The directors of SHARE, the mainframe user group, say the jig is up for unpolished techies -- it's makeover time.
On the docket at this year's conference: social graces. For real. Call it SHARE's version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?
Leaders at the user group say IT pros aren't going to get away with technobabble anymore -- at least not if they want to get promoted. Bridging the divide between technology and upper management can really set techies apart from their lesser, er, evolved, counterparts.
This year's annual meeting in March will address topics, such as how not to speak in acronyms, as well as other tips aiming to help IT staffers climb the ladder. The communication gap remains a problem as old as computers -- but is increasingly relevant today as chief information officers assign value to conjoining IT and business goals.
"The day of the lone ranger programmer industry is pretty much not around anymore. People need to know how to work in teams. Unfortunately there are still some people who can't," said Robert Rosen, president of SHARE.
Other tracks in the same vein include clinics to identify psychological types to help inform decision making, classes on defeating public speaking fears, tips on how to better negotiate and training to make a transition to management.
"Every person has a style of communicating. Are they an introvert, extrovert, judgmental, thinker, perceiver, intuitive? If you know what another person is, you'll know how to communicate with them," Rosen said. "You learn a little bit about yourself, you learn a bit about the other person, which helps you communicate with each other, which is only a good thing."
IT pros haven't had to worry about these people skills as much in the past, but experts say it's time.
"For 20 or 30 years, [mainframe pros] had been kept in a glasshouse for good reasons," said Mike Kahn, managing director of Wellesley, Mass.,-based Clipper Group. "Maybe they haven't been trained in that middleman position. But now you have to be really good -- and part of that is communicating well -- which isn't to say they can't also lock themselves in a closet and write a wonderful piece of code."
Improved communication doesn't necessarily mean IT pros need to learn a new language, but a different angle that could be the difference between missing and connecting, according to Rosen. He used an example of simply explaining the advantages of compressing and backing up e-mail.
"If I can say 'this lets us manage records and we can apply this to our policy and by using these tools it won't come back to haunt us' -- you've just addressed a big business issue," Rosen said. "They'll say 'he's not a just a nerd down in the bowels of the company -- he understands business problems.'"
Rosen can cite personal experience in empathizing with those with technical tunnel vision but he says he surely wouldn't have risen in the ranks on those skills alone.
"When I was in college engineering, I remember saying 'why do I have to take this English class?'" Rosen said. "But today, if you can't write a good proposal, in good English, or write a good resume in good English -- you're in a lot of trouble."
Lest you think Rosen is Emily Post-incarnate, all this talk of social graces doesn't mean this year's SHARE conference is single-minded. The organization plans to continue as well with an agenda of in-depth programs on the nuts and bolts of mainframe management and programming.
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer