5 unusually useful office IT career tips from real CIOs

July 2, 20185 minute read

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Have you ever noticed stories about office IT problems haven’t really changed over the last 30 years?

  • Example 1: Sweat-and-prayer infrastructure since 2007. While sipping sweet tea in 2007 after a game of squash, exec Paul Lefler whined in a Harvard Business Review case study about “incompatible technology that’s held together by sweat and ingenuity and, possibly, prayer.” Lefler’s hospital went for service-oriented architecture to solve this issue, but his sweat-and-prayer patchwork sounds like a use case for cloud optimization you could find today.
  • Example 2: Not getting anything done since 1994. About 11 years ago, CIO published a credo on motivating members of your IT team to transform from “order-taker to innovator.” However, academic journals were already publishing research about managing and motivating IT staff way back in 1994. Even 24 years ago, non-technology workers didn’t understand why the IT team was always putting out office technology fires instead of innovating. Some IT problems just haven’t changed a bit.

Down with fluffy office IT career advice

You can’t throw a floppy disk at a tech summit without hitting vague career advice from someone at the top of the office technology game. You know exactly what I’m talking about. IT pros are bombarded with helpful recommendations, like:

  1. Be prepared for constant change
  2. Learn how to communicate with business teams
  3. Keep learning new skills

But assuming you’re not a completely hopeless communicator, a total change-hater, or allergic to learning—these tips don’t address the office IT issues that have plagued organizations for decades, like productivity woes and flailing interoperability. In the spirit of specific career advice you can actually put to work, we sourced Reddit and Quora for the big dogs of office technology and grilled them on what they’ve learned on their way to the top.

1. Manage people’s expectations

Your non-tech coworkers may be the IT team’s customers, but the customer isn’t always right—or, at least, not always all-knowing. Your coworker who’s wailing that their mouse is sticky doesn’t know your workload or priorities. Reddit user PaulCunningham recommends changing your coworkers’ expectations of help-desk requests, replacing, “How long will this take?” with, “When can you start working on this?”

Game changer right there. He writes:

Everyone thinks a five-minute job is a priority, because it’s just a five-minute job. But it’s unproductive to drop everything and react to someone else’s priorities all the time. [Say,] ‘I have 10 requests ahead of yours at the moment, so I expect I’ll be able to start looking at yours later today or tomorrow morning.’

2. Block off time to get things done

You’ve probably heard of the idea of blocking out time to group similar tasks and work more efficiently, but what if you literally scheduled a few hours a day into your calendar for fighting fires and other unexpected crises?

You can thank Quora user Jarno Paulamäki for the brilliant recommendation: “Mark . . . time in your calendar as busy so you won’t be dragged into some random meeting.” Tension between IT and business teams can arise when deadlines and deliveries slide. But let’s be honest—IT pros would have no problem getting stuff done ahead of deadlines if people would stop breaking things. Literally marking yourself as busy to give yourself time to deal with those breakages is solid advice.

3. Document your way to office IT domination

Documentation is time-consuming, and the last thing overworked IT pros want to be told to do is create even more documentation. However, PaulCunningham of Reddit swooped in with some boss-level money moves:

  1. Start a Wiki
  2. Make notes on the procedures you do
  3. Look for patterns in your ticketing system
  4. Document patterns in ticketed jobs, requests, faults, tasks, and to-dos
  5. Use these Wiki notes to justify everything you want and need at work

If you can consistently explain to your boss just how much time could be saved by batch-processing or automating the top three most commonly ticketed jobs based on the notes you’ve proactively taken in your professional Wiki, you can thank PaulCunningham for your new corner office.

4. Map your time sinks

Reddit user Freakin_A knows what’s up: “The more you are able to automate, the more time you will have to automate the next task.”

According to Freakin_A, the result of constant automation is eventually a snowballing free-time effect. To kick off your own automate-everything strategy, map your biggest time sinks. Try envisioning this like a treasure map but with office technology sinkholes instead of trunks of gold: X marks the clunky, unsecured office printer.

Pro Tip: Thanks to the notes in your Wiki detailing how much time you spend on reactive printer maintenance, you can justify replacing that clunker with a sleek, hacker-fighting business printer that can send proactive notifications about potential maintenance or repair needs—and even self-heal when intrusions are detected.

5. Ditch 80 percent of your work

I’ll never forget the day in computer science grad school when my professor declared all office IT pros were “terrible time managers.” Seriously? Perhaps the issue is actually our superhuman intelligence. Cara Garretson of ComputerWorld explains, “Tech professionals may find distractions particularly irksome, since they typically perform—and prefer—tasks that are logical and linear and, therefore, require blocks of uninterrupted time to complete.”

Regardless of why tasks slide sometimes, Jarno Paulamäki recommends millennial IT pros look into a time-management technique called the Pareto principal:

  1. Identify the most time-consuming 80 percent of your job that yields little returns
  2. Figure out how you can automate, ditch, or upgrade it

Go forth and solve your IT career woes

None of today’s CIOs would argue that managing business IT in 2018 is child’s play. It’s not. Even though you’re fighting hackers instead of confusing legacy ERP implementations, it’s still a cluster-clump of competing priorities and unexpected crises.

Fortunately, thanks to some great bosses on Reddit and Quora, you’re now armed with some career advice you can really put to work.

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