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Making IT Experts

A few years ago, Malcom Gladwell wrote Outliers. One of the major premises of this book is that to become an expert at any field requires 10,000 hours of practice. He based that number on research that established most experts in any field only achieved greatness after spending at least that amount of time honing their crafts. What’s interesting is that the proficiency achieved by these folks was irrespective of the “natural talent” that each individual had.

I got to thinking about this and after some pondering, I decided this is true in what we do throughout the IT community at large. Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with, and for, some of the most talented and successful individuals anywhere. I’ve also seen some tremendously bright folks fail at what they were doing - mostly because they weren't able to apply themselves to the craft at hand. Many of those bright individuals were simply just asked to do too much.

Let me give you a case in point - one that’s near and dear to my heart: backup administration. You see, backup administration is often seen as just another task that administrators need to perform. For those folks, they simply don't have the time to learn “backup” as well as they should. The math is simple. Ten thousand hours equates to roughly five years of full-time dedication to a craft - a single craft. If backup is just another task, there’s no reasonable way to expect someone to become an expert at that task.

Where backup administration is the only job responsibility, the person asked to do this isn't empowered to hone their craft. The research in Gladwell’s book found that simply performing the same task over and over for 10,000 hours won't make one an expert. Those hours have to be spent not only doing the core functions, but also refining and expanding knowledge. What we find in many organizations is that the day-to-day responsibilities are so overwhelming, learning new stuff just isn't possible.

How can you help your IT team get better?

There are a couple of ways to help your team get better. One is to systematically make sure that your team members are given the chance to become experts in their fields. Most successful organizations empower their staff and spend significant resources educating their own folks and fostering continual growth. When they don’t have internal knowledge, they seek outside help through additional training, outside consulting, and attendance at professional conferences. Where appropriate, internal mentoring programs should be set up. Leverage the experts you have to make more experts.

An alternative is to hire the experts. You can do that by either hiring them as part of your staff or to help you with your staff. At Datalink, we find value in both. Our customer engagements are driven around the concept of empowering your staff to do better. We bring in our experts to deliver projects and educate your folks to become self-sufficient (the old “teach you how to fish” model). However, in many organizations the internal resources are simply overwhelmed or better utilized. For those, we offer our managed services. Think of this as a pool of 10,000-plus-hour experts working for you. Folks who've learned the hard stuff without having to cut their teeth on your environment. We offer these services across IT disciplines and deliver them as an augmentation to your staff. Some customers find this to be a valuable temporary solution until their staff gains the expertise they need. Others find that they can use their own folks for more strategic internal tasks and leverage us for the “grunt” work. Either way, the value is that your folks get a chance to become experts at what they do.

Find out more about our managed services, and check out these videos for our managed backup service and managed monitoring service.