IT project politics

[I wrote this approximately 2007. I originally had this as one of my thoughts about tech on my main ‘tech’ section. Now demoting it to the blog archive]

Previously I mentioned some people factors in my IT job, but project politics is probably the biggest. Working as an I.T. consultant seems to involve surviving a barrage or awkward political situations. Particularly when forming new working relationships at the beginning of a project, there seems to be a whole lot of sucking up to people, passing the buck, fending off criticism, criticising, bad-mouthing, and back-stabbing. It’s all part of the job, and it’s a game I have to play, but I must admit I’m not very good at it. I much prefer the situation later on in a project, when everyone has got to know each other, and people have judged each other on merit rather than just hot air. But even after working with people for over a year, the politics doesn’t let up. I still have to carefully judge when to push my ideas, when to put my foot down, and when to stay quiet. Obviously these are social skills which apply to all walks of life, but those who don’t know about the I.T. industry may not realise that my computer job heavily involves all of these ‘people skills’.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses

It’s the kind of thing your mother tells you, but I sometimes have to remind myself. It’s tempting to pre-judge I.T. people (their knowledge, experience, and abilities) based on first impressions.

Some people are very good at portraying themselves as brilliant I.T. experts. They will speak with an air of confidence, on a wide range of technology topics, and I form an impression that there is nothing they don’t know, and no skill they haven’t mastered. I start to compare myself, and to bow to them as an authority. Only after some time working with them, or after being left to work with their code, do I realise that they’re not so perfect. Nobody is. It’s one thing to talk the talk, but can they walk the walk?

Conversely, people sometimes slip up, make buggy code, or demonstrate surprising ignorance of some aspect of I.T., causing me to conclude that they are useless. In my more cynical moods I feel like the industry is flooded with useless people. Somehow they blag their way into I.T. jobs, when they haven’t really got what it takes. These people then drag down the standards of software, and push up the costs of I.T. projects, while the competent people struggle to compensate. This is true, except that increasingly I’ve come to recognise that everyone really does have strengths and weaknesses. Nobody is truly useless, it’s just that some people manage to hide their strengths. I.T. skills can never be all that black and white. To be a good team player you can’t just write off your co-workers as useless. You have to try to find their strengths.

One way I’ve come to this realisation is by looking at the situation in reverse. I consider myself to be far from useless, but I think there have been occasions when I’ve given a bad first impression, and people have far too quickly decided I am useless. Usually it’s possible to rectify this over time, by letting my strengths shine through …but who is at fault here? If I tried to make a good first impression, but just got unlucky, then my new team-mates are making a big mistake if they immediately write me off.

Clearly it is preferable to be the other type of person; to give the impression that I am better than I really am. This is smart way to go. But I am too honest for that (or not good enough at bullshitting), so I will probably continue to try to find a middle ground, to present a truthful first impression.

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