Big Brother or lowly minion? Defining your role in IT

Today's network admins are loved one day and hated the next. Despite this up and down nature of working in IT, you actually have more power than you think to make positive changes in your job.

The average network admin is having an identity crisis. Sometimes these IT pros are on top of the world with lots of responsibilities, then a few weeks pass and they're on everyone's bad side. Management has unrealistic expectations, and users, well, they love you and hate you – often at the same time.

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To advance your IT career, do the right thing

Despite the up and down nature of working in IT, you actually have more power than you think to make positive changes in your job. Here are four things you can do right now to make things better:

Find out what it is that you're really supposed to be doing.

Are you taking on too many things that management would be OK with outsourcing? Are you creating arbitrary deadlines for yourself that have no real effect on the business? Make a point to sit down with your boss and ask him or her: What do you see as the highest priorities for me to focus on?

You might be surprised at the response. Your goal is to have a crystal clear understanding of what's expected of you so you can go about working on what matters.

Accept responsibility.

I strongly believe that there are no true accidents in life – simply choices and actions that lead to every outcome. Accepting responsibility requires maturity and a long-term perspective. Think about the consequences of your choices, not just for today but for two, five and ten years down the road. If you are involved in a negative situation at work – either directly or indirectly – never be afraid to accept what you did and vow to make things better. This will demonstrate character and build trust more than anything else. Once you get people on your side, they'll be more eager to please you and you'll be amazed how things can change for the better.

Set goals.

Map out where you want to go in terms of your short-term tasks as well as your long-term career objectives. There's a saying that if you don't have goals for yourself, you're doomed forever to achieve the goals of someone else. If you make the choice to determine what you want for yourself, write it down and practice what counts every day, and you will accomplish whatever it is that you set out to do.

Raise the bar.

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.
David Brinkley

Set high standards and expectations for yourself. Can you truly say that you've been giving your all every day in every situation? When people see you hold yourself to high standards and see your achievements, they'll grow to respect you. Don't be afraid to let your peers and management know what you expect of them as well. Just tread lightly and be realistic.

David Brinkley once said, "A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him." He must've had people close to him who worked in IT!

In the end you have to know that there are alternatives out there, so keep your mind open. It may lead you to actually leaving your current position so you can start fresh. If the situation is bad and things are too politically charged, then moving on to a new position or branching out as an IT consultant might be the best thing to do. Don't be afraid to take that step.

Kevin Beaver, is an information security consultant, keynote speaker and expert witness with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments. Kevin has authored/co-authored seven books on information security, including Hacking For Dummies and Hacking Wireless Networks For Dummies (Wiley). He's also the creator of the Security on Wheels information security audio books and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. He can be reached at kbeaver@principlelogic.com.

This was first published in September 2009

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