Meet the IT dream team

If you're looking to build a team -- or be a great teammate -- these are the people you need to find.

Avengers ... assemble, well-dressed!
Credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Avengers ... assemble, well-dressed!

Last year, I wrote about the worst people you meet working in IT, the Jungian archetypes of terrible tech co-workers, and while this was an important cautionary tale, it was also kind of ... let's say negative. Sure, the easy takeaway is "don't be that person," but what if your goal is to be one of the best people working in IT? What makes a good teammate? I posed this question to a number of IT pros and they were more than happy to share with me their vision of who the Avengers are on their IT dream team. Finally, some positive role models for you!

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U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey
Credit: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
The general

At the head of every army is a general -- but RKON Technologies CTO Marc Malizia says this commanding officer shouldn't just be barking orders. They "shoulder responsibilities for bringing in new ideas and technology across the board and partner with the other business units" within the company, outlining the big picture direction for their team. Not that they don't lay down the law when need be: "They enjoy working and collaborating with others but have strong opinions and an outgoing demeanor. Usually well-liked by their peers but can be overbearing when they are passionate about something." Affilorama co-founder and CEO Simon Slade says a team leader should "know in detail the role of every team member ... making it possible for every contributor to focus on their speciality without having to worry about others."

The tech enthusiast
The tech enthusiast

People who stay on the cutting edge of industry tech are great sources of new ideas for your team. "You need someone on your team keeping up with new technologies and making decisions on whether they are worth at least evaluating," says David Politis, CEO of BetterCloud. Julie Long, the vice president of IT recruiting agency Scout Staffing, says the enthusiast will "be first to suggest this cool new podcast or some Reddit thread they stumbled on troubleshooting that exact connectivity issue you had this morning. Maybe they send one too many emails with a 'Did you see this TechCrunch article?' subject line -- nobody's perfect." Tufin VP of Tech Support and Professional Services Adam Mittler warns that "sometimes they're so advanced they'll create a new problem with an untested or a beta-version tool (but no need to worry, they'll solve this too)."

The evangelist
The evangelist

For every project, you need at least one person who really thinks that the end result is a great plan: a "true believer in the idea behind the IT project that has the passion and persuasiveness to convince naysayers across the organization that the idea is worth investing in," says Steve Susina, marketing director of LYONSCG. Fervor isn't the only thing the evangelist needs, though: Susina says this drive must be "coupled with the technical chops to carry weight on the development or implementation side," or else that wild-eyed boosterism will be regarded with side-eye by the unconvinced.

app design
The designer

Jackie Wu, founder of a robotics startup, Eight Six Ninety-One Technologies, that will be releasing a flying security camera that syncs to your phone, thinks that every project needs a vision -- literally, one that can be seen. And for that, you need a designer, one who can "make breathtakingly beautiful versions of what you saw as only muddied and dim in your head. Not only are they able to bring aesthetically beautiful renderings of mockups to the table, but they're also practical. They can communicate their ideas, and know how to take them to the engineers."

whiteboard
Credit: mia!/Flickr
The code prototyper

To get from that theoretical design to working code, you need an expert prototyper, Wu says, even it's just to create a proof of concept. "Maybe they're not the strongest algorithm person, or cybersecurity expert, or whatever. But they can take what the designer made and quickly turn it into a semi-functioning prototype that everyone can see and touch." Often this is a hidden talent of one of your team members, so don't be afraid to push them a bit.

algorithm
The algorithmist

To get that code singing beautifully, though, you're going to need a serious algorithm expert, someone whose bible is the CLRS Intro to Algorithms masterpiece. This person can "effectively implement the least cost algorithm to any solution," says Wu, "saving time, storage space, and sanity."

auto mechaninc
The mechanic

Even when all systems are go, you need someone who can keep everything operating at a high level and troubleshoot problems as they arise -- whether that's in your code or in your team's PCs. "Good mechanics can diagnose and troubleshoot. That’s what they do," says Kurt Simione, owner and founder of Technology Seed. "The mechanic can translate 'So, my computer is acting weird' into 'Oh, I see. The site-to-site VPN between your Boston and NYC offices is down.'" You neglect these maintenance roles at your peril.

sysadmin workstation
The rock star sysadmin

I'd argue that system administrators are a specialized sub-breed of mechanics -- but the true rock stars among them do more than just keep the lights on. They "increase efficiency and help you realize the benefits of new IT technologies, because they understand how these innovations can enhance your company’s IT capabilities, who can integrate them to improve upon the quality of infrastructure and how to get your product to market faster," says Puppet Labs CFO Bill Koefoed. "Your sysadmins hold the keys to IT innovation that is so essential to moving the needle for innovation across the board."

ww2 tank
The tank

If sysadmins can be rock stars, can coders be machines? This special breed just plows forward with scary focus and work ethic, according to Wu. "These people might have weird working hours and stay up really late; they might always be asleep when you're awake. They might have strange personal grooming habits and wear sweatpants to work. But they put in an insane number of hours a week in doing the hard work of making the tech product a reality, arguing loudly over details but never arguing with people. You're incredibly grateful to have them (as many as possible!) on the team."

