Get armed with knowledge
In a highly
competitive world, the possession of the right knowledge tool is an
invaluable asset for a skillful IT professional, writes Mohan Babu
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.
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.
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.
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
workers and professionals are increasingly realising the importance of
building and maintaining personal tool kits. Some of the ideas include:
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.
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.
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 java.sun.com)
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.
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.
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.
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.