Five Dumb Mistakes IT Pros Make (And How To Avoid Making Them)

One avoidable mistake might be all that stands between you getting promoted or being caught out by a “resume-updating event”. Here are five common areas where IT pros mess up — and how to ensure you don’t make them.

Mistakes picture from Shutterstock

These hints come courtesy of a presentation by BCS president Jim Nelson at Data Center World in Las Vegas, which I’m attending as part of our ongoing World Of Servers coverage. As with our recent list of useful tactics for deploying metrics, these hints were originally directed at data centre managers, but have a broader applicability in many cases.

1. Not documenting processes

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The mistake: “IT people suck at documentation,” Nelson pointed out, bluntly but accuratle. “It isn’t sexy, it isn’t fun, and you don’t have time to do it.” However, the consequences of not documenting can also be wide-ranging: “If you do not define expectations, your staff will make them up.”

The solution: Set aside time in your calendar to produce documentation, and keep it simple. “Write it down; write it at a 10-year old level,” Nelson said. “‘This is what you do, and make sure you don’t do this.’”

If your documentation needs are extensive, consider hiring a technical writer on a contract. Broadly speaking, technical writers are much cheaper than actual IT professionals. Interns are also another potential source of documentation.

2. Not recognising the impact of outages

The mistake: You might view planned downtime as essential, but your users are unlikely to feel the same way. “There’s the idea unplanned outages are bad and scheduled outages are good, but they’re still an outage,” Nelson said. “When you schedule things because you need to, it still costs you time and money and it impacts your customers.”

The solution: Some systems really can’t be tested or updated without taking them offline. When that happens, make sure you communicate it in plenty of time to affected parties. Be prepared to be flexible: your perfect timing might be entirely imperfect from the point of view of a user with a crucial deadline.

3. Not accurately tracking costs

The mistake: In a world where maintenance budgets are often a best-case scenario, you’ll never get funding for new equipment or software if you can’t demonstrate business value with hard numbers. “How the heck can you build a cost justification when you don’t know what’s at risk?” Nelson said.

The solution: Be as specific with numbers as you can, whether those figures are positive (efficiency gains) or negative (the costs associated with outages). “Say an outage costs $1 million a minute and all of a sudden you have management attention,” Nelson advised. But be sure you can back those numbers up.

4. Paying too much attention to external metrics

The mistake: While you need to know your own costs, you don’t necessarily need to know everyone else’s. Knowing the average cost of downtime might tell you you’re performing better than your peers, but just how confident can you be those figures really apply to you? “80 per cent of the market isn’t the huge shops,” Nelson said. “It’s the poor slob who can’t get any staffing or support or budget.”

The solution: Focus on your own numbers. “Why do you care about averages?” Nelson said. “Protect your own organisation; that’s what you’re being paid for.”

5. Setting yourself up as the sole expert

The mistake: Everyone wants to be recognised as skilled in their field, but branding yourself as the sole source of IT wisdom can backfire. “Try not to put yourself on a pedestal — you make a much better target,” Nelson said. “Positioning yourself as the expert means you get the blame.”

The solution: “Don’t set yourself up to be perfect,” Nelson said. “You’re just the caretaker of the data centre. You’re just supposed to keep this thing running on behalf of the organisation.”

Lifehacker’s World Of Servers sees me travelling to conferences around Australia and around the globe in search of fresh insights into how server and infrastructure deployment is changing in the cloud era. This week, I’m in Las Vegas for Data Center World, looking at how the role of the data centre is changing and evolving.

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