If you are like most people I know, you’ve probably experienced computer problems from time to time at the office. You may have even had some frustration with the IT consultant who was sent to fix those problems. Why is it that computer techs are loathed by so many people? Sure, they have their challenges like everyone else, but is it more than that? What traits separate a good (or even a great) IT consultant from a bad one? It involves more than you might think.
I’ve been an IT consultant for over a decade. I own an Apple certified IT consulting firm in Atlanta, and I work with enterprise level companies every day. Over the years, it has become clear to me what traits a person must have in order to be effective in this field.
I started thinking about all this after I read an article on NPR called A Good IT Person Needs To Be Half Technologist, Half Psychologist. According to that article, “There’s no question that pure engineering talents does not make for a great IT person.“
The article goes on to explain that we can’t live without our computers, much like the vital organs of our body. We require as much from our IT people as we do our doctors.
I believe there are about 15 traits that every great IT person has, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll list my top 6. These are not necessarily in order. The order of importance changes with the computer problem and the user.
1. Communication Skills
You have to be able to understand the problem and communicate effectively in order to find a solution.
Gone are the days when an IT consultant is excused for being socially awkward because he or she is a nerd. In today’s complex work environments, exceptional communication skills are critical in order for an IT person to excel.
In our line of work, we are often up close and personal in people’s workspaces. It’s like being a guest in their home. Be polite, be friendly, and most of all, communicate effectively.
For an IT consultant who is solely focused on creating solutions, this might be an easy detail to overlook. However, if you don’t learn this skill, you will most likely not be called back when the next problem arises.
Once again, empathy is on my list. When I walk into a situation where there’s an IT problem, the first question I ask myself is, “Do I have a malfunctioning computer, server or network…or a malfunctioning user?“
If it’s a user problem, it’s very important to be kind, compassionate and empathetic. I’ve seen IT techs who make the user feel dumb in that situation, and to me, that is unacceptable.
Be empathetic. Realize that the user cannot progress with his or her day as long as this problem exists. That person is frustrated and is having a bad day.
As a matter of fact, having a grumpy computer could be just one of 100 things that have gone wrong for that person that day. Having empathy, which leads to kindness and compassion, is critical.
In order to be a great IT consultant, you must have patience (not only with the user but with yourself).
Some problems take five seconds to fix. Some problems take five days to fix. Don’t get overwhelmed or frustrated. Don’t get rattled. People pay you to be calm and confident in situations where they can’t be calm and confident. Maintain control of yourself and the situation.
The easiest way to do this is to remember to have patience. Just taking a deep breath and being patient adds a little sweetness to the most complicated IT problems.
4. Technical Savvy
You have to know your trade inside and out. In many professions, you can ‘fake it till you make it,‘ but IT is different.
Often times, by the time a company calls me, they’ve already had several people in the office try to solve the problem, and their solutions haven’t worked. When I get there, they want and expect real answers.
You absolutely must have a seasoned level of technical savvy in order to create a full time income as an independent IT consultant.
Here’s a fun little test below. If you don’t know one or more of these acronyms, go back and study.
(For a more complete list, go to Tech and Business Acronyms and Abbreviations)
5. Comprehensive and In-Depth Knowledge of GTS
Obviously, nobody knows everything. You will encounter computer, server and networking challenges that you don’t know who to solve.
The computing world is constantly changing. It’s a moving target. No matter how much you try to stay on top of what’s relevant, there are going to be surprises that pop up. I look forward to those things. They are what keep my job interesting.
You would be shocked at what problems I’ve solved over the years by simply going home and spending a few hours reading articles I found on Google or videos I found on YouTube. Learning about other people’s experiences with the same problem can give you incredible insight about possible solutions.
GTS (Google That Shit) might be a funny acronym, but it’s also an important part of any great IT person’s routine.
6. An Understanding of Occam’s Razor
Applied to IT, the principle of Occam’s Razor simply states that if there is more than one possible answer, in the absence of certainty, choose as few assumptions as possible.
That doesn’t mean that you might not choose a more complicated solution in the end, but if you are going into an IT situation blind, keep it simple. This one concept will make your job so much easier and more enjoyable.
In other words, is the computer broken or is the server broken? Is it a hardware problem or a software problem? Is it a computer problem or a network problem? Choose only one answer for each question – not two.
Don’t look for more than one problem at a time. If you go into an IT situation looking for more than one problem, things get way too complicated quickly.
Unless the computer has been hit by lightening or some other unusual event has occurred, most of the time, there’s just one problem (there are exceptions of course, but this is true 90% of the time).
Here is an easy way to understand Occam’s Razor from an IT point of view:
Let’s say you walk into an office where 10 computers are unable to access the Internet. Instead of looking at the 10 individual computers to find individual problems, look for one problem.
In this case, it could be a problem with the router, the switch, the service provider, the DNS, or there could simply be an Internet outage.
If you start looking for 10 individual problems, instead of keeping it simple, you will spend a lot of time going down the wrong road. Occam’s Razor is a very useful principle in the IT field.
Thank you for reading my article. Before I close out, I’d like to give you one last piece of advice. In my experience, restarting a computer fixes individual computer problems at least 50% of the time. Just remembering that will save you a lot of headaches!
Photo credit: kropekk_pl
Diana is a USC graduate, tech entrepreneur and member of the Apple Consultants Network. She has written 4,200+ blog posts around the blogosphere. She loves innovation, creativity and grande Java Chips. She’s also a frequent user of the force. Connect with her on Twitter at @adamsconsulting or email me at [email protected].