Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

This post contains some random but valuable job tips that people that I respect have given me over the years.

A former managing director of mine used to say this: “I have completely given up on planning my day because it was too frustrating. Whenever I enter the office, somebody comes with something from somewhere and that always throws my plans for the day out of the window. But once I had accepted that fact and switched to exclusively working in ‘push-mode’, my job life had become much more comfortable.”

I fully agree with this, because later down the road, I became a manager myself, and I can confirm that this is the only successful way to get through a day when your job is to manage people and not to be a techie anymore.

Here’s some golden advice from another colleague of mine, and this advice is valid when you’re new to a job but out of nowhere the situation calls for you to be “the expert”: “Fake it till you make it.”

The reality, and that you need to accept, is that there will always be things you know nothing about thrown at you and you somehow must make it through it. You might take some comfort in the truth that nobody else in any company you will ever work at actually “knows it all”. At first, some people might appear like some frightening guru with superior knowledge that you will never achieve – and they will play that role very convincingly and probably enjoy a bit too much playing it for you. But once you have worked with those folks for a while – and once you have had some time to build up your own domain knowledge – that impression will diminish and you will see that everybody only cooks with water, as the saying goes. Then you will start seeing the cracks in the knowledge of those people that appeared so scary in the beginning, and when that happens rest assured that you have become a master of that specific niche of knowledge yourself.

It is said that becoming a master at something always takes at least 10,000 hours. It also requires that you have “the bite” for it and the willingness to learn, of course. Having “the bite” is important if you really want to become good in any job or industry. But in IT, having “the bite” is not just the key to becoming good, it actually is the key to survival. You will constantly need to read those “phone books” filled with stuff that you need to know to get the job at hand done – and the next day, once the job is done, you will never need that knowledge again but instead you will have to move on to the next set of “phone books” you need to read and understand. This part of working in IT severely sucks and it -will- drain you over the years. Especially because nobody will ever appreciate that you need to do this to do the job they’re asking you to do. IT is an ungrateful business.

Another CEO I’ve worked with offered a simpler approach to this problem: “If you’ve read one page more of the documentation than the customer has read, then that’s usually good enough.”

Still, I’m pretty sure that you will feel discomfort, stress and insecurity in a situation where things are thrown at you that you do not master, yet. I know that I still do – almost always, even after all those years. The feeling that the expectations are even higher than the piled obstacles has also never left me, regardless of where I work, and that usually goes along with self-doubt and the nagging question “am I good enough to pull this off?”

In a moment like this, step away from the keyboard, take a deep breath and relax. And remember how many challenges you already had to master before you even got here. And remember that you’re only here because you already mastered impossible missions before and that is why you got this job in the first place – because whoever interviewed you for this job you’re in now believed you can pull it off.

Another former boss of mine, back in the late 1990’s, gave me this piece of advice: “When I go into a room with people that I know will try to scrutinize me and who intentionally will try to tear apart everything that I am going say, I also get nervous upfront. But then I just remember all that I know and that I am capable to do, and then I’m okay again.” (Note: Those people he was referring to usually were Venture Capitalists.)

Pulling this one off requires quite a bit of self-confidence and faith in your own abilities. As for that faith, I think the US Marine Corps has got it right, and if you follow one of their mottoes, you will always succeed:

Improvise.

Adapt.

Overcome.