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A Most Important Ingredient
What key trait do the most successful technologists share?
Recently I was visited by one of the most talented, informed, effective network engineers I have ever worked with. A true Technologist by anyone’s measure.
After catching up on each other’s experiences since we last spoke, we settled in for the customary tech talk. With so much going on in tech these days we had plenty of fuel for that fire.
When I brought up a relatively new technology that had captured my imagination, my friend began to reply with his perspective. And he continued to expound upon it. Soon he was genuinely bouncing up and down in his chair as he excitedly shifted into pitching the technology to me. Even though he knew I was familiar with it, he just couldn’t help but encourage me to consider it.
In this, my friend demonstrated what I have always felt was the most important ingredient necessary to create a complete Technologist.
Believe it or not, this gentleman’s demeanor went way beyond mere enthusiasm. You could feel his genuine love for tech coming through his words. I sat back and just enjoyed watching him revel in the wonders of the technology he was so animatedly describing to me.
Over the years I have been blessed to work with many very talented network, system, and more recently cloud engineers. Most have been specialists in one area with broad knowledge of all the adjacent technologies. A few, like my visitor, were generalists with remarkable breadth and depth in their skills and knowledge.
Technologists like these have many traits in common. Most are highly intelligent, highly articulate, well-read and well-informed. Voracious consumers of new information about technologies and business application. Many are possessed of extraordinary senses of humor.
But the most successful always demonstrate extreme levels of enthusiasm for the technologies they work with, and for the businesses they serve.
One of the greatest pleasures for me over the years came when visiting customers or prospective customers with one of these enthusiastic engineers. Totally fascinating watching the customers’ faces as the engineer explained the value proposition derived from the technology they were recommending. They quite literally lit up. Plenty of heads nodding approvingly. Then they would begin to finish the engineer’s sentences with them.
In the course of my own career, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to manage salespeople as well as technology professionals. Never have I met a sales professional who can achieve what these technology professionals achieve in impressing, encouraging, and enthusing customers. This is not to minimize the talent of many of the sales pros I’ve been honored to work with, but the depth of knowledge, the expanse of experience, all coupled with the incredible ingredient enthusiasm, is something nobody else can duplicate.
I once worked for a CEO who had been a very successful salesman and served as excellent proof of the Peter Principle, that everyone rises to their level of incompetence.
After going on several client visits with this CEO I became very familiar with his theory of great salesmanship, which was to talk as fast as possible and throw in some excited gestures. I marveled at his earlier sales success, wondering how it could have been achieved with this methodology.
But it points out one very important enabling element of the enthusiasm of highly effective technology professionals. Their enthusiasm, their downright passion for technologies is completely genuine. They’re not faking it. They genuinely love this stuff! It peels off them like a snakeskin. When they speak they are so totally compelling that listeners literally can’t pull away.
What’s the Takeaway?
This is a tough question to consider. I always want to provide recommendations that readers can use, that will be valuable to their future decision-making.
Given that you can’t successfully fake it, suggesting that you learn to love tech is a useless suggestion. It’s probably not something you can learn or develop. As fabled grocery king Stew Leonard once said, “Enthusiasm can’t be taught, it’s gotta be caught.”
So here goes.
My best suggestion for hiring managers is to be sure to examine your candidates looking for their extreme enthusiasm. Ask them to explain one or two technologies to you. If they lapse into bits and bytes, acronyms, speeds, and feeds, they’re probably into the technology but lack the understanding of the value they offer to customers. That’s a definite must-have.
But if they present examples of how a technology truly delivered results, value, and great business outcomes, they definitely do “get it.” If their presentation gets your heart beating faster, you’ve very likely got yourself a great candidate.
More challenging is my best suggestion for those engineers who don’t really feel much for the tech.
Frankly, I’d find something else to do that you can be passionate about. Certainly, if the tech doesn’t move you, never seek a pre-sales position or try to go out as an independent. If you can’t feel excited yourself, how are you going to excite anyone about engaging you?
There are also many great careers for technologists that contain no customer contact whatsoever. Backroom positions managing networks, running data centers, troubleshooting networks, there’s plenty for you to do. Just avoid customers.
Even as I write that, “just avoid customers,” it sounds unnatural… but that’s me.