Career advice: Coping with someone who steals ideas

Career column: Advancing from the help desk, dealing with a boss who claims your ideas as his own, and coping with stupid users

Name: Melvin Evans

Title: IT director

Company: Hand Arendall, a Mobile, Ala., law firm

Evans is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about advancing from the help desk, dealing with a boss who claims your ideas as his own, and coping with stupid users. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com and watch for this column each month.

I've been on the help desk at a midsize company for three years. I want to move into more hands-on work, but so far no luck. Any advice? It helps if you've given your absolute best effort in your current position. Volunteer to help out on a major project. Express your desire to learn more and enhance your skill level. Identify an existing issue or problem that has gone unaddressed and find a solution. Document the problem, the solution and why you think it is the best approach. Submit your idea. Being proactive and taking some initiative without stepping on toes is a great way to get the opportunity you desire.

Keep in mind that the business plan has to be considered also. Are there actual openings in the group you want to work in, or it is just something you want to do? If you did get the opportunity to move into this role, do they have to fill your current role?

How can one best cope with a boss who routinely claims others' ideas as his own? Document, document, document. I preach that daily to my team. Always document your ideas. Date/timestamp your documents. Do so in a manner where you address the problem and the solution. State that you'll be more than happy to provide more details about how you reached that solution. Most who take credit for others' work have no idea how the resolution was reached, and eventually, they need to be able to explain how they did so.

Is there a particular sector of the economy that will be especially good for IT in the years head? I personally think that the medical industry and the legal industry are going to be strong, primarily because of the government compliance mandates that must be adhered too and the confidentiality levels required in handling data in both professions.

The IT industry has a tendency to repeat itself. Outsourcing was big for many years, then people brought those services in-house by hiring their own IT staffs. Now, it's starting to happen again in efforts to control costs. But certain job sectors require higher levels of confidentiality and security than others. Some of those same sectors also require faster turn-around times on problem resolutions than are sometimes possible with outsourcing.

We all make fun of users, but I am completely fed up with their stupidity. In all seriousness, what can be done about it? If you want to lessen the pain of dealing with such users, then you need to make an effort to help them improve. Teach them instead of just fixing it for them. Show them the correct way and how to avoid making the mistake again. Create "how-to" sheets on those things that you get asked about the most and that you want think are the easiest to correct. Use images or screen captures to do so. Be sure to keep your info simple and concise. Make those sheets readily available, and keep them up to date. If your company will allow, you can also do "lunch-and-learns" -- hold a brown-bag during lunch on various topics. In many instances, users struggle because it's a task they don't perform on a regular basis and they forget. For others, it may appear complicated, or include too many steps.

Read more about management and careers in Computerworld's Management and Careers Topic Center.

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