If there is one thing that is consistent in the world of IT, it's change. Changes come at us daily, sometimes so fast that we miss what even happened. Being in IT for over 20 years has shown me that we must not only be good at adapting to changes, but also quick to do so. If we let our guard down, we could get left behind. It's exhausting, but the challenges are very rewarding!
I started working in the industry when the 386 computer was mainstream, and the Internet as we knew it was a series of squeaks, pops and rattles followed by a friendly "Boing!" that indicated that your brand new 14.4k modem had connected to another computer and you could now download your email from UUNET. The term "Geek" was an insult, and shelling out over $100 per megabyte for a hard drive was an awesome deal!
Even before that I was spending hours upon hours typing in BASIC on my Commodore Vic20 (which still works) just to watch a square "ball" bounce across the screen. I was thrilled when I discovered the Datasette, a cassette tape drive that actually stored your programs and saved hours of typing, allowing you to instead go brew a pot of coffee, get the newspaper and read the help wanted ads while it loaded your favorite 8-bit game.
A lot has changed. I've not only survived - I’m now VP of a managed IT services company that I helped launch in the 90's, Holland Computers, Inc. So how did I do it? What is my trick to surviving in the cutthroat world of IT? I learned to adapt and I learned how to do it quickly.
Here are some of my strategies:
Stay hungry - adapting with bacon
You need a strong hunger for all things IT. Information Technology needs to be in your blood. IT needs to be your motivator and more than a job. Make a bacon sandwich with IT! You can never be satisfied that you have done it all. That kind of hunger will motivate you to do whatever it takes to stay on top of your game. If you do not have this kind of hunger, then you may as well stop reading now - you’re in the wrong industry. If you do, then read on!
Adapting by accepting challenges
There is no better way to improve your skills than to accept the job nobody wants because it is too hard. The difficulty of the job is precisely the reason you should take it. Getting your hands dirty with something you have never done before will stretch your brain. In the same way an athlete pushes themselves to go further and faster, we need to push our minds to do more and more. Build on your experiences by taking on challenges that seem familiar, but hard.
Adapting by mistake - failure is an option
There is no better way to learn a new skill than to be in a position where you may fail. This does not mean give up. It means that you must realize there may simply be some things that you are unable to do at the current time. Fearing failure is the reason many people just don't move forward. We all make mistakes; fearing failure will only serve to stop you from doing what you must in order to succeed.
If we do not fear failure, then we are in a position to learn from our mistakes. If you can learn from your mistakes, then your mistake is not really a failure, but a learning experience. Feel free to fail, but learn something from it! That way you can turn a failure into a success story.
Adapting by learning something new every day!
Just because you graduated with a degree from a top tech school, it doesn’t mean you are done learning. Being in the IT industry means that the piece of paper you earned from college is nothing more than a statement that you can learn. By the time you start applying the skills you learned in school, technology will have changed and you may be using obsolete practices. I'm not saying that a college education is a waste of time and money. I'm saying that it’s only a beginning. To adapt, you need to do more.
You don't have to learn something IT related either. The trick is to keep exercising your mind, to give it something new to digest and process. Research something interesting, write articles, do crossword puzzles. The human brain is a muscle that needs exercise, just like our bodies do.
Adapting by teaching
Output is just as important as input. I know some people that never share their experiences or knowledge for fear that someone may use it to take their job. Having this attitude dooms them to a position without a chance to be promoted and denies others of the wealth of knowledge that lives inside of them.
Share your knowledge! Doing so does more than give someone insight, it helps you recall what you have learned in the past. Many times I have done this and realized that I may have just used an experience I forgot about to solve another problem I am working on now. This is part of the reason I write my blog, https://www.xpertnotes.net. It not only helps me recall my experiences, it also documents them so I can use it as a reference and help others with the same problems.
There is no bigger satisfaction to me than seeing a light come on when I share my experiences. I love to see when someone else "gets" it. I believe that this is truly the key to my success. Because I share my knowledge, our employees stay challenged and focused. This helps to keep our company strong and able to withstand the ever-changing landscape of IT.
Adapting with hobbies
Or, as is my case, a dozen of them. And for Pete's sake, do something unrelated to IT! You need a break. You need time to relax and give your mind some rest. This is just as important as breathing. Just like you sleep to regenerate your body, your mind needs to rest once in a while to regenerate. Take up something that doesn't need a lot of brain power. I like to be outdoors. Camping, fishing and hunting allow me to shut down for a while. Then I can come back to my job with a clear mind, ready for a new week of challenges. Find something that works for you and make it a habit to spend time doing it.
Adapting by staying healthy
Let's face it, sitting behind a computer screen all day is doing nothing for our bodies. We need to move and get some exercise. You don't need a gym membership, nor do you need to take up body building. Just get off your duff once in a while and move. I take walks around our building every couple of hours and I walk when I get home. If you live close enough to work, ride a bicycle instead of driving.
Eat healthy, too! Pizza and bacon sandwiches are great in moderation, but you can't live on them. You need food that is lean and good for the brain. Find foods that help your brain, like bananas or other fruits. I'm not an expert here, as many of my friends will attest, but I do know the importance of a good diet and its effects on the brain.
I bet you thought I was going to talk about new technologies or the impact that they have on your career. That would be easy. I've been through building networks with coax cable, engineering data centers, working through the night to repair Exchange 5.5, running Bulletin Board Systems (search for "Trading Post" at http://bbslist.textfiles.com/216/ ), the rise of social media and now "cloud" computing (I chuckle every time I hear this term, hehe, somebody renamed the Internet). I can and have written many articles on all of these subjects and more. My point here is that in order to adapt, we have to discipline and take care of ourselves so that we can become future proof.
Adapting means that we make changes to ourselves to survive in our environment. We can talk tech all day long, but until you recognize your own limitations, wants and needs, you can never truly adapt.