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IT Career Killer: The Social Ceiling

23 May 2010 No Comment


Focus on your job and you’ll get better at it?  True.  It may even lead to pay raises and promotions.  But sooner or later you will hit the social ceiling.   In spite of your long hours.  In spite of your top-notch work.  Here in this technical field where many of us fled to avoid people and human interaction which is messy and unpredictable compared to the reasonable, civil interaction that takes place between human and machine:

The social ceiling is our most dangerous career obstacle.

You may find yourself in misunderstandings.  Tensions may come from several directions every day.  Just when you thought things were under control, another blowout will happen.  Your company, your department, other departments, and people in general will seem unpredictable.  Your job will be stressful.  You will watch others receive promotions and raises while your career remains stalled.  You feel the need to work more overtime just to keep you job and you’re never sure it’s making a difference.  You have hit the social ceiling.

How do you break the cycle?  Is it about being “outgoing”, “gratuitously friendly”, and worse of all, “kissing ass”?  Being friendly never hurt anyone, but you don’t have to be or do any of those other things in order to break through the social ceiling.

You do have to understand the positions on your team.

If you want someone to catch the ball when you throw it, you need to understand where they need to stand on the field and why they might be running in one direction or another.  Wouldn’t it help you if they knew the same about you?

Most problems in a software shop are not the result of technical failures.  Let me say that again, in caps, TECHNICAL FAILURES ARE SELDOM THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN A SOFTWARE SHOP.(citation)  Most problems arise from human miscommunication.  These are a result of one individual or group failing to grasp the needs or role of another individual or group.  If there are analysts and testers on your team, lots of balls are flying between them and the developers.  Is there a configuration manager, a buildmeister?  Surely there are hardware techs?  With contemporary development environments, web designers play an integral role in the development process.  Information architects, technical architects, and technical leads are paving the way for the team.

If you’re a techie, I’m suggesting you learn the interfaces between yourself and those around you.  If you’re an analyst, or tester, people have requirements, too.  The better everyone understands these, the easier life will be in your software shop.  It doesn’t mean you need to do other people’s job, it just means that if you understand the purpose of other people’s jobs and what they need from you to complete them, your interactions with them on the project will be easier and more productive.

I’m not going to provide a textbook list of roles yet.  Step away from your computer.  Right now.  Peek over the cube wall and ask:

“What do you do here?  What are you working on now?  How can I make your job easier?”

Do you want to multiply the power of this suggestion times one thousand?

Learn to ask those questions in the heat of a disagreement or miscommunication.  Put your own needs, plans, and plays aside and ask:  How can I make your job easier?

When the heat is on and you can still do that, you’ve shattered your social ceiling.  Congratulations  The next step?  Help everyone else in your shop do the same.

The computer will still be there when you get back.

And it won’t be jealous.

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