Look for a New Angle! The Value of the IT Outsider

There are definite challenges to being an outsider in the world of IT. However, I remain convinced that there are strong benefits to being an outsider coming into a new sector.

I’d like to continue to muse on a topic that is in the forefront of my thoughts lately.  As I mentioned in my previous post Training for Competency, not Memorization there is tension in the world of education between those who view education as something which should be efficient, should lead to productivity and the knowledge/skills/abilities to be able to do well in the economy and those with a more snobbish view the education should be sought for its own sake and that its benefits shouldn’t be measured in productivity and efficiency.  Those of you reading closely would also have noticed the mention that my formal university schooling was in History, which does have less than measurable and concrete benefits as far as employment goes and thus often tends to fall on the education for education’s sake side of the debate.

I don’t want to get into the foolishness or brilliance of studying history in this post.  It has made me who I am today and I have no regrets about my course of study in university.  It gave me opportunities to travel to different parts of the world and meet people I never would have met otherwise, many of whom I remain in contact with today even though miles and sometimes oceans separate us.  But as I make the transition to the technology sector by using some competency-based educational programs like those discussed in the previous post, I have noticed that there are definite challenges to being an outsider in the world of IT.  However, I remain convinced that there are strong benefits to being an outsider coming into a new sector.  A fresh set of eyes on a problem is almost always a benefit, particularly if those fresh eyes come attached to a brain that thinks of things in a different way.

I have been in my current position for nearly three years, and the initial transition from the museum world was definitely challenging.  But I was able to find many parallels.  For example, as a museum director one of things I did frequently (and greatly enjoyed) was creating and leading tours of the museum, taking large or complex events and ideas and breaking them down into pieces that non-experts could relate to.  That is essentially what I still do today, even though my subject matter has changed from grand narratives like the expedition of Coronado to the world of finance.  My methods have also changed, as I do much less physical interactions with people are far more webinars and creating e-learning courses with Adobe Captivate (a technology I needed to learn when I made the transition).  But even with those changes, the interpretation skills I have developed over  the years have served me in good stead, along with several of the other skills obtained via my background in history like communication, research and analytical thinking.

As part of my pivot towards IT, I obtained certification as a Health Information Systems Workflow Management and Training Specialist.  I am currently studying to obtain Comptia A+ certification, with plans to obtain Network+ and Healthcare IT Certification after that.  These certifications are going to be very useful and all of them have contained necessary information for anyone seeking entry into the IT field to know.  I am excited to get involved in this field in an even more hands-on way.  As I currently work for a technology company, I often work hand in hand with SME’s (Subject Matter Experts) including analysts, implementation specialists, programmers and the like.  As an Education Specialist I utilize my education and interpretation experience far more than the engineering side of my brain.  But in an environment like this I am very familiar with engineers and other technical departments and enjoy working as a bridge between them and the non-expert end users.

One thing I have learned is that even though the barrier of entry into IT tends to be rather high (particularly for those who don’t have the correct degrees/certifications/experience), IT can benefit from bringing in some outsiders.  In my experience, outsiders like myself can help in many areas because of our unique talents.  (NOTE: I realize that some of the following may contain stereotypes which are not true for everyone, but stereotypes exist and continue to perpetuate because there is some element of truth to them.) 

CommunicationCommunication and Interpretation – I am the daughter of a Mechanical Engineer.  I married a Network Engineer.  I work every day with engineers of various types.  I am completely fluent in Engineer, which believe me really should be classified as its own language.  But it’s more than language…engineers have a very different thought process.  For those unfamiliar with the thought process, it can be difficult to handle.  Engineers are often described as brusque, exacting, overly curious and often organized to the point of madness.  Communication, especially with those who do not possess the same level of knowledge, can be frustrating and frequently fails.  Unless you have someone who can translate that is.

See the ForestSeeing the Bigger Picture – When you are focused on trying to solve a problem, that is what you are doing.  You only see the problem and the various pieces of the problem.  Your job is to isolate the problem and fix it, and then all is right with the world.  Except when your fix for Problem A causes a Problem B, often in another area or another department.  Anyone working in technology is familiar with this headache.  To be able to anticipate these types of issues, you have to get out of the problem you are working on and see the system from the bird’s eye view, which can be difficult when you are in the trenches.  Ironically, studying history is a great help in this area because history that is properly taught is very analytical.  It is like trying to put together a giant puzzle.  You need to think about both the big picture and the individual pieces.

AdaptabilityAdaptability and the Ability to Learn – The technology sector is in a constant state of flux.  Technology, the way it works and the things it can do are changing faster than you can blink.  I once heard this kind of environment referred to as being in COAT, Constant Ongoing Accelerated Transition.  In an environment like that, you can’t get stuck in one pattern or one way of thinking.  You need to always be open to new ideas, new methods or new goals.  Someone from the outside has already proven that they are adaptable, and that trait is highly prized.  They have also proven their ability to learn new things, which is no small feat and will help you stay ahead of the changes.

Different Perspectives – We’ve all heard of the Echo Chamber.  Or in group dynamics, Group Think.  It’s when a person or a group is surrounded by like-minded people or groups who reinforce existing ideas and methodologies.  Because they are surrounded by people who do things just like them and think just like them, diversity or creativity in thought or processes suffers.  These situations can be very dangerous to projects, departments, companies or even industries, especially since the pace of change is accelerating.  Bringing in people from different backgrounds or industries allows you to bring in different perspectives on problems or challenges you may be facing.  These new perspectives might just be the spotlight that you need to find your next big idea or solve your impossible problem.  To quote Big Hero 6:  Look for a new angle!  A new angle

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