For more than 20 years, I’ve been hearing complaints, concerns and panicked hysteria about the end of the IT career as we know it. Just below the surface, we all seem to think that we’re about to get the ax. And that’s because we persistently misunderstand what our business partners want most from us. We think they just need the best technician, but they don’t.
What they need most, now and in the future, are technical people who can communicate and collaborate with nontechnical people. Regardless of their specialty, individuals who can work across the cultural divide between geeks and nongeeks will always be highly valued and in short supply.
My business partner and I have taken to referring to these folks as “The Magical People.” Everyone knows who they are. They are the ones we in IT turn to when we really need business to understand our point of view. They are the ones business people turn to when they need jargon interpreted, or details distilled down to what’s most important. With some sort of magical, inborn translation device, they build consensus, drive decisions and get results.
What makes these people magical?
Empathy: They are able to grasp not only what business people want and need, but how they feel. They can sense the emotional state of others and reflect that awareness back in ways that make others feel understood.
Flexible perspectives: They appreciate that no one holds the ultimate truth regarding a certain situation; they know that an issue can be validly viewed from many perspectives. And they can place themselves in other people’s shoes, imagining the ideas, constraints and feelings that others must have.
Flexible communication: They adapt their style of communication to match the needs of each audience. They are able to make themselves understood by many different types of people.
Understanding: They use their flexible perspectives and empathy to understand what other people consider important. They can communicate what’s important to both IT and the business in order to reconcile priorities and feelings.
So how do you become more magical? You need to change your perspective on what counts as work. Engineers usually think their work is creating technology. It is, but there’s much more to it. Your job is to apply your knowledge to improve the condition of your organization and users. If you want to figure out what will be most helpful, you need to forge collaborative relationships with those you want to help.
You can start building those relationships by recognizing that nontechnical people don’t think the same way we do. The reason our partnerships flounder is not because nongeeks don’t understand technology, but because we each see the world in radically different ways. So we need to set aside judgments in order to be more empathetic and loosen up our idea that there is only one right way to approach a problem.
So if you want to secure your career, focus on becoming more magical rather than more technical. Technologies come and go, but the ability to connect business and technical people will always be the rarest and most valuable skill you can offer. We geeks have precious insight into what’s possible and feasible; business people are responsible for knowing what’s important to the business. Geeks and nongeeks will have to work together to find the intersection of “what’s possible” and “what’s important,” so that together we can determine “what’s next.”
Copyright 2011 by Computerworld Inc., One Speen Street, Framingham, MA, 01701. Reprinted by permission of Computerworld. All Rights Reserved.
For more information about how you can leverage geeks to get the technology you want, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 310-694-0450.