Survival Tip: Demonstrate Your Importance

Going past the obvious thing like not hanging around the kitchen too
often or showing up late, what can you do to make yourself useful – and
even indispensable?

by Dino Londis

In the law firm where I work, we’re all looking around trying to determine how financially stable the firm is. We compare little things year-over-year to determine if the firm is cutting back. What new client matters are showing up? Who’s being let go and for what given reason? What perks have disappeared? So far, little has changed. The Christmas bonuses were generous, we all got a small raise and even a turkey for Thanksgiving. But that was last year¿.

Even in this recession, IT remains stronger than many sectors. And I prefer working in a law firm because it’s in an area that’s generally recession-proof. But are they depression proof? And, of course, any firm can collapse if it has all its eggs in the basket of one failing client or industry.

So these days, I can’t help but look over my shoulder. If my access card doesn’t work on the first try on a Friday afternoon, I wonder whether the layoff process in motion. If you work in IT, you know “letting a user go” is swift. It takes seconds. Passwords are changed, access cards are killed, and the exit interview is done while you’re walking the plank. All that goes through my head as I swipe my access card again. It works and I’m safe for the moment.

So how do I stay safe? When I look around my office, I scope out the people I’d fire and those I’d keep – that is if I were the boss. Going past the obvious thing like not hanging around the kitchen too often or showing up late, what can you do to make yourself useful – and even indispensable?

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • Documentation: You and I know so much goes on in an IT department, but so little is recorded. I’ve never seen a change request system or problem ticket system that can adequately track a department’s activities. The change request system doesn’t properly group together what happened on a particular day – it only documents that activity. It’s really no different than how attorneys track their billing hours. 

    How often have you tried to remember if patches were deployed before or after a problem began to occur? A simple page of all the events you and your group department affected would go a long way to answering that question.

    I try to make documentation look as finished and professional as possible, and make it accessible to everyone. With good habits, I can get it done pretty quickly on a daily basis.

    Another advantage of documentation: I gain better institutional memory, and can remember if we deployed patches before a problem began. That kind of quick finger-tip knowledge goes a long way in meetings.

  • Training: There’s something you know more about than anyone in the office. I’ve met so many IT people who treat their knowledge set like a security blanket. The truth is, sharing my knowledge makes me a greater asset. I’m not giving the information away, I’m demonstrating my depth on the topic.For example, in most places I’ve worked, the help desk is looked down upon – almost as a message center. It’s easy to complain about the help desk, but I suggest conducting training sessions with its staff on issues where they need help. You could also offer to train the trainers. If you work in applications or Blackberry and know of new features, schedule a class. You’ll never have a better class of students than your trainers. I know that from experience.
  • Data Mining: My biggest complaint about technology is that it weakens people’s skills because they stop thinking and come to rely on the automation. The same is true with IT folks. I’ve yet to see a change request system that identifies trends or can help you develop a feel for what’s causing underlying problems. People do those things better – and that’s where I come in. A problem with Outlook and Filesite may be not be related to the apps themselves. It may be the integration with Workshare. Digging deep into change requests can reveal this kind of trend. And again, it can make you look smart.
  • Look Around: There’s always something to do, so do it and do it visibly. Ex example: One department was re-imaging PCs, which gave them a new name. Because the new name wasn’t in any of the right AD groups, the PCs weren’t getting their proper applications. The director was begging the techs to send an e-mail of the updated PC names. I thought that there must be some VBScript that could identify new PCs in AD. With a quick Google search, I found it, modified the static variables, and quickly created a tool so we wouldn’t depend on their memory. 

With companies cutting back in all departments, we’re in uncharted territory as far as job losses. The advantage you have is that you’re still employed – and can take some serious and visible actions to stay that way.

Dino Londis is an applications management engineer in New York.