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A Meditation on Winning Habits

Dr. Santanu Paul
Monday, March 3, 2008
Dr. Santanu Paul
The last decade has seen engineers of all dispositions gravitating towards IT - like bees towards fresh blossom. Everyone knows that the profession pays remarkably well, and people are buzzing about the chances to catch a piece of the action. Interactions with aspiring IT professionals indicate that many do not have a clear view of what capabilities are expected of them, and which character traits are likely to accelerate careers and unlock growth opportunities. This article is an attempt to shed some light on the ‘winning traits’ that separate good IT professionals from ordinary ones.

First and foremost, a genuine passion and aptitude for software as a technology is an absolute must. A burning desire to become a master craftsperson is the hallmark of great software professionals. Couple that with high ability to learn and you have a winning combination. Regrettably, as the profession has become more lucrative, it has attracted mediocre dabblers and mercenaries who care little about the profession itself, except for the financial opportunity it represents. This must stop, or else over time we will have to witness the dilution our position as an IT-savvy nation.

If aptitude is a must, attitude is paramount. A ‘can-do’ mindset works wonders. The knowledge economy needs people who are self-directed and self-motivated. Most IT companies are moving too fast to have the time to baby-sit those that need excessive supervision and maintenance, are overly defensive or cautious, or for whom the glass is always half-empty. Because time to result is key, the industry disproportionately rewards the positive-minded; people who see opportunities in problems, not problems in opportunities.
Effective communication is just as critical. People who listen, speak, write, and present clearly and meaningfully in English have an unfair advantage over those that do not. Effective communication is not about imbibing Western accents – it is about clarity of thought, articulation, and purpose. It is also about the ability to listen to others with respect and learn from their viewpoints and opinions.

In his classic book ‘Emotional Intelligence’, Daniel Goleman writes about the importance of EQ, or emotional quotient. In no industry is EQ more valuable than in IT; after all, the lifeblood of the industry is effective collaboration between bright, capable, and sensitive people across service providers, customers, and customers’ customers. If you are blessed with a high degree of empathy and self-awareness, the IT industry is for you. For this reason alone, one can conjecture that women have an edge over men in the IT profession.

The next winning trait is teamwork. Every great achievement in the IT profession is a direct result of exquisite teamwork. In fact, nothing is more detrimental to an IT project than a self-absorbed IT professional bent on being a hero and engaging in one-upmanship. If you have ever watched a pit crew in action during a Formula One race, or admired the harmonious muscularity of a professional rowing team, you have a very good idea of what high performance IT teams look like.

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