I started working in the information technology (IT) at the tender age of 18 in 1988 as an intern and it has been an amazing ride. In 28 short years, I have gone from working in a computer room loading punched cards for mainframes, living through the evolution to client-server based applications to working with mobile app development teams.
My last day as an IT professional is May 26, 2017, where I will then begin running my artful business as a full time career. As a thank you to the companies and people I have worked with through the years, and an encouragement to entrepreneurs out there, here are twenty eight things I learned in twenty eight years that I believe apply to succeeding at a professional career as well as running a business.
1. We are small fish in a big sea, but the way we flap our fins matters.
2. Become a master of your trade, yet also willing to grow skills in areas that aren’t ‘your job.’
3. The people around you matter. Treat them well, listen to them, learn from them and love them to the best of your ability.
4. There is much more that goes into the price of something than the cost of the materials it is made of.
5. Never discount an idea as crazy. Let it incubate because it just might become the one thing that changes everything.
6. There will be times you get caught up in what the competition is doing and think you need to do more of those things. Don’t let ‘them’ sway you from your purpose, your reason for being in business. Once this happens, your customer begins to shift away because you aren’t you anymore.
7. There will always be others who drag you down for various reasons. Give them a big smile, break away from their clutches and work with the people who want to work with you.
8. Learning to consolidate big ideas into meaningful, digestible bites helps people rally around them and develop them into something amazing.
9. It is better to catch flies with honey.
10. Speaking in front of large groups of people is one of the best things a person can do to build confidence. The secret to getting over the fear is to find a few friendly faces in the audience and have a conversation with them.
11. Computers can do so much to help a company organize information, provide customers information and communicate with suppliers. Be careful, however, not to trust them too much or to let them become the reason you’re in business. (unless you sell hardware or software :)
12. When you are working as part of a team to build something, there are three kinds of people. Those who lead, those who follow and those who sit down in the middle of the road. The first two will succeed in whatever they do.
13. Whenever you want to make a point, pictures really are worth more than a thousand words, especially written words.
14. Before you get caught up in working lots of hours, make sure those hours are worth working.
15. Get up out of the chair at least once an hour and MOVE!
16. Three things always bound a project: time, scope and budget. Taking time at the beginning to decide which of the three are the most and least flexible will help make trade off decisions easier as the project blooms.
17. Marketing and branding are two entirely different things. Branding is the essence of a company or suite of products that rarely changes. Marketing is how we converse with our customers and it changes as fast as a racehorse switches track positions at the KY Derby.
18. There are important decisions to be made every day when running a company. Taking the time to think about the why versus the cost before investing time, money or ingenuity into an idea is worth it.
19. Too many options freak people out, especially if they can’t find what they are looking for.
20. No matter what coding language you are working in, remember it all dwindles to 0 and 1, yes and no, on and off, true and false...
21. People are starving for companies to listen to them. Do this and they will love you.
22. When you are working with a team of people on a project, it will serve you well to remember the reason why.
23. Short product development cycles that build upon one another are far more efficient than designing to perfection. This is true in software and is also true for tangible items.
24. Showing concepts to your very best customers at the beginning stage of product development and listening to them along the journey as new products come to life is one of the best strategies for making things that matter.
25. Don’t be afraid to break the rules, but make sure they are rules worth breaking and don’t be a jerk about it.
26. Index cards, post it notes and good pens/Sharpies are something every person should have in their toolbox. They can be used to organize concepts and thoughts, build models, plan out work and so much more.
27. Any time you want to quit, seek input from these two people to aid in your decision making: someone who has been where you are and stuck with it and someone who has been where you are and left.
28. Taking Sunday off work and electronics is the very best thing a person can do to maintain their energy, attitude and creativity. There’s a reason God rested on the seventh day.
I hope you enjoyed this list and that it helps you in your career or running your own business in some small way. What would YOU add?
P.S. Here is a special bonus: Choose your mentors wisely. There are people who have gone before you who want to help you with your career and business. Listening to them and applying what you have learned from them is the best thanks you can give them and makes their hearts sing!