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Working Alone is An IT Myth

Computing often has a reputation as a solitary profession. The stereotype of the, usually male, poorly groomed coder with poor social skills working all night is not a realistic picture of successful computer professionals. There is some limited truth to this myth.

Like any job with tight deadlines, unexpected or unscheduled problems do happen that can cause the need for late night heroics. Like any creative job, sometimes, someone will get in the zone and just keep working until the creativity runs out or they get too tired or hungry to go on. Either of these situations tend to lead to people who are tired, impatient, cranky and disheveled.

Also, many computer professionals work in a very informal work environment often because they rarely deal with their customers (particularly external customers) face to face, so the level of grooming and care in speech expected is not necessarily the same as people who regularly are seen by customers and business partners. I think this distancing from customers, combined with the reputation of the field as being good for loners or those who are socially awkward has encouraged such people to move into the field, just as the reputation of sales as being a good field for the extremely gregarious has pushed such people into that line of work. For instance, as late as the early 90's, I saw high schoolers who had poor or undeveloped social skills pushed toward computing and the sciences by well-meaning parents, teachers and guidance counselors on the basis that that wasn't as important in those fields. Additionally, like almost any profession, highly skilled practitioners who have behaviors that would otherwise be unacceptable are accepted or catered to by managers or clients who value their work more than they dislike their behavior.

If you are interested in a computer career because you don't want to work with other people, you are likely to be very disappointed. This has never been strictly true and over time as we learn better what works well, we are finding that we need more, not less interaction with others to do most computer work. For instance, programming is the stereotypical solitary profession, yet one of the newer methodologies, XP (Extreme Programming), calls for programming in pairs.

Computer careers are usually project based or customer support based (or a mixture of both.) Clearly, if you are in customer support, you will be supporting customers (possibly internal customers, but customers nonetheless.) This means you are likely to regularly be communicating with customers, or less knowledgeable coworkers if you are second or third level customer support.

If your job is project based, you will get requirements from others whether that is a manager, architect, or client then work with them or your coworkers to ensure you have a common understanding, determine what is realistic and how best to achieve them. There will likely be things that don't go as expected and need to be reconsidered. You may work closely with others to achieve your part of the project. Then the work will have to be tested in some way, which will involve multiple cycles of testers finding and reporting to developers (or editors telling writers or whatever rolls apply) what needs more work and why. Once the project is done, the whole project team is usually involved in some sort of lessons learned discussions. And a finished project usually results in either providing some sort of support for it or training the people who will be providing long term support.

However, unlike many other fields, most computer careers do accept and even value people's desire to think about something for a while and being focused on work, hobbies or professional development rather than wanting to socialize, even after hours, is not seen as unfriendly. So, while computing can still be a comfortable career for those who are more solitary, you still require the basic social skills to grease the wheels in working with others and you will likely be working with others quite a bit.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Julie L Baumler. All rights reserved.
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