Welcoming a new citizen to the blogosphere and thinking about “Back-room” programmers

During my years in the IT world I’ve been fortunate enough to meet ton of really intelligent and brilliant people. Many of them have been a joy to speak with and work along side of. However a number of them have been incredibly painful to interact with. I’m sure most of you who have worked in along side “techies” and programmers know what I’m talking about. I’ve always referred to these people as “back-room” programmers.  There are the people who you want to be creating your software and IT systems, but you also want to keep them shut up in the back-room so that they don’t interact with you clients, direct reports, partners or business users.  There are many reasons why we don’t want them to emerge from their back-room solitude.  Some are quick to anger, some are quick to belittle or diminish others, others can’t communicate well. Some of these folks have trouble interacting with others, some are extremely shy while others simply can’t pull themselves out of the technical world long enough to be able to effectively interact with others.  For all of these reasons, we often see these folks left along in a back-room to continue churning out great code/solutions on their own.

Now as brilliant as a back-room programmer may be, they are often limited in their career. Being brilliant isn’t enough to have success in a professional field. We need those soft skills and people skills in order to grow beyond a simple programmer and into an effective IT consultant or team leader. Over the years, I’ve seen many back-room programmers passed over for promotions, public recognition and general career advancement. 

Of course, when people are routinely passed over for advance and feel that they are missing out on the success that others are achieving, resentment sets in. They come up with any number of reasons why they are left behind while others advance. “Some manager doesn’t like them”, “Some manager is stupid and can’t see how brilliant they are”, “so and so over on that team played politics to get their new job”, “so and so over their boast about their accomplishments and therefore got a role they didn’t deserve”. There are any number of reasons why they haven’t achieved the career success that they hoped for, but the sad thing is, they often fail to look at themselves and assess whether or not they are the reason. We need more than simple technical brilliance to achieve in a professional career. We do need all of those great soft skills and people skills. However, above and beyond all of these soft skills, we really need to have a modicum of self awareness. If we aren’t aware of our own needs, wants, limitations, fears, hang-ups, strengths and limitations then we simply can’t expect that we are going to being able to connect well with other people. To achieve career success  (and life success really), we really need to be aware of why we think the way we think, why we act the way that we act and why we think what we do about others. Once we’ve mastered that (although you never really master this), then we can go out and have great personal and working relationships with others. When you combine this with a strong technical expertise and natural talent, then you have the formula for tremendous success.  I often look at new graduates from university and wonder which ones will bring this complete package and which ones will only bring strong technical skills. Its sad really, to see brilliant people trapped in a back-room wasting their talent due to a self imposed lack of self awareness.

Now that I’ve said my piece about that, I also wanted to welcome my wife to the blogosphere. (http://susyfonseca.wordpress.com) There is a connection between my rant today and my welcome message to her. My wife has recently left the IT field (she lead a product development team at a large Telco here) to purse a new career as an art therapist (www.susyfonseca.ca). She’s focused on helping children and adults connect with themselves so that they can realize why they think the way they do and why they act the way they do. I knew nothing about Art Therapy before I met her, but over the years I’ve found it to be a very fascinating discipline. Human minds are conditioned with all kinds of inhibitions and filters which keep our words in check. We often think things that we will never verbally admit. However, the neat thing is, these filters are pretty much only setup to filter verbal communication. When an individual creates art, their true feelings, wants desires, hates and fears will often slip past these filters. When combined with an ongoing discussion with an Art Therapist, this unfiltered art can become a powerful tool for self discovery. It can be used to help an individual discover a ton of great stuff about themselves. This then leads into an ability to interact with others in a healthier and more open way.  This is certainly a program that many of the people I have worked with over the years would have benefited from! (and yes, that includes me… :))  Hopefully, this new career will help many many people achieve better success (in the IT field and everywhere else in life).

To wrap up, today’s blog entry certainly wasn’t technically focused, but hey! I have a blog tag for “personal” entries that I have never used. I figured it was time. I’ve been ending my recent blogs with the tagline “stay connected”. Today I’ll expand that a little bit and end with

“Stay Connected (with yourself first!)”

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