Confessions of an IT Pro: Precious Ideas Will Hold You Back
Unlike being a lawyer or a doctor, IT has a number of entry points. Some go to school. Some convert their passion from childhood into a career. And some, like software professional Jer Lance, initially get their training and expertise through military service. We spoke with Lance about his roles spanning education, management and software development and what he’s learned over that time.
Q: How did you start your career? And how important do you think education and certifications were for you?
A:Lance started from non-traditional beginnings. “My civilian career I started right out of the army, and probably got hired because I was in the army,” Lance says. “From there I was able to branch out and do all of the other things I’ve been able to do in my career.” This path has also influenced his management style. “I kind of have something of a soft spot for people that haven’t yet done the school thing.”
As for formal education and certifications, Lance identifies both of these as largely overvalued, but not useless. “Far more important is the ability to learn stuff and, honestly, to self-educate. If the only way you can learn is through a formalized education programs, it’s going to make learning all the new skills you have to constantly learn in your career more difficult.” However, as a former adjust professor, Lance knows formal education has value. “The college degree is an absolute requirement for some people… but the fact that some of us aren’t that person doesn’t make us inferior.”
Q: What are your feelings about the ethics of employee tracking? How far should companies go?
A: Lance’s thoughts on the subject might seem counter to one another at first glance. “I think that for most companies in modern times it’s a necessity,” he says. “What they do with it, on the other hand, should be handled with a soft touch.” Lance feels companies have an obligation to customers to protect their Personally Identifiable Information (PII). But tracking someone’s usage of non-work essential apps, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, isn’t necessary. He points out that a “problem will percolate to the surface in a much more important way if the employee isn’t delivering.”
Q: What do you with non-IT employees knew?
A: “People see IT jobs as magical cash dispensers,” Lance says. In reality, it’s about doing what you love. He acknowledges that you can make a good living in IT if it’s something you love doing, but “if you really wish you could build houses and you take a computer job because you want to want to make an extra $5,000 a year, you’re doing yourself a disservice for a moderate amount of money.”
Q: What is the craziest technical support issue you or your team has ever had to deal with?
A: “I don’t know about craziest, but the one that took us the longest to solve with the smallest payoff was one of the most entertaining stories I had for a long time,” Lance says. While in the military his team had point-to-point Wi-Fi that used large microwave dishes for communications. Every weekday, at nearly the same time, it would have terrible performance issues. They couldn’t find the problem, despite “reading the entire, at the time, 100-page long Internet.” One day, Lance was outside and noticed some members of the motor pool stacking cans on a table. The cans would explode when stacked in front of the giant network dish. The activity lined up, perfectly, with the timing of their network issues. “They were permanently frying [themselves] to blow up cans!”
Q: What is the most valuable skill an IT professional should have?
A: There are a million different important things he could think of, but one in particular floated to the top -- the ability to not be “precious with your ideas”. By that he means being able to turn your back on an idea that you love because someone else has a better idea. This is one lesson that has benefited him throughout his career, including as a manager and developer. Hearing someone else’s thoughts on a problem and then executing on those ideas instead of clinging to his own has made him a better leader. And when it comes to development, Lance says, “the day I was willing to take code that I labored over for a week and delete the whole mess and start from scratch again… is the day I became a better developer.”
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