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Be Your Own Best Advocate... and Other Career Tips

It was clear last week at Enterprise Connect 2018, as it has been for the past several years, that this ain't your father's communications industry any more. While we once were all about hardware systems and cabled connectivity, today communications is becoming more and more synonymous with application programming interfaces, the cloud, and software. And it's much less about one-off conversations, and more about the collaborative experience, among colleagues or with customers.

As an enterprise IT professional, this ongoing shift may scare the heck out of you, or excite you to no end. In either case, it ought to have you thinking about how you or, if you're a manager, your direct reports, can stay relevant into the future. Complacency isn't the answer, as we heard from three IT executives during a mainstage EC18 panel, "Your Next Job: How Emerging Tech Will Change What You Do and How You Do It" (watch the video below.)

Here are a few key takeaways from our panelists, John O'Meara, manager, UC - Integration Services, Boeing; Stacy Foster, facilities and technology director, Chemonics International; and Chris Abrams, director, IT Shared Services, Yum! Brands:

  • Be Your Own Best Advocate -- If you're on the voice team but think you might like to be involved in a video collaboration project, for example, don't be afraid to ask. Be open and transparent about what sorts of projects and skills development you find interesting, and step up and ask to be involved, Abrams advised. "Most leaders who are good will help you get there," he added.

    That's true, Foster agreed, saying she loves to see people exploring what they're passionate about -- even if it means they have to leave the company to do so. "Don't burn any bridges," she said. Take the opportunity to expand your professional network, compare notes... and "then get together at conferences like this."

  • Cross-Train, Again and Again -- Abrams, Foster, and O'Meara each emphasized the importance of steeping yourself in other IT disciplines. "I'm really big on cross-training," said Foster, noting that she sees the need for audio-visual and IT support teams to "meld," as well as the engineering and operational sides of the house.

    As a manager at Boeing, O'Meara said that he tells his employees that his job is to make their jobs the best they can possibly be, and to see them grow. "I'd like everybody to have a three-year plan, and if their three-year plan is still to be in my organization, then they probably need a better three-year plan," he said. "Everybody should rotate more frequently to get that broader sense and grow themselves."

    While Yum has a structured methodology for cross-training, Abrams said he's also been known to pull people out of one team and plunk them into another. "All these things are similar in how they work, and smart people are going to be able to figure it out, so maybe I'll drop somebody from the networking team over in the UC team, and somebody from the UC team into the virtualization team," he said, adding later, "The more homogeneous we become, as far as an IT group, the better it is for us as an organization."

  • Develop Business Smarts -- Being good in an IT career today takes more than knowledge of UC or telecom. These managers expect their staff to understand user needs and the customer experience, and to be "flexible, adaptable, and empathetical" in addressing them, Foster said. Understanding what tools end users need to do their jobs isn't always an inherent skill set, she added, but if you're able to be flexible and adaptable in your thinking, that ability will help in selecting the best tools and technologies.

    For Abrams, business acumen is becoming a critical must-have. He expects his teams to understand the cost -- down to the user -- throughout a product's lifecycle and across the business ecosystem. They need to understand the efficiencies and improvements to be gained, and what might be lost in the process. And they have to understand the user aspect, as well, he said. "Are we doing this because it's sexy, or are we doing it because it's the right thing for the business?"

Borrowing a quote from Richard Branson, of the Virgin Group, Abrams shared one of his guiding principles with the audience: "Train people so they can leave, but treat them so they want to stay." Are he, Foster, and O'Meara, anomalies in being career advocates for their staffs? Please share your experiences; we'd love to know for our EC19 planning!

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