Talking things out with the boss

Dale Christian, CIO for Avanade Inc. in Seattle, is this month’s guest Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about communicating with the boss, making the most of a degree in infosec and regrets over leaving a job. If you have a question you’d like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

Question:

The division of the IT department I work in lost a few employees due to attrition last year, and rather than replace those people, management has distributed the workload to me and others.

I’m now working 60-plus hours a week, including occasional weekends, and I’m getting burnt out. Do you have any suggestions on how I can approach my supervisor about this?

Answer:

Approach the situation from your supervisor’s point of view.

She probably doesn’t want her team working 60-hour weeks and realizes that it’s not a healthy or viable situation. However, she’s likely under pressure from management to keep costs down and doesn’t have a strong case to justify hiring more people.

So, make a case for her and anticipate what she needs to solve the problem. First, document the problem objectively: write down the specific tasks you are expected to perform and how long it takes to do each one — each day, week, month or quarter.

Next, use that list as a concrete basis for discussion: Are there tasks that you can drop, service levels that can be relaxed, or efficiencies you can find? You might be able to slim your job down to a reasonable number of hours just by focusing on the essentials.

Or it might convince her that more people are needed in your team.

In that case, give your supervisor the facts to take the case to her manager. Help her develop a similar list for the rest of your workgroup, laying out what services the team delivers to the company and what resources — people, hardware, software, etc. — are needed to meet those expectations. Then, management can decide whether it’s worth hiring more people or reducing the services your group provides.

Question:

I have a fresh bachelor’s degree in information security, certification in computer networking, eight years in PC troubleshooting maintenance and repair, two years in Internet help desk and two in PDA and BlackBerry support. I am finding it difficult to break into the IT field full time. Most hiring firms want me for the help desk only. What would you suggest?

Answer:

Call me! Seriously, security skills are particularly valuable in today’s market. The challenge is that security roles tend to demand deep experience, so you should look for entry-level positions in operations (also called Tier 2 support, production management, systems administration or infrastructure engineering, depending on the organization) that will give you hands-on experience in the production infrastructure. Supporting servers, networks and applications will put you in a good position to grow directly in that area. It will also give you opportunities to practice and deepen your security experience and move into a security role when the time is right. Good luck!

Question:

A couple of months ago, I took a new position. It pays more, but I now realize I had more job satisfaction in my old job. The work was varied and interesting, and most important, I got along great with everyone. That’s not true here. There’s a lot of mistrust. Would it be a mistake to try to get my old job back?

Answer:

I have always believed the maxim that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. A more positive way to put it is: Who you work with is at least as important as what you do or how much you make.

Working in an environment where you feel respected, valued and connected with your co-workers makes you a more productive and creative employee. Often, that can lead to faster career advancement, better compensation over the course of time and, of course, greater job satisfaction.

I have seen a lot of people leave companies for various reasons, only to return later when they realize that they had undervalued some element of their old job.

Don’t be afraid to re-establish contact with your former employer. If you left on good terms and were a high performer, they will be grateful to have you back.

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