Seven Steps for Helping Geeks Grow: Page 2

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2) Rattle their cage. Geeks are often complacent, secure in the knowledge that they alone wrote the Pearl scripts, that they alone can restart the nightly batch run. They welcome the pager in the night (though they protest) because it is a loud validation of their own importance and indispensability. We know it isn’t true. We know that when they go someone else will step into the breach, learn what is needed, and after a period of chaos order will be restored. If they get too expensive and useless we take that hit. So you must shake their security.

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A round of layoffs helps. In any case, run a compulsory workshop on career planning. Make it very personal: it is for them and about them. Start by laying out the hard facts:

• Professions decline. (Look at telephonists and typists and steam engine drivers. More recently, look at DBAs and sysprogs and programmers).

• Everyone gets older and slower, yet at the same time more expensive. At what point can they be displaced by a college kid at half the price?

• A technologist will probably be doing the same thing in ten years – the career options are limited. Most don’t want to be managers and would not enjoy it or make a good job of it. Get them to visualize being in the same job.

Help them see themselves as you and the company sees them: as a productive unit. Explain how their salary must be justified by the value they return. If their value does not increase, then their salary will not either. Walk though how that value is measured: not in technical genius but in results, productivity, versatility, and keeping up with change.

Challenge them that there is a whole world they are unaware of. There are three kinds of people: those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those who say “what happened?” Geeks tend to be in the latter group. Explain that they may choose not to play the corporate power and politics games, but they owe it to themselves to at least be aware of what is going on. Test them on company directions and strategies. Examine the real financial state of the company. Reveal some power groups and games being played.

IT is about business as much as technology now. Get them to examine the questions: What kind of people does the company want in IT now? In ten years? What skills are most useful?

Discuss career options: business analyst, architect, consultant, management, dropping out (you are better off encouraging them to go than having Scott Adam’s Wally working for you)…

Finish by helping them create a personal development plan.

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