12 effective habits of indispensable IT pros

Ditch the slackers, take on dirty work, do it with data -- here's how to get the inside track on a highly rewarding career in IT

How do you keep your job -- or get a better one -- in an era when hiring is in a freeze and budgets are perpetually squeezed? Follow these 12 maxims and find out.

Some of these ideas are practical advice you've probably heard before (and ignored). Being familiar with the business objectives and how technology can improve the bottom line is more important than ever. But so is expanding your portfolio of IT skills. Mastering cloud services or data management will help ensure your relevance in a rapidly changing work environment. You'll also want to reach out and communicate with your colleagues across the aisle and the organization, and take on dirty jobs nobody else wants. Eventually it may even mean leaving the comfort of a big organization and branching out on your own.

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But remember: Becoming "indispensable" can be a double-edged sword. Get too indispensable and you might find yourself unable to move beyond your niche.

Effective IT habit No. 1: Get down to business

You may be your organization's most talented developer or dedicated systems administrator. But if you don't know what the business is selling or what service it's providing, you're an unemployment statistic waiting to happen.

First step: Learn as much about the business as you possibly can, advises Mark A. Gilmore, president and co-founder of Wired Integrations, a strategic technology consulting firm.

"Ask yourself, 'How does it make its money? What are its strengths and weaknesses?'" Gilmore says. "Once you understand how the company works, you can use your IT knowledge to improve the company -- thus making yourself more valuable and less dispensable."

It helps to have a deep understanding of the company's critical infrastructure and to keep abreast of tech trends, he adds. But this may also require broadening your worldview.

"Don't look at things from strictly an IT perspective," he says. "Widen your vision to see how things relate to the business world around you. That will make you more valuable than 20 technical certifications and a master's degree."

Effective IT habit No. 2: Keep your eye on the bottom line

Your job isn't just to keep the lights on and the data center humming. It's to help your organization use technology to improve the business -- especially by trimming costs and increasing efficiency.

Servers running at a fraction of their capacity? If you haven't already virtualized your data center, now's the time. Software licenses dragging down your budget? You have an increasingly broad choice of low-cost cloud-based apps that let you pay only for what you use and only for as long as you use it. That's barely scratching the surface.

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