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Article by Mohan Babu


Get armed with knowledge tool kits

In a highly competitive world, the possession of the right knowledge tool is an invaluable asset for a skillful IT professional, writes Mohan Babu

The recent downturn in the IT sector has brought a renewed interest in the productivity of knowledge workers, which has been on the rise. Most professionals or knowledge workers undergo months and years of training, acquire certifications and take great pride in their skills. However, all things being equal, only a few professionals are able to stand head and shoulders above their peers, providing value added service and solutions to their companies. They are able to leverage their knowledge and experience by bringing something “special” to the table. How do they do that? By leveraging their skills and by using knowledge tool kits, some professionals are able to stay ahead of the curve.

Successful leaders and managers have long known the importance of leveraging their knowledge by using Knowledge Management tools and techniques. Even professionals around the world are increasingly using these tools and techniques. No wonder, Alan Greenspan, the chairman of America’s Federal Reserve Bank gushes every time he talks about labour productivity in the US.

I want to illustrate the use of knowledge tools with an anecdote. Our project, a complex system integrating many legacy applications into a common Web-based architecture, was in a “critical” stage and my group was tasked with using a less-known software tool, Actuate, to render system reports in the form of PDF files. We started playing with the tool that was straightforward to use per se, but we realised that we needed to use some of its undocumented features to achieve our goals. Due to the lack of time, we were unable to send a team-member for training. Instead, we decided to hire a ‘consultant’ who would bring in his expertise to the project.

We interviewed and hired an Actuate expert; let’s call him Mr Miller, who had about three years experience in using the tool and was trained and certified by Actuate. A smart technologist that he was, Miller spent a few days studying our system.

After analysing our requirements, he realised that he was out of his depth when it came to using the tool the way we wanted to. His skills lay in not trying to solve the problem but in knowing his limitations—instead of throwing his hands up in the air, he got busy using his “tool kit”. He had a phonebook of contact and e-mail ids of his ex-pals and buddies he had earlier worked with. He had a few “insider” contact numbers at Actuate support helpdesk and knew a thing or two about the Actuate peer group website maintained by the company. Miller immediately got busy sounding all his peers and searching the knowledge base. In a couple of days, we were able to brainstorm through a workable solution, and a few days after that the system was ready to be tested!

Knowledge workers and professionals are increasingly realising the importance of building and maintaining personal tool kits. Some of the ideas include:

Maintain a Diary (digital or physical): Professionals should maintain a diary or database which should be frequently updated with contacts, phone and e-mails of people one has worked with. One can also use the diary to note important technical updates or reference ideas.

Periodic updating of resume after every project: A resume is a chronicle of your achievements through your career. Periodic updating of your resume will not only help you record your achievements but also act as a chronicle of the projects and technologies worked on.

Web resources: There are several forums; chat-boards and discussion boards on the Web for niche specialisations. Learn to use them. For example Java programmers swear by a number of discussion boards (including with sophisticated search capability that they frequently use. Internet and the Web can also be used for research and networking with peers. Although one must take everything posted on the Web with a grain of salt, it is an excellent resource that professionals must learn to navigate.

Networking with peers: Constant networking with peers will help you think outside the box and look for solutions you might otherwise think of yourself. Networking could be physical like a weekly meeting with peers or virtual like in the case of an online chat. Instant messages are increasingly becoming powerful tools for networking.

Books and magazines: Constantly reading tech journals and books in your field will help you keep abreast of latest happenings in your area. Experts suggest that professionals should subscribe to at least two or three magazines or journals, one of which should be a general business magazine, and one should be a professional magazine.

Seminars, presentations and tech conferences: Attending tech conferences will help you kill two birds with one stone: It will not only help you stay abreast of trends but also help you network with your peers. Choose the seminars you attend carefully. Beware of the fact many seminars and conferences conducted by PR companies are thinly guised business ventures to help them make money and may be a waste of money and time.

It is not my intention to lead readers to believe that having a knowledge tool kit alone will lead to success. A knowledge base or system is no substitute for real knowledge acquired through study and experience. However in a competitive world, with all other things being equal, having the right tools will tip the balance in your favour. In the hands of a skillful professional, a knowledge base can be an invaluable asset.

This is true not just for IT professionals but also those in other fields too. Lawyers and doctors have long relied on “case studies” and examples, many of which have been converted into searchable databases. A second opinion suggested by doctors is nothing but a peer review. A lawyer quoting “Smith vs. Bank of England” is using a repository of commonly accepted legal knowledge base.

As the global economy becomes more unified and knowledge workers from different parts of the world work in large complex projects, use of tools-of-trade along with knowledge tools will help professionals perform optimally.




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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