Category: about

On Prioritization

One thing that I had to learn about leading geeks was how differently each geek treats self-management. Some geeks preferred that I list out every possible task I wanted them to do and then chat about general priorities, leaving them to prioritize specifically for themselves. Other geeks wanted just a few projects at a time with specific priorities, allowing them to methodically match my requirements.

My difficulty with the latter type of geek was that I have a personal weakness when it comes to specific prioritization: I’m not specific within my own mind. I build clouds of projects of varying priorities and then try to utilize my staff to have all the projects in the top cloud covered immediately, and go from there. If I’m asked about the priority of project 1 vs. project 2, I find it easy to answer, but I find it more difficult to prioritize the gigantic list of projects and requests that an IT department encounters daily.

So what did I do? I learned. I realized that it was horribly inefficient for me to cling to my abstract thinking at the expense of assisting my team to perform at their best. If someone needed explicit priorities, I would either figure them out before assigning tasks, or (more often) actually sit down with the geek and determine precise priorities together. The latter approach had the advantage of bringing another brain into the prioritization process, and that different perspective led to better overall priority decisions.

It’s not all about manipulating the geeks; often, it’s about changing oneself.

On Honesty

One of the funny things about geeks is that they can be rather un-trusting people. Perhaps they don’t trust those who are not geeks themselves. Perhaps they’ve been lied to many times in the past. Perhaps they think stupidity = dishonesty. Perhaps they’ve actually worked in the business world.

Well, that last one is my cynicism coming through. But seriously, how many times are geeks lied to during the day?

Geek: Did you make sure your computer is plugged in?

User: Yes! Of course! Do you think I’m an idiot?

Geek goes to desk; computer not plugged in.

Personally, I’ve always valued my own honesty. For example, one conversation from early in my career:

User: Jenn, it was amazing how fast you got the network back up!

Jenn: Thank you; but it might have been better had I not crashed it in the first place.

This honesty often surprised my bosses, co-workers, and staff. If I had information that I could not share with my staff for business/HR/other dumb reasons, I’d say, “Well, I do know something, but I’ve been asked not to tell you. I know it’s annoying, but please trust me that I’ll tell you as soon as I can.”

I encouraged this honesty in my staff. Yes, we might have been better able to get users to do what we asked them to do if we made the consequences sound more dire, but that wouldn’t be honest, so I wouldn’t allow it. Unless it was funny. I mean, if we could tell them they’d be eaten by wolves if they didn’t reboot, I would have sanctioned it. Because hyperbole is a literary tool, and they would obviously recognize it as a joke. Also? I can’t figure out where to get hungry wolves in Boston.

The results of my honesty surprised me. Anyone who ever worked for me trusted me, even if I had to terminate their employment. One person to whom I had to do this said (when I assured him it wasn’t personal), “Jenn, I absolutely trust you when you say that.” It was mind-blowing to me at the time. After all, honesty is just part of who I am.

As a result of my experience, I have to say that one very good way to be a leader of geeks? Be trustworthy. The results will amaze you.

First Post!

Ahem; please excuse the title…

Having the misfortune of sharing a name with a porn star (boy, did that shock my father when he Googled me!!), I realized that I wanted to look at my online personal brand and start building it. Then I realized that I cared less about personal branding and more about sharing my thoughts with the World. My thoughts on leading fellow geeks, that is.

My name is Jennifer Steele, and I am a Leader of Geeks. (Those who cannot geek, lead? No, that’s not right…) I have been in legal technology since 2000, and was a Director of Information Technology for a mid-sized Boston law firm from 2002-2007. I am the Regional Vice President for the New England Region of the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), and I will be completing my MBA from Simmons School of Management on 8/8/2008. My undergrad is from MIT. In Biology. You can laugh now.

My Myers-Briggs type is ENFJ. This likely gives me an amusing perspective on geek life.

My goal in life? I want to lead geeks. Or lead those who lead geeks. I think that the general mindset of those who choose to go into technology is, uh, different, and thus requires more thoughtful leadership. My personal strengths are in strategy and leadership. Apparently, I have been accused of having people skills and a sense of humor as well. As such, I can be a liaison between geeks and Other Folks.