Outside of work I spend some amount of time debating a range of topics with chosen friends over email. This week I'm debating the future of the press with InformationWeek editor Lorna Gary. While we have pretty divergent views about what the next few years hold for "the press" in the traditional and new media sense, Lorna is intelligent, educated, and aware not only of the needs of her little piece of the pie, but pressure on advertisers, etc. It makes for some stimulating conversation, and I always learn something from these discussions.

Which is one thing you should be doing that isn't going to be on a list of "important things to do for your career in a tough economy". Successful people always have dissenting voices around them. Always. That's because you can't be successful without a multi-faceted world-view. Not in the long term anyway. If you find that the people around you (or if you're management, those subordinate to you) are always nodding when you talk, it's time to find new people to talk to. Seriously. There is not one true app server, there is not one true anything outside of LoTR, even though technologists tend toward polarization. Good technologists know the pitfalls of making a choice and then sledge-hammering it to fit every problem, and opinions are no different. Seek out and truly consider dissenting opinions. I'll bet money there is a person in your organization that thinks you've got the wrong preferred development environment, and another that thinks significant savings could be had by outsourcing chunks of IT. Listen to them. They may not have the whole picture, but neither will you unless you spend the time to get it.

While at NWC I came to the realization that a whole lot of sales decisions are made before vendors are even called in, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad (you'd be amazed the things ex-sales guys will say after a few drinks to a guy they know isn't a reporter or likely customer). Like the above examples, if you're going to call salespeople up and ask them to spend their time, listen to them - doesn't matter what the project or product is - and seriously consider them as an option. Review why the decision was made originally and think hard about whether it was based on facts that were good for your organization or some other factor like politics or "not invented here" syndrome. Also look for functionality that you wish your chosen product had, so you can find good ideas and push your chosen vendor to implement them.

I am not privy to this type of information for F5, but I imagine we're much like any other organization, not complaining about the ones we win due to politics or inertia, or other non-technical reasons, and struggling to figure out how to even get a fair hearing in situations where those factors heavily favor a competitor.

But how we (or any vendor) act isn't nearly as important to you as how you act - seek out information, seriously apply yourself to gather it, from a variety of sources. Knowledge is indeed power, and where knowledge, foresight, and a strict appreciation of the needs of the business cross is IT Nirvana. Of course you'll find stuff with your chosen vendor you don't like over time - no product is perfect - but starting out as informed as possible makes those issues appear to be what they are, minor niggles that you can press the vendor to fix, nothing more.

Where did this come from? Well during the current round of emails with Lorna I (correctly, I think - Lorna may disagree) identified one of her blind spots and one of mine... And that got me to thinking about you all, and how we all have blind spots. You read the result, your call if it was worth your time.

Until next time,

Don.