As with most full-time employees across all industries, tech pros work within a tight niche, which can make it easy to miss “the bigger picture”: the objectives of not only their departments, but also their companies as a whole. From a career perspective, being stuck in these niches—the popular term du jour is “silo”—can also limit professional growth and opportunities.
According to a research paper issued by Deloitte last year, it’s vital that tech pros break out of their silos, as their careers will depend on understanding “disciplines adjacent to a worker’s day-to-day responsibilities.”
Those tech pros, the paper added, are often faced with projects and crises that require multiple components and inputs to solve, often from across the entire organization. (Deloitte sites similarities between modern corporate life and the Maker Movement, which emphasizes using different skill-sets to create something wholly new: “The movement encourages hands-on learning with not just software development, but the blending of coding with hardware and hard science.”)
Esther Shein, a freelance technology journalist, has reported on the increasing overlap between software developers and operations workers: “Those are two groups that have been traditionally siloed in organizations are now finding themselves having to work together.”
But collaboration on some levels hasn’t stopped the silo problem from growing, according to others. Craig James has been working in IT for nearly thirty years and thinks the issue is only getting worse. He’s an enterprise mobile strategist who conducts mobile workshops and strategy sessions with large Fortune 100 clients. “I started in the late 1980s and my career has arched along the same curves as physical networking, routers, switches, network protocols, DOS, Mac, Windows, the Internet, and mobile,” he said. “I tend to see the very large picture when planning something, however I am in the minority.”
The consequences of “siloing” can be dire. Victor Olex, founder and CEO VT Enterprise, a company working to manage database sprawl, believes that getting stuck in a silo is a huge problem for developers, because it curbs their creativity and growth potential.
It leads to people either leaving or resigning themselves to working only just enough not to get fired, he said: “That in turn creates a situation where large corporations are constantly on a hunt more technology talent, while paying their under-performing, unmotivated staff.”
Are You In a Silo?
Assume that you are. It’s easy to fall into a routine in which you only interact with the same group of people, all executing tasks in a set way. Step back and evaluate your daily routine. With whom are you eating lunch? What meetings are you attending? When did you last interact with someone at your organization who wasn’t a techie?
If you haven’t branched out lately, you’re in a silo. Here’s how to break out:
- Define your adjacent areas of interest. If you’re a software developer, for example, chances are pretty good that your work overlaps a bit with your IT security and mobile departments (if you’re not working on mobile already). Take the time to introduce yourself to stakeholders in those areas.
- Whatever news feeds you read on a daily basis, there’s a good chance those are siloed to your specific (and perhaps narrow) interests. Expand your reading list with Websites and blogs that discuss broader issues in your industry. That way, you’re better informed about the “Big Picture.”
- Encourage management to help you break down the silo walls. Propose cross-disciplinary meetings with other parts of the organization. Offer to ‘sit in’ on meetings and give advice on projects. As long as people don’t think you’re intruding unnecessarily on their turf, they’ll likely be more than happy to get more collaborative.
By breaking out of your silo, you can expand your network and boost your career. So why not take a sledgehammer to those walls?