Let’s face it… most technical people did not get into their fields because of their love of communicating. It is not uncommon to see IT pros (and developers) avoid communications with non-technical people, often shying away from any human contact whatsoever. The ultimate portrayal of this was Sandra Bullock’s character in the 1995 movie The Net. Angela Bennett went away on vacation, then came home to an extreme case of identity theft… and nobody could vouch for her because as a shut-in nobody could really identify her.
Of course, that is an extreme case, and most of us are not like that. However if you were to ask one hundred IT professionals to list the three most important skills they need in their jobs, communications would likely not rank in the top ten. The problem is, most of them would be wrong.
We communicate with others in myriad ways, and in a lot of jobs where good communications may not seem important they really could make our jobs easier. Imagine the following scenario:
You are the systems administrator for a small company with 30 users. You have to apply a server patch that will bring the company’s primary systems down for twenty minutes, and it cannot be done outside of business hours. It can go two ways:
1) You say nothing. When the systems go down people start complaining, and you tell them that the systems will go back up in twenty minutes. You spend the entire twenty minutes fielding these calls, getting yelled at, and being told that you are preventing important work from getting done. It reflects poorly on your co-workers’ impressions of you… and on your job performance.
2) In preparation for the outage you send a company-wide e-mail apologizing for the predicted downtime, and tell your co-workers that between the hours of 12:00 and 12:20 the systems will be down, and if there is any critical reason that this time slot needs to be changed, please reply. As it happens the Sales Manager is hosting a group of potential customers for a lunch, and will need to demonstrate the company’s abilities during that time frame, so you reschedule it (communicated) to 3:00 to 3:20. At 2:45 you send out another e-mail reminded. At 3:00 the entire company seems to be congregating in the cafeteria for their snack break, and are chatting about… anything, but not about you.
Do you see the difference? The quick e-mail prevented you from looking like a bum. Don’t get me wrong, nobody is going to see you as a hero – that is seldom how sysadmins are seen – but it is better that they don’t see you as the enemy.
In the first scenario you are at risk of losing your job. Imagine if the company brought in those clients, and because of you the Sales Manager only had ‘Server Not Available’ to show? Imagine the Sales Manager then going to the president of the company and telling him that the company lost a major sale because of you. If you don’t think that is going to reflect poorly on you then you are just wrong. And by the way, this is when the Sales Manager says to the president something like ‘You know, I have a cousin who graduated from ITT Technical Institute, and just finished an internship at a company a lot like ours… He would be a great replacement for your current guy.’
If you think those conversations don’t happen then you are fooling yourself. We live in a cutthroat world and everyone is trying to get ahead. Sending that e-mail could in some cases save your bacon… even though you don’t think communications are important.
There was a time when we were seen as wizards, and everything we did behind the curtains was secretive and magical. Guess what: our profession has become demystified, and nobody thinks we are irreplaceable and nobody thinks that we are magical. Smart? Yes, we still have that going for us. But everyone knows someone smarter… or smart enough.
I have been blogging for a decade and was a writer for a decade before that… but I still used to belong to the ‘let them eat cake’ school of IT administration. And then I got wise… the five minutes it takes to send that e-mail – at the possible cost of having to reschedule whatever it is that I am doing – has probably saved my job or contract on several occasions. Remember it… because e-mails are easy and job hunting sucks.