exterminator
The exterminator

If you want to deliver a polished final product, you're going to want to get an exterminator on your side, according to Affilorama's Slade. "This individual ensures every pixel is perfect, that the app doesn't contain a single imperfection," he says. You'll want to find someone as anal retentive as possible for this role, and even if it throws a wrench into your schedule, you'll want to trust their instincts and let them "delay the product's release until all bugs are squashed."

lady cops
The outcomes officer

Your final product needs to not just be polished, but also of use to the people you made it for. "There needs to be a designated team member who can not only identify true business stakeholder requirements from the start, but can keep these goals at the forefront of the team's mind throughout the project," says Jonathan Alexander, CTO, Vonage Business Solutions. "This can be a challenge due to language barriers (business speak vs. tech speak), lack of communication about deliverables, enthusiasm for one side of data -- or something as simple as scheduling conflicts. The outcomes officer will ensure that all steps are framed with end goals in mind."

teacher
The teacher

Not everyone on your team is going to have the same skill set or skill level -- but if you're lucky, you'll have at least one team member who's great at taking newbies under their wing and making sure they're up to speed. "This employee excels at helping the junior techs accomplish more," says Technology Seed's Simione. "A certain parental pride is often seen on the face of such an employee. Never one to pass up a good conversation, college discussions and future planning talks are always welcome."

change machine
The change catalyst

Teams can often get stuck in ruts; you'll want at least one team member who loves the idea of change and is eager to drag everyone else along with them. David Politis, CEO of BetterCloud, notes that a recent study from the Center for Creative Leadership found that "managing change" was a crucial skill gap that many execs suffered from; Politis says you'll want a team member who "is just as skilled at getting buy-in from the top down (executives need to understand the value that the shift in IT will bring to the organization and to them personally) as they are engaging users from the bottom up (incentivizing your users to creatively use cloud-based tools and other new toolsets, and recommending additional tools for review)."

organized
The organizer

With all this change in the air, though, you'll want someone who can keep all those moving parts sorted. Tufin's Adam Mittler extols the virtues of the organizer: "They can keep track of all the little odds and ends that otherwise get lost in the shuffle. No small task is beneath them, and they enjoy having (documented) answers for any question or issue that might pop up regarding the project at any time in the future. They are the the one you depend on to create the detailed project plan and make sure it's followed, all while documenting it. Without them, projects are too technical to be understood by 'normal' people in the organization." (I'd say that non-normals need the organizer just as much.)

You've got to keep them in line!
The process stickler

Weston Morris, chief solution architect of end-user services at Unisys, thinks every team needs one particular kind of organizer: one who loves process, who knows "all the standards, from ISO 27001 to ITIL to ISO 9000 to HIPAA to FedRAMP," and who "makes sure that no changes are implemented to the existing infrastructure, network, security or application stack without following the processes that these standards dictate." In a heterogenous IT department, they know that "changes must be well-planned, documented and tested. They've seen new technologies implemented badly -- like that multi-million dollar ERP upgrade that was mothballed before ever going into full production three years ago." The process stickler creates the order and sanity that keep the lights on.

skunkworks
The skunkworks improviser

Your team will also need a yin to the process maven's yang -- someone who, in Morris' words, has an office "littered with sketches and diagrams of prototypes of each shiny new technology that caught their eye at one time or another. Many of the things they play with turn out not to be useful in the enterprise. But once or twice a year, something sticks and finds a way into production." This person isn't afraid to throw together a mobile app that just barely works to help teammates do their jobs. Brian D. Kelley, Chief Information Officer at Portage County Information Technology Services, sees their ability to improvise as key: "This person knows how to step up when things don’t go as planned and offer a solution to a problem without the usual resources that might normally be required."

peace dove
Credit: muha/Flickr
The peacemaker

To balance these last two types and more, you need a special kind of personality: a peacemaker who can get everyone to play nice. At first, says Morris, you might think this person "was just good at human relations, but then realized that it was much more." They understand "two-speed IT" -- "that your company has to follow process and standards when doing anything that might affect core business services, but also needs to find ways of testing innovative technologies that might make the company more efficient or open new opportunities for revenue." The peacemaker can assess skunkworks projects and bring in team members to evaluate how they can be integrated into your company's normal operations.

communicator
The communicator

People skills are traditionally denigrated by IT, but you ignore the ability to communicate effectively at your peril. IEEE member George Thiruvathukal says that "ability to code still remains important, because in the end, we need software and solutions that work. But if you cannot communicate in oral and written forms, you're likely to be a poor collaborator. Worse, if you cannot write, people will not know how to use your products." Jackie Wu thinks you definitely need an outward-facing version of this team member, someone who's "quite technically skilled, but their true strength lies in communication and social skills. After all, a cool tech product that doesn't get any coverage (from outside press, from higher-ups, from the finance department) will just gather dust on a shelf."

mulet head
The mullet

In the end, you don't want team members who are all work and no play -- but you don't want anyone who's a total goof off, either. Technology Seed's Kurt Simione gathered inspiration from a beloved '80s hairstyle: "Much like the mullet, this individual has two distinct sides that work together to form a cohesive, well-rounded presentation: business and party. The successful ones always know the right time and place." Let that be said of all of us by our teammates: that our worktime tasks are completed with short-haired efficiency, while our funtime adventures cascade resplendently down to our shoulders.