Signs You've Hit Your Stride In IT

You work hard, you work harder, and then you get a montage. The montage starts when you get hit in the face with a pizza by the other engineers on your team. Then you get a little better as Bon Jovi or Tina Turner belt out a power ballad just for you. Then things start to click. You catch the bugs before you compile, you close all the tickets in your queue, and finally you get carried out of the office door on the shoulders of your coworkers, given the key to the city, and promoted to Grand Puba. It's awesome.

Sometimes it helps to visualize this stuff. Because if you can see this scene play out, then you have a goal. You've seen the nerd-makes-good storyline work out in countless movies; now it's your turn. But what does it all look like? What are some ways to see that you're coming to the second chorus of the montage and hitting your stride?

  • When you see an error, you don't jump to conclusions on how to fix that error; instead you look for ways to prove that the change you're about to introduce in the system will resolve the error (aka prove the hypothesis).
  • You look at the logs. Ever since I wrote my first book on Mac servers, I've gotten 1 to 5 emails a week. The most common answer: "what do you see in the logs?" I don't ask rudely and I'll often add the name of the process I suspect is problematic so it's easier to find the errors in the logs. But, it all starts in the logs. The people who troll lists usually aren't as kind as I might be if you don't include a snippet from a log to show you've done your due diligence before reaching out.
  • Keystrokes make you faster, no matter the platform. Control-tab or Command-tab will switch apps, typing the first few letters of a file name will highlight it in a folder list, meaning you can open it without touching a mouse or trackpad. When someone is looking over your shoulder, things will move so fast that they often can't follow. If you want to look like a sage, talk them through what you're doing.
  • When working on a problem the first time, you find a faster route to resolve the problem. When working on a problem the tenth time, you look for ways to proactively fix the problem without anyone bothering you. I have often used an analogy of learning to walk around a pothole you see in the road as stage one of career development and then paving over the pothole as the next stage. This could mean that you write an article on your organization's intranet, or write a script, or send a GPO/policy to all devices to fix a known problem. The only thing better than closing 100 tickets in a day is closing 1 ticket that keeps 100 from happening.
  • You stop getting stressed out. This comes with confidence. Once you've been in the weeds and gotten yourself out enough times, the confidence will come naturally. Just don't get over-confident!
  • You share your information. People often think that the information they have is what makes them good at what they do. And that's often true. Keeping your technical know-how to yourself isn't going to make you any smarter. If you lord your information over others, that will backfire on you. Sharing your information causes others to share more freely with you, and elevate the entire team you work on.
  • Comradery. When the stress falls away you feel more confident. When you make the job of someone else easier you will notice that people want to be around you. You'll get asked to lunch, be the butt of the occasional joke, and maybe even share a laugh. It feels great!
  • You Google the answer for yourself. Sometimes people reach out to me for help. If I don't know the answer to their question, I might search for it. If the first hit is the fix then I'll likely respond with a link. Others might not be so kind. And after you ask for help with easy and/or well documented issues enough times, people will get increasingly frustrated by you basically asking for them to do your job.
  • You write a script. Yes, whether it's Windows or Mac, if you see certain issues, you're just going to end up reverting to writing a script to fix it, especially if the issue is one that is widespread. Many organizations have a patch management solution, and the help desk is always super-appreciative when they can just run a workflow to fix a problem with someone on the phone. This can be a great way to turn those Visual Basic, Powershell, Bash, or Python chops into donuts! And nothing says that you've hit your stride more than people bringing donuts to ya'!
  • You see the script you wrote and you think it's crap. You write a script, then you learn better technique or a new language. Then you look at your script and get embarrassed by it and so just rewrite it, even though you add no new features and have no good reason to do so. Little do you know, this will happen a lot. Too much.
  • You write a script to write a script. Yah. Let's say in OS X, you deploy a self-destructing launchdaemon to copy a script to a machine, run the script, reboot, then delete the script. When the script removes itself and you check the log to verify that it ran, the montage is over; you may now put your feet on the desk, you earned the right!
  • You search for the script to write a script on github before you bother to write it yourself. After all, when you get to a certain point you realize that if something needed to be done, that someone likely already it!
  • People commit to your github projects enough so that you simply approve their changes, rather than writing all the code. This is pretty advanced, but it feels good to see a community spring up around your projects!
  • You are nice again. This is the most important sign, and if you take anything away from this article, take this point: lording your mad skills over your coworkers will get you nowhere in this world. We all go through the phase where we just learned something that few know. We tell people to "move" and fix their issues, we brag about our accomplishments, and whether it's meant to be this way, we talk down to others. When you find your humility again, it likely means you're ready to level up again, and repeat the process.

Finally, once you've hit your stride and rediscovered the humility, it's time to start a new movie, search for a new power ballad, and do more with your career. You've gotten the required experience points and it's time to bring your game to a whole new level. Contribute more to the team, look for a new job, seek out new challenges, and keep moving your career and life forward. Who knows, all that work might lead you to a place you never thought you'd end up!