Thursday, March 08, 2007

EQ Trumps GQ (that's Geek Quotient)

Early on in my career, I worked as a consultant for a small company (that had been recently acquired by a larger firm) that developed econometric and financial pro forma forecasting models for our customers. The models were designed to predict demand, anticipate cost and price shifts, and perform "what if" scenarios. I cannot imagine that anyone actually ever derived much utility out of our models, but we were paid a lot of money to construct them and to run the forecasts on our mainframe computers.

We built our models using an arcane programming language called XSIM that used an elaborate syntax involving all kinds of ampersands. I