that work with it. With over 17 years of experience in the industry, she has led and worked with teams in IT Support and Software Engineering and Quality for companies in the financial sector, as well as in both K-12 and higher education. She currently works as an IT Director of Software Quality for Pearson. She's also currently a student at Western Governors University, finishing her degree in IT Business Management. When she's not in front of a computer, she can be found hanging out with her family, running in the mountains near her home, or capturing moments on her camera… and sometimes, on special occasions, she may even sit down for a few minutes to capture her thoughts and meanderings in words. You can find her on Google.