It takes more than typing accuracy and a memorized command list to make you a great system administrator. You need to master the single most important – and perhaps the most difficult – skill to attain of all: People skills.
I won't keep you in suspense. This isn't a novel after all. System administrators need to hone their people skills. I know. I know. You've heard it before: "You need to learn how to deal with people." I'll be perfectly honest with you – dealing with people is the most difficult part of any job. Think of people in retail sales, real estate, medicine, and politics. The one skill they all have, or should have, in common is that they genuinely like people. It's hard to believe but there are those poor souls out there who love to talk to people, love to negotiate with people, love to help people, and there are those who, God forbid, love to listen to people.
Not us, right? We're not part of that political ilk. Somehow we've evolved past it. We can text, IM, and email our way around a real conversation. And I'm not pointing the fickle finger of guilt just at you – oh no, I'm pointing into a mirror as well. I'm just as guilty as the most introverted, Sheldon Cooper-esque, nonconformist out there. I too have my moments of disdain for humankind, but I don't think I'm all that bad – which, of course, is a symptom of the bigger problem.
We're smart. We know what we're doing. We don't need to be glad handing, pressing the flesh, or listening to someone drone painfully on about their pets, their kids, or their significant others, when all we really desire is to fix whatever lame problem ails them and then get back to our network scans and to our now tepid Diet Dr. Peppers.
Unfortunately, life involves other people, and the most successful technical people (the ones you hate but secretly want to be like) are those who know how to deal effectively with the human race, one individual at a time. I know it sounds crazy, but success in any field is often not measured by how well you do something but rather by how people feel about you, and – drumroll please – you can enhance your people skills that you might or might not have been blessed with at birth.
You want ultimately to lean toward being a mix of Moss, Roy, and Jen . Yes, Jen too. Think about it. If you rolled up those three people into a single person, he or she would dress pretty well, speak well, be really smart, be honest, and be the right mixes of naïve, sweet, and funny. Now be honest. You really like all three of them for their individual traits, don't you? Think how awesome a mixture of all three would be.
Now be that person.
Sure, Jen doesn't know what the letters I.T. stand for, but does it matter that she doesn't? She runs interpersonal interference for her staff. She's a people person. She's the manager. She doesn't need technical skills because her job is to keep the work flowing. The fictional Douglas Reynholm of The IT Crowd said his father described the IT department as "a dynamic go-getter, a genius, and a man from Ireland." He was accurate on all counts. And all three were perfect in their roles.
You have to glean the best parts of those three to become the employee that managers want (Jen), the coworker that the other nerds want to be around (Moss), and the happy-go-lucky guy you want to go have a beer with after work (Roy). Of course, you'll have to buy if you go with Roy, but his hilarious dialog will offset the cost. Hone your people skills with classes, with conversations, with camaraderie, and with your presence. You can learn these skills, and you must unless you want to be a dungeon dweller for the rest of your life (Richmond). You don't have to be a salesman all the time. You don't have to be a showman 24/7. And you don't have to put on a façade to get along with others. When it comes to soft skills and dealing with people, remember the question: Have you tried turning it off and on again?
Ken Hess * ADMIN Senior Editor