Sure You’re Good. But Are You Effective?

Your career’s not just about great coding – it’s about great appropriate coding.

By Carol Lippert Gray | March 2008


If you didn’t love working with the intricacies of code, you
wouldn’t be doing what you do. But, oddly enough, being a coding genius
can have its drawbacks when it comes to your career. And if you’re a
narrowly focused coding genius, well, that may be even worse. Always,
you have to remember: It’s not just about great coding, it’s about
great appropriate coding.

"Have you ever had an
intelligent solution that nobody would implement? One that was clearly
brilliant but you couldn’t get your boss to buy into?" asks David
Coleman, a consultant with Transition Management Services in
Washington, D.C. If you analyzed why, he says, you might realize "a
consequence of technical training can be that a technically correct
answer may not be a solution that can be used."

That’s the conundrum many tech pros can face, says Matt Moran, an Arizona-based consultant and author of The IT Career Builder’s Toolkit: Your Complete Guide to Building Your Technology Career in Any Economy. He defines the problem as "being good versus being effective."

"There’s
nothing wrong in desiring to be technically good at what you do," Moran
says. "But you have to see the big business picture, and have an
understanding across the board of how projects affect the whole
company. You have to be able to solve a big-picture problem rather than
be focused on delivering complexity."

In other words, "stay
on focus and on schedule," in Moran’s words, and deliver what works
within the parameters of a given project. "Being effective is
infinitely more important and more valuable from a career standpoint,"
he believes. "A perfectly implemented project based on a flawed
business concept is flawed. It’s a train running on a broken track,
headed for disaster."

Thus, he "someone who can reduce code
by 30 percent" is more valuable to a company than someone who
consistently delivers complexity – even if it’s beautifully wrought
complexity.

Make It Work

If you want to become more effective, Coleman offers the following tips:

  • "Express
    curiosity when a smart person says something you think is stupid." By
    expressing curiosity, you’ll elicit more information. Coleman knows of
    one IT pro who during a meeting told his chief executive he was wrong
    and wouldn’t let the CEO talk. "Somehow the funds for his project
    disappeared," Coleman says.

  • Listen to your end users. "Listening is more important than talking."
  • "Speak to understand, and speak to be understood."
  • When
    trying to sell an idea, don’t get into too much detail. "Match your
    level of detail to the audience’s interest," Coleman says. "Monitor
    whether the audience’s eyes are glazing over."

  • Be clear on what you can say and do to move a project forward.
  • Pick
    your battles. "Know whether something is an essential element they
    won’t negotiate, or if it’s just something desirable."

  • "Recognize
    where a project falls on the radar screens of others. It may fill your
    own consciousness, but be only a tiny spot on a broader windshield."

While
some of these may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how often even
seasoned professionals can lose sight of the importance of perception.

Carol Lippert Gray is a freelance writer based in New York.

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