A Geek's Guide to IT Management

By John Palinkas  |  Posted 10-14-2013
People figures, circle

A Geek's Guide to IT Management

By John Palinkas

I am a geek. I have always been a geek. And while I have always relished being a geek, I ended up in IT management and then consulting—and learned some valuable truths about people, process and management along the way.

Even at an early age, I was always fascinated by computers. I remember when Atari first announced that it was would sell a home computer. The fact that I could have my own personal computer that I could use any way I wanted was revolutionary. Imagine that, my own personal computer. It had a 1.79 MHZ 8-bit processor with 16K of user memory. And the computer had expansion slots; I added memory cards and got a whole 64K of memory. Wow! But there was more. The Atari had peripherals! I could get an external disk drive and add 88K of removable storage. I had unlimited storage. Unbelievable! But then I saw the ultimate addition—an acoustic coupler modem. I could connect with other computers at 300 baud, using my phone line. I could interact with people and chat. Outstanding!

Of course, I had to have a technical career. My first position was as a programmer. I would be able to play with computers all day long. And they were going to pay me to do it. Life could not have been more wonderful. I got to learn COBOL and FORTRAN. The languages and computers were so much more sophisticated than my Atari, but I soon discover how limited I was. I could write only application programs, so I had to become a system programmer. Now, there was a large commercial computer where I was the master. It was like having a large-scale version of my Atari that they paid me to play with! Life was good.

In those days, you could advance only so far in the technical ranks. So, I had to move to management. But it was not so bad as I was managing technical people. And when my boss was not watching, I still got to do technical stuff. Also, I was managing a data center that was full of system programmers, each of whom were masters of multiple large commercial computers. Maybe being in management was not so bad after all.

But, of course, you could advance only so far by managing technical people. By now, I had a friend who was my mentor and career advisor, and he advised me to take positions like strategic planning, product management and technical resource management. Along the way, I discovered there was more than technology, there was also process. This was a way of making sure the technology could be used in a repeatable way to ensure consistent results. I was fascinated again.

I became a Baldrige examiner and scored applications of different organizations. I used ISO-9000 to implement an operations center that could statistically guarantee results to their customers. I discovered the ITIL framework and how it could be used to significantly improve the service delivery function of any organization. During this period, I switched jobs a few times and ended up as an independent consultant. My first job was to participate in conducting an ITIL assessment, which how I met my business partner Charles Araujo.

It was during the course of this ITIL assessment that Charlie and I discovered the secret that had eluded both of us for years. The client company was different than most organizations we had seen. The company had a very collaborative culture and truly valued its people as individuals, not as just another resource. Unfortunately, this culture was getting in the company’s way and preventing it from being as responsive and nimble as required in the modern age. In working with the company, we were able to help it achieve results in six months that it had not been able to achieve in over two years.

What was the secret we discovered? People.

A Geek's Guide to IT Management

We discovered that most people want to fix what is wrong. They want to make things better. They want to do the right thing. What gets in their way is a combination of technology, process and sometimes management. (Yes, all of the things I loved!) I can sum up our philosophy in the following guiding principle that we use:

Senior management knows best WHAT needs to be fixed,
the people doing the job every day know best HOW to fix it.

All you need to do is to find a way to give these people an opportunity and you will be surprised at the results you can achieve. This geek has spent the past five years working with people and culture. What a surprise! It is not what I would have imagined I would be doing when I started my career.

P.S. I am still a geek!

About the Author

John Palinkas is a partner at The IT Transformation Institute. ITTI is a catalyst for transforming the IT industry. ITTI helps change the DNA of IT teams, solving today’s problems and breaking the cycles that led to them, and to create next-generation IT organizations. John has spent more than three decades in the IT services industry, working with industry leaders like AT&T, AT&T Solutions and British Telecom. He has led numerous multimillion dollar, multiyear outsourcing and service-delivery engagements for dozens of Fortune 500 firms. He has extensive experience and expertise in IT transformation efforts, outsourcing analysis, M&A integrations and service implementations. John serves on the executive committee for NJ SIM Chapter, the leadership team of NJ itSMF LIG, and is a regular contributor to CIO InsightHe can be reached via email at John.Palinkas@TransformingIT.org, and you can follow him on Twitter via @jpalinkas.

You can read his previous CIO Insight article, “Why Are You Using Social Media Channels?”, by clicking here.