A rather interesting piece that I came across over the weekend over at Adam Barr’s blog has had me thinking quite a bit about the term IT Generalist and the “persona” created by Microsoft’s marketing department.
The first thing that popped into my head after reading it, and all the comments, is that some of the people leaving comments have never worked in the small business world. It’s all well and good to see this “Joe” as incompetent, but understand that if Joe were the technical expert that has spent 10-20 years as a system admin, he wouldn’t be working at this job. The small business he works for couldn’t afford him.
Second, I don’t think the title IT Generalist is a good one for the person who works in accounting as their regular job, who also has to take care of the computers. I see myself as an IT Generalist, someone who’s responsible not just for the desktops, but a server or two, database management, training, application support, maybe a little back-end website stuff, email, anti-virus, etc. IT Generalist is a full time job, one that does require being a “mile wide and an inch deep”. There is never enough time in the day to learn everything there is to know about all of these things. The person who’s main job is not in IT but who still has responsibility of the IT infrastructure should just be called “Screwed” in my book! (And I know what I’m talking about here, since that is the position my wife has in her small office!) 🙂
On the other hand, there are plenty of things an IT Generalist could, and should, be doing to make himself a better IT person, assuming that is what he wants to be. You will never get the in-depth knowledge that someone who works as an Exchange Admin fulltime is going to get, for example, but that’s no excuse not to educate yourself. Maybe you won’t be a mile deep in every subject, but if you can get to a couple of feet, instead of an inch, you’ll be better off in the long run.
Of course, getting that deep takes time and effort. And it takes more time than you have at the office. I’m lucky, our network is small enough that I actually do have some free time during a typical day to read up on some things, and write some things here, but I also spend a lot of my free time doing that as well. Take a look at my link blog. Look at the stuff I linked to over the weekend. I read all of that, and then some. I also managed to find time to run some errands and take in a movie with my wife, watch a little football, email a couple of resumes, chat with an old friend, and install a couple of updates on my laptop this weekend, so it’s not like I spend all my time reading tech blogs and tech news, but it’s an important part of being a good IT Generalist, so I make time to do it.
Another thing I do is keep a blog. (or two, or three. 🙂 ) This creates an online “peer group” where none existed before. I’m the whole IT department in the office, when I need to ask a question, where do I go? I turn to the tech blogging community. Countless times I’ve posted about a problem I’ve been having here and gotten suggestions and help from people who know more than I do about a specific subject.
I also spend a lot of time learning the tricks of the trade, so to speak. Learn to use Google. Learn to use the MS knowledge base. Learn to leverage RSS as a way to keep good information flowing in to you. Find good tech newsletters, subscribe and read them. Find people who have more knowledge than you do and listen to them. Read what they write, ask them questions, go see them speak. Find the time to “experiment” with systems, make sure you have the room to experiment at home, with stuff that doesn’t fit in your office network. Most of all, have fun with this stuff. Yes it’s a job, but if you truly enjoy learning, then doing all this extra stuff seems a lot less like work, and that will keep you motivated to do it day in and day out.
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