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A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

The Rules

May 14, 2004

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As I move through my high-tech career, a series of rules have developed over time. Sometimes it is a rule for how to go about solving a particular technical problem. Other rules deal with how I work (and play) with those around me. Whatever the focus, though, these rules were not developed at some high-level strategy meeting. They were developed over time, layer by layer, like an oyster develops a pearl. This has many advantages. Instead of being based on some ideal goal and purpose, these rules have developed out of the day-to-day reality of working in a high-tech career. In no particular order, here are the rules that I find myself living with on a daily basis. Your list will certainly be different, but hopefully this will spur you to analyze and create one for yourself.

Choose carefully who you work for/with

One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is to be very careful in choosing your clients and your co-workers. Life is too short to be working with people you do not like. In this era of high unemployment, this might seem like an idealistic view point, but I can guarantee you that nothing will trouble your high-tech career more than working with people you don’t respect, or people that don’t respect you. One corollary to this rule is to avoid people who question your rates. Over the years I have often run into clients who attempt to get my rate lowered, sometimes substantially. If this is the first concern of the client, I can guarantee you that there will be problems in the relationship. I am not sure exactly why this occurs, but it seems to be a clear first indicator that you don’t want to work for this person. after years of suffering the consequences I know, now, to be very aware of this issue,.

Bad companies and co-workers can reveal themselves in similar ways. If you see your co-workers being abused by management, or abusing those around them, it should be clear that you don’t want to be there. Too often we go against our better judgement. If you ever feel uncomfortable you should see this as a sign that something needs more investigation. You may find that there isn’t a problem, or only a mis-understanding, but you also might find that your concerns are justified and need to be addressed.

Try the small stuff first

Too often, when dealing with a computer problem, we can jump to the drastic solutions first. If a computer is crashing, some people might start with replacing the hard disk or the memory. They might decide to reformat the hard disk and re-install Windows. While these solutions might indeed solve the problem, they are similar to using a sledgehammer to kill a spider. It is usually much better to start with the smallest change possible to effect the problem. You will find that, in many cases, you can find a solution that quickly solves the problem and gets the user back to work without resorting to major efforts.

I find that people who are new to working in high-tech are often the most likely to jump to drastic conclusions first. This is like new television of movie directors always wanting to use a crane. Sometimes the technology can be too seductive and lead us to make errors in our judgement. If you are working with new high-tech workers, your calming influence can often be the best thing for them. You can help them, and yourself, develop a “slow and steady” troubleshooting method that will serve them well long into the future.

Treat everyone equally

There is an old saw that says you can tell a lot about someone by watching how they treat the help. I am a firm believer in this. Someone who treats others badly, or treats their boss with obsequious glad-handing is revealing an important part of themselves. They think that people are something to be used and turned to their advantage, not someone to partner with for greater success. Their actions serve no one well. People who work for someone like this will feel ill-used and often look for a way to sabotage this person. The person themselves may be inclined to shade the truth, or outright lie to those above them in order to hide the truth when things go wrong. In either case, this is not someone with whom you want to be involved.

By treating everyone equally, you are sending a clear message to those around you. First, you are respecting of the work that others do for you and, more importantly, their basic dignity as a fellow human being. Secondly, people will trust you, as they can see you deliver the truth, whether it is good or bad news. These are exactly the traits others should see in you if you want to succeed in your career.

We all develop our own set of rules as we move through our careers. You should take some time to think about the rules you live with each day and remind yourself of their importance. If you ignore the wisdom you have collected over the years, you will find that it can bring harm to your career and, in some dramatic cases, bring it to an end completely.

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