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The Case of the Two IT Pros: the Magician and the Fireman

Posted by Premkumar Yogeswaran on December 9, 2013


There are two types of IT professionals. Magicians and firemen. When I first started in IT, I was fireman. I enjoyed the never ending problems and that superman like feeling when I saved the day with just seconds to spare. After a few years, I realized that I wasn’t making any progress. I was still fixing the same problems every day. I felt chained to the helpdesk. I realized that my work style was completely wrong!

Are you a Magician or a Fireman?

The easiest way to define yourself is to look at how you spend the majority of your day. Day in and day out, the fireman will run from one problem to the next. Always fixing problems but rarely really solving them. This barrage of issues dictate a reactive work style. If you were to clump most of their daily tasks together, the tasks would be urgent but not important.

The magician will spend most of the day working remotely, automating processes, and introducing efficiency. As problems are automated (and forever fixed), more time is made available to automate. This rather pleasant cycle lends itself to a proactive and flexible work style. If you were to clump most of their daily tasks together, the tasks would be important but not urgent.

Both types have overlap. Unanticipated problems will ruin any magician’s day. And a fireman will have that all too rare day where nothing breaks. If you are a fireman, you might be wondering how to be a magician. The secret is compounding time. The more problems you automate, the more time you will have to automate!

Funny Effects with Slight of Hand

For a practical example, let’s see the power of compounding time. You help dozens of users every day. On average, it takes you three minutes to get a computer name from a user and you have to ask six users a day for their computer name. That is 18 minutes a day spent on finding this single piece of information. If you work 260 days a year, you will spend two work weeks on just finding computer names! Imagine how much could get done if it only took you 10 seconds to find a computer name?

By making small changes like this, you slowly start to see your day getting easier. You suddenly start to feel like you are getting ahead of issues and actually making progress! But here is the crucial step in this whole process. Any time saved must be used to save more time. If you script a process that saves you an hour a week, that hour must be used to script another process or to learn a new tool. Otherwise, your up front effort is is wasted!

When you compound time for a few months, you will notice a few funny effects. First, your day will be a lot less stressful! Second, you will enjoy your work quite a bit more. Finally, you might start to worry about your job.


Can I Work Myself Out of a Job?

This is a topic often debated within our profession. My firm belief is that it is possible to work yourself out of a job if two conditions exist. First, you continue to automate but never show what you are doing. As with any job, you must show results to remain relevant.

An easy way to show results is to focus your projects on end user problems. Figure out a way to save a department time and show that department what you’ve done. By doing this, you will quickly gain staff members that sing your praises every day!

The second condition is to have idiotic management. It is possible to have a manager that thinks, “Well – no huge problems have popped up lately and our budget has been cut. Guess I will have to let someone go.” If that person was you, consider yourself lucky! You have spent time learning incredibly valuable skills like scripting, Group Policy, deployments, etc. Where you co-workers might have spent the day goofing off, you developed some serious talent! With this toolset, you have the ability to work anywhere (and probably get a raise in the process)!

So Where Do You Fall?

The times, they are a changing. The world of IT is becoming more and more automated. Because of this, I believe that the magician style of work is the easiest way to stay ahead of changes and trends. So where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you think I am right or wrong about this breakdown? Are there other roles or work styles that I completely missed?

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2 Responses to “The Case of the Two IT Pros: the Magician and the Fireman”

  1. Raj said

    Good one…Prem

  2. Very good info. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance (stumbleupon).
    I have saved as a favorite for later!

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