5 reasons IT pros should be paranoid

Secret data leaks, data centers on the brink -- and your career hanging in the balance

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IT paranoia No. 1: Management will never understand your value

You're working 40, 50, 60 hours a week keeping the bits flowing and handling last-minute and often ridiculous requests, and what do you have to show for it? Best case: You're invisible. Worst case? You've got a big red bull's-eye on your back.

Welcome to a wonderful career in IT in the new millennium.

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"A lot of the paranoia I see in IT shops revolves around the questions, 'Will I have a job down the road? What will IT funding look like?'" says Bender's Archibald. "Every organization is living year to year, and some are living quarter to quarter. People aren't getting reassurances from upper management that IT is important. That causes a lot of angst."

IT professionals face three big problems, says management consultant Patty Azzarello, CEO of Azzarello Group. One is that the suits usually have no clue what the IT folks actually do, and they like it that way. The second is IT is usually a big, fat juicy line item in the budget that management always wants to cut (in part because they have no idea what IT does). And the third is that management is often afflicted with what Azzarello calls "business amnesia."

"When the IT org does something wonderful, like roll out an ERP or CRM system that brings in more customers and higher profits, those efficiencies get absorbed into the business," she says. "For one quarter, management cheers, then they forget about it. But they also forget that IT has to continue to pay for that system. So IT becomes a black hole that spends a lot of money on things nobody understands."

But IT pros also deserve some of the blame. If all you're doing at work is keeping the lights on, you're not doing enough to make yourself recession-proof, says Dave MacKeen, CEO of IT recruiting firm Eliassen Group.

"CIOs look for A-level players who can solve problems," he says. "Even if they don't know the answer, they leverage internal and external resources, think systematically, and consider edge conditions. B- and C-level players just show up and get the job done."

In a tough economy those jobs are the first to get outsourced, he says.

It also helps if you can speak in a way that business leaders respect and understand, says Azzarello.

"You have to listen to the exact words business stakeholders use to describe what's important to them, and then use those words yourself," she advises. "It doesn't help if you're talking about 'SAP financials' when the business people call it the 'order entry process.'" 

If you're really listening, she adds, you will see that the businesspeople are talking about two distinct services -- plain-vanilla order entry and high-priority order entry for the last 48 hours of each month -- and you will know to create different IT services for each.

"If IT people want to improve their visibility and their credibility, they need to take it upon themselves to step up and connect with the business side through relationships and communication," says Azzarello. "It's never going to happen any other way."

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