As the world of IT changes rapidly, we are left to deal with the effects of change on ourselves personally. It’s a tough deal; stress is common in the industry, and the need to transform ourselves adds to it. So how do we look after ourselves?
I’ve written about this previously, from a personal perspective, in a piece called “Building a Personal Support Crew.” For me, I needed to surround myself with people that could teach me about looking after my mind and body. More about that later.
The first thing that you should do is understand whether the role that you are currently is going to change, or not, or even exist in a few years. It’s that stark by the way. As automation increases the roles we have traditionally filled decrease. Do some research on your career path and if you need to seek advice on where to next from colleagues and specialists. I have a dear friend Patrick who I’ve known for many years, and I have often gone to him for his counsel.
Prepare yourself for “fractilisation” of work. In the rest of the world, it is normal for people to hold more than one job. In IT, it will be the same. Expect a continued move to contractors and away from permanent employ. Especially if you are experienced. Then, realise that you are going to inevitably end up with more than one customer or employer.
Add to that the skill of being able to work from anywhere, at any time, for anyone. Expect that you will need to be self-sufficient with your tools. I haven’t used a customer’s tools or equipment in five years. I see IT as a trade, and you don’t supply a tool belt to your builder or electrician.
Those who keep up to date with current events in the industry are going to have an advantage over those who don’t. Education, not only about tech trends but generally, is helpful. As we move more toward work that is business focussed and needing insight (remember the Pirates vs. Climate Change graph), we need to brush up on some simple skills, like communication.
I tell people they should complete a paper on Critical Thinking. Not only is it interesting it changes the way you think and allows you to reason in a more objective way. We don’t argue well together, it gets personal, we become intractable, and learning to manage discussion this way is an excellent skill to have.
Expose yourself to diversity. This means you as well millennials. Diversity means age as well, not just race and sex. There is a quiet rumbling in the younger of you out there around the age gap. Older people aren’t a threat; they are part of your community.
Vice versa, older individuals who think that younger people are poorly trained and “don’t want to turn up to work” (how often I hear that), need to take a different view as well. The younger crew coming through are free-thinking creatives, for the most part, that are powering this change in the world. The low rate of employment for those coming out of University is something we need to change.
Raising a company takes a village. It needs radicals, youth, new ideas, and energy. It also needs steady hands who have been there before and brings skills that the young often don’t have and need to learn. For example, it’s one thing to come up with the best idea of the century; it’s another to understand how tax works. I have seen many great companies get into severe trouble because they don’t know how to manage tax.
As these changes challenge us, we become threatened, and we become stressed. You need look no further than the rates of medication in the Western World to see the effects. As a friend of mine says to me when we catch up every now and again “Everything is on fire!”
As I wrote in “Building a Personal Support Crew,” we need to support ourselves by surrounding ourselves with a support network.
For me, that meant engaging a psychologist, a personal trainer, a professional supervisor, and others as time went by.
I saw the psychologist as someone who could help me look after my mind; I see it as a “brain upgrade.” It teaches me to deal with my noisy mind and understand how I can be who it is that I want to be, personally and professionally. It’s not cheap, and you need to find the right person for you. However it works. Think of going to a psychologist as a gym membership for your brain.
I needed someone to be accountable for when it came to my physical health. I chose a trainer who helped me build an exercise regime from zero. I know that once a fortnight she is not only going to see how my system is working, she is also going to measure the results of that work. I am held accountable for my progress, and it motivates me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no gym bunny (I hated the idea of a gym up until about a year ago) and I still largely eat and drink what I wish, I’m just healthier.
The professional supervisor is something that a lot of other professional roles have by design, and we need to introduce it to our industry. Again, they are someone who you can openly talk to about where you are at in your career and once again, are accountable to. I suppose in the past that would have been called a mentor. Most of us know someone in our life who can fall into that role. They should challenge you, set goals with you, monitor progress, be a good listener, and offer advice.
I am a big fan of joining a technology group of some kind, as I have written before. They offer a place to ask questions, bounce ideas off, and learn. You are exposed to a range of different organisations and companies, large and small. It also allows you to give your experience back to others, which is an important part of being in IT. It’s what we do, after all, help others.
One of the things that I also took up was meditation, or mindfulness. If you do nothing else this is an incredibly powerful practice that takes very little time out of your day. Headspace and Calm are very good. Personally, I’d start with Headspace. Some health organisations, such as HealthFit Collective, have psychologists that offer a five week mindfulness training course.
They both offer a series of free meditations so you can get a feel for the practice, after that you pay a (small) monthly subscription to get access to more advanced techniques. Ten minutes a day before bed with your headphones on, or first thing in the morning, over time, produce a much more peaceful mind.
Change is hard. The world is changing our industry, and sometimes we feel as if we have no control. The reality is quite different. We do have the ability to alter the world around us and our industry, and that change starts with us.
What do you think? What other things on a personal level have helped you with your career and yourself?