IT pros: Don't let business managers dictate your smarts

As an IT pro, you might be considered the smartest person in the room -- it could be worse. Still, it's a good idea to temper your colleagues' expectations

Dear Bob ...

I work for a very lean IT organization, and it's common that although one of us may be very skilled at a particular function there is no way we can know all things about everything. And the unspoken expectation tends to be, "well, you're the smartest person in the room ... don't you know the answer to X, Y, and Z?"

[ Want to cash in on your IT experiences? InfoWorld is looking for stories of an amazing or amusing IT adventure, lesson learned, or war tale from the trenches for our Off the Record blog. Send your story to If we publish it, we'll keep you anonymous and send you a $50 American Express gift cheque. ]

Heck, what if you aren't the smartest person in the room? Some humor here is probably the solution. But in fact, it's an unfair expectation for people to assume that IT always has the solution, especially if staff won't read the user manual.

- Smart, but not that smart

Dear Smart ...

You provide manuals to the staff? That's unusual -- half the time the software I buy doesn't even come with a manual.

In any event, it sure could be worse. Your business colleagues could assume you aren't the smartest person in the room.

Your situation is analogous to that of a physicist who has been asked a question about biology, based on this syllogism: "You're a scientist. Biology is a science. Therefore, you must know the answer."

The best answer: "This isn't my field, I'm afraid." If you're feeling helpful or are professionally obligated to be helpful, follow that with, "I know the right person to ask -- when do you need the answer?" (Or: "I can research this for you if you like -- when do you need the answer?")

If you aren't feeling so helpful, or figure the questioner would benefit from developing some self-sufficiency, there's this alternative: "I'm on deadline with a number of assignments right now. If you want me to research it the earliest I could get to it would be next Wednesday. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure Wikipedia will have a decent write-up on this subject. Why not give that a try, and if you don't find what you need let me know."

- Bob

This story, "IT pros: Don't let business managers dictate your smarts," was originally published at Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.