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Are you tough enough?

Ubiquity, Volume 2002 Issue July, July 1 - July 30, 2009 | BY K. V. K. K. Prasad 


Full citation in the ACM Digital Library

Personality traits of successful IT professionals.

The sudden meltdown of the IT industry caused an adverse impact on the IT professionals all over the world. Large numbers of IT professionals are either unemployed or underemployed. As the saying goes, "when the going gets tough, the tough who get going". What characteristics make one tough enough to survive in the dynamic IT industry?

Over the past several years I've interacted with many CEOs, project managers, software engineers and programmers while working on international projects in the US, Western Europe and South Asia. Based on my experience during the best of times and the worst of times in the IT industry, I have listed 20 personality traits that one needs to survive and grow in the IT field.

Universities impart technical education for the students but they do not generally impart the soft-skills necessary for the industry. Perhaps it is because in a university environment the students tolerate the idiosyncrasies of their professors, and to an extent students also become idiosyncratic in some aspects of their behavior. When these students join the industry, if they do not have the necessary personality traits, they will find it difficult to adjust and survive. This article attempts to throw some light in this direction for the benefit of IT students and professionals.

20 Action Points

1. Be open minded: Being open-minded is fundamental to a professional. We need to be open to suggestions and constructive criticism from all quarters. Analyze the suggestions and make a conscious and logical decision to follow or discard the suggestion. When someone questions the fundamentals, give it a serious thought.

2. Discover yourself: Find out what drives you> Is it money, power, fame or creativity? If you are content with what you are and what you have, then you have no ambition. Ambition gives you something to reach for. It makes life interesting.

3. Find out your personality type: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a good indicator personality type. It is used to analyze your present personality: whether you are an introvert or extrovert; whether you are intuitive or sensate; whether you are a thinker or feeler; and whether you are perceiving or judging. Though using the personality type for career planning is controversial, certainly the categorization helps you in analyzing your personality to find out what you are and what you want to be.

4. Analyze yourself: The SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is a good path to introspection. To better understand your strengths and weaknesses, ask a close friend to do a SWOT analysis on you. Strive to consolidate your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.

5. Define success: Success is a perception. Success is a feeling. When are you successful? When you feel you are successful or when you hear others saying you are successful? Based on what drives you and your perception of success, set your vision and goals of life.

6. Define your vision of life: Your vision reflects your ambition, boundary conditions and purpose of life. Imagine you are 70 years old. Look back at your life and see how you describe yourself. That is your vision.

7. Set goals: Set long-term goals -- what you want to be five years from now? Set short-term goals to achieve these long-term goals. Define measures for your targets. "I want to be a great scientist" is a qualitative goal. "I want to publish five papers in international journals in two years" is a quantitative goal. Metrics play a major role to quantify your success.

8. Keep updating your CV: For a professional, continuous improvement is a must. Write your CV and keep updating it periodically with information such as projects completed, new tools and techniques learned, conferences attended, papers published, membership in professional bodies, continuing education programs attended, etc. At the least, add something new to your CV every three months.

9. Follow a professional code of ethics: The world would be a much better place to live in if every citizen had strong ethical values. In part, the IT downturn is because of the lack of ethical values in many entrepreneurs, who just wanted to get rich quick. Professionals should commit themselves to a professional code of ethics. The IEEE/ACM Code of Ethics is an excellent document that all professionals should understand and follow.

10. Improve communication skills: Written and oral communication skills are important for professionals to communicate their ideas and thoughts clearly and concisely. Because of the globalization of the IT industry, professionals should also have cross-cultural skills.

11. Be open in communication: Open communication can solve many problems with spouse, parents, children, friends, colleagues, managers, etc. Periodic reporting and feedback are essential ingredients of open communication. But remember, diplomacy is better than bluntness.

12. Network with people:Whether you like it or not, what matters is not what you know but whom you know. Your social and professional network decides your professional growth. Attending workshops/seminars/conferences and membership in professional bodies are the two efficient ways of networking with people.

13. Don't take relations for granted: Human relations are tenuous. One should not take even close relations for granted. Becoming close to the manager or the CEO does not mean that whatever you do will be accepted. Most relations tend to be commercial. Don't get upset about that. Nothing comes free in this world -- not even the love of your spouse.

14. Manage your time: Time is the essence of life. For every activity, plan the work and track the time spent. Finally, do a postmortem analysis. This helps in improving productivity. I asked hundreds of programmers one simple question, "How many lines of code you can write in one hour, on an average?" Nobody gave a correct reply, because they had not kept track of the time spent!

15. Manage change: Change is inevitable in every aspect of life, and hence accept change as part of life. Be ready for changes and welcome them.

16. Diversify your interests: Do not be obsessed with one interest or one passion. Diversity gives stability. As a professional if you have multiple skill sets, knowledge in multiple application domains, it helps in managing change. Many IT professionals who lost their jobs in recent times had only one skill set -- Java or SAP or VB, etc. A broad skill set -- knowledge of two operating systems, two or three programming languages, etc. -- makes a more stable career.

17. Develop entrepreneurial spirit: Even if you are an employee, you need to look at every project as a business venture and see how you can make it a profit-making venture for the organization. The first lesson we all learn in business is that profit is the reward for risk-taking. Do not be afraid of taking risks, but do a risk analysis. Note that in this competitive business world, you are a commodity and you need to market yourself. Nobody will market you.

18. Take up an odd job: During your leisure time, take up an odd job unrelated to IT -- it can be a white collar job or blue collar job. This makes you appreciate "dignity of labor" and also gives a different perspective of the world.

19. Do physical work: Knowledge workers need to supplement mental work with physical work to help in stress management. It can be yoga, walking, cycling, swimming, gardening or household work. It does not matter.

20. Entertain yourself: Professionals are more and more obsessed with work around the clock. Work is fun, if you enjoy what you do. But in addition, don't forget to enjoy those small things of life such as playing with a child or reading a book.. Want some more clues -- observe how a child becomes ecstatic with small things!

When the IT industry was at its peak a few years ago, one wag remarked that there are three categories of people in the world -- men, women and IT professionals. Perhaps in those days everyone tolerated the idiosyncrasies of some IT professionals, but no longer. We all need to become "normal" people again. I hope the above list helps in achieving that objective.

Dr. K.V.K.K. Prasad is Director (Technology) at Innovation Communications Systems Ltd., Hyderabad, India. He has more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry and worked on major software development projects in association with software engineers and CEOs based in North America, Western Europe and South Asia.


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