March 12, 2003

BOFH is now passé, according to one consultant

- by Tina Gasperson -
Rick Freedman, IT consultant and author, says he sees changes coming in the typical IT admin job description. No longer will sysadmins or network administrators be able to get by on technical talent alone. In the near future, they're going to need - gasp - people skills.For many people, the phrase "IT tech" conjures up a vision of the Bastard Operator From Hell (BOFH) - a crass, grumpy, intolerant freak dressed in black who sits in his cube for hours typing code, only emerging to growl at passers-by as he heads to the latest idiot's desk to fix their network settings or plug in the computer that "won't work."

But admins have to develop some manners or face losing their positions to those with more social graces, says Freedman. "Bedside manner, the ability to
talk to a client in language that the client can understand, is a key
element of success.

Freedman's idea of the perfect IT tech: "Like a partner in a law firm, he knows that his
job
is a little bit services and a little bit relationship. Like an
accountant that needs to keep up with changes in tax law, he knows
that
he needs to keep up with changes in technology or else his skills
will
become obsolete quickly. He's a combination of subject matter expert,
business consultant, advisor, trainer and project manager."

Sound scary? Freedman says that you can develop the necessary skills by designing your own personal career development program, that "includes not just the latest technical boot camp, but
also incorporates sales skills, project skills, business context, and
communication. Most community colleges offer professional
development programs that include skills like active listening,
presentation skills, facilitation & negotiation."

Freedman also recommends subscribing to business magazines like Fortune or BusinessWeek to facilitate conversation with pointy-hairs. Not only that, but it would be smart to study trends in IT so you can make recommendations for your department.

Employers who want the best in IT talent should look for potential employees who have the right attitude, and not just aptitude, says Freedman. "There are a lot of IT techs out there who will look at
these
suggestions and say 'this is a lot of bull! I'm a genius at my
technical area and, if I'm not a good communicator or a good
presenter,
they can take it or leave it! They need me more than I need them!'
That's an employee I wouldn't want on my team, and wouldn't recommend
to my clients that they hire, no matter how strong her technical
skills
might be."

Reason being, of course, that the economy and job market aren't what they used to be. The years-long economic boom trained legions of IT workers that their employers did, in fact, need them more. But that's not completely true anymore, when jobs and dollars are scarce. Employers now have to squeeze as much nebulous "productivity" from their staff as possible to satisfy the psychological bottom line.

Not only that, but the very counter-culture mystique that has surrounded IT people and has been responsible in some measure for their job security is evaporating, according to Freedman. âWhat we saw back in the original counter-culture
days of the 1960's, when long hair on men went from being a badge of
certain beliefs to a part of mainstream style, is also happening in
the
world of tech.

âWhen Linux makes the front cover of Business Week magazine, and
articles featuring âsoftware nomadsâ and âopen-source vagabondsâ pop
up
in the business press, it's clear that counter-culture and
conventional
culture have merged.â

Which means that, since sysadmins are now officially just like everyone else, they are expected to act just like everyone else â no snarling allowed.

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