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The Day I Realized I Had No Skills

June 3, 2014

I can’t add a user to a network Organizational Unit. I have to have one of our Desktop engineers do it.

I can’t modify a firewall rule. I have to have one of our network engineers do it.

I cannot generate a monthly availability report. I have to have one of our database engineers do it.

I can’t even help people with a question on the phone about one of our products. We have agents to do that.

Slowly the realization hit me. From a technical standpoint, I had no skills. Our printer is broken. I have no clue how to begin fixing it.

This was a difficult realization for me. There was a time where I was the very best in the world at what I did. (The Power of Saying I Don’t Know, How I Saved The EPA, Sometimes You Just Get Lucky.) I’m no longer that guy.

Former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton wrote the bestselling baseball book, “Ball Four.”

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He describes how he knew when he was no longer a professional pitcher. It was long after he’d retired from active playing and as a pitching coach he could no longer get college kids to strike out.

I was there. I could probably get it back, but I realized that I didn’t really want to. I no longer was fascinated by how networks and computers worked. Oh, I like working in IT, but my focus now is on the people and how they want to use software and systems rather than the systems themselves.

So, if I lacked pretty much all technical skills, why do I have a job? Why do I feel like I’m a critical part to the success of my current project?

Because, while I may lack skills, I’ve got a mouth. I can talk. Yes, I know that some people will point out that talking is ALSO a skill, but it’s difficult to point to a task that is accomplished by talking. Talking is talking not doing.

But, my current job is all about talking. And I enjoy it. I have to remind myself that talking is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. In other words, I don’t want to be the guy who wanders around wasting everyone’s time by sucking up all their time.

Project Managers also need to be able to put together a project plan. I’ll talk about that aspect of my job another day. But, the talking part is a big part.

I work for a telecommunication company. We have lots and lots of phone lines. I was introduced to the unique culture of my company when I had to meet with two other PMs working on my project. We were 3/4 of a “cube farm. I shared a wall with Mike and he shared a wall with me and Chris. And Chris was kitty-corner across from me. (Or katty-corner as Mike would say. . .something about being from the East.) Anyway, we needed to discuss a document so naturally rather than get up and walk 20 feet to the conference room, we fired up Microsoft Lync and held an online meeting while we were literally 3 feet apart.

That’s what we do. . .we talk.

It’s a funny thing about skills that are easy for you and not as easy for others. You tend to discount their importance. I’ve been doing project management work for over a decade. It’s second nature to realize that you talk to different people different ways. With this executive, you need to be deferential. With that one direct. This director is hesitant to make a decision, so you need to present him with an iron clad case. That one is given to snap judgements, so make sure you’ve thought through the possible ramifications.

A routine maintenance schedule change came through my mailbox last week. Within minutes an account manager sent me a note reminding me that the client needed to be informed.

Already sent it.

So, yes, I understand that talking is a skill. Well, talking effectively is. But, I still miss the days when I was the doer, not necessarily the talker.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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