How to estimate your personal IT worth

For most of us, our jobs aren’t about systems or reports or lines of code – they are about how we pay our bills, spend our free time, and create a future for ourselves and our families.

Having spoken to hundreds of software developers all over the world, I have heard from many customers that they often feel underappreciated, undervalued and generally not in the mainstream of their IT organizations.

While I’d like to think this is because Adabas and Natural are so trouble-free that they turn those who support our products into experts at online solitaire, I know better than that.

The truth is that many of us have carved out sort of a Rodney Dangerfield niche for ourselves within our organizations because of the way we think and speak about the work we do. This is not just true about Adabas and Natural users, but IT employees in general.

Psychologists tell us that all groups have a “currency of acceptance,” and if you have it, the group will wrap its collective arms around you and embrace you despite your many other shortcomings. For example, on the PGA Tour, the currency of acceptance is consistent performance on the golf course.

You may be a lousy dresser, a party freak and an obnoxious motor mouth, but if you demonstrate on the golf course that you can consistently shoot in the 60s and drive 300+ yards, you’ll be “in” with the PGA Tour crowd.

Every business has a currency of acceptance as well. The business leaders (the ones who determine head counts, budgets, raises, bonuses – all the stuff we want) know exactly what this currency of acceptance is, and they make sure they have a lot of it.

The problem with those of us in IT is that even though most of us work in a large business, we have not given much thought to whether our day-to-day behavior is earning us any currency of acceptance with the business decision-makers. Nor do we know how to speak the right language to communicate that we are producing this nebulous currency.

So, what is the currency of acceptance within a business? What is the thing that if you have it, you will be accepted and appreciated? It is creating business value. A person (or department) can create business value in three ways: reduce costs, grow revenue and increase profit margins.

This is the language that the organization speaks, and it’s how the leaders of the organization – those with the most currency of acceptance – communicate with one another. Everything they do day to day must answer the questions: Did I reduce cost? Did I grow revenue? Did I increase profit margin? Did I create value for the business?

What questions do we in IT ask ourselves about our work? How many lines of code did I write? Does my program have any errors? How many hours did I work? Is my position in the company still safe and secure? Does the boss like my co-worker more than me? Is it 5:00 yet? How many years until I can retire? These may be important questions, but none of them have anything to do with creating business value.

Perhaps I have drawn a bit of a caricature, but you get the point. If I’m feeling marginalized and underappreciated in my work, and yet I spend my day concerned with issues unrelated to the currency of acceptance within the business, why should I be surprised?

If I want to be valued by the business, I need to learn to create business value, and – equally important – to communicate the value I create in terms that the business understands.

Learning any new language, let alone a new way of thinking, is difficult. But the era of finding safety and security behind the mysterious wall of technology is over.

The world has changed. Anyone in the business who can’t define and communicate his contributions to the creation of business value should feel insecure about his job.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to measure how much currency of acceptance is in your own business-value “account”:

  • When was the last time I made a recommendation or participated in a project that brought the organization a significant cost savings? How much money was saved over a year?
  • What projects have I worked on that created new products or services to sell, made the company’s wares available to a new market or helped the company sell more of an existing product?
  • If asked, could I describe the work I do in terms of how it positively affects the profit margin of the business?
  • What have I done in the past year that has created business value for the organization?

If your answers to the above questions filled up a sheet of paper (especially if there were lots of numbers), make sure the decision-makers in your company read it and know that you are responsible for the results.

If, on the other hand, you ended up with a blank sheet of paper, start talking to people and asking questions; learn the larger context of your work and how to describe what you do in terms of business value.

Or maybe in your search, you’ll find out that your position is “dead weight” and not creating any business value at all. If that’s the case, quickly find yourself a different project – or a different employer. You wouldn’t want to be stranded without any currency of acceptance the next time there’s a run on the bank!

Joe Gentry is chief technology officer for Software AG’s Enterprise Transaction Systems business line and has more than 20 years of experience in strategic marketing, product management and software development. He can be reached at [email protected].

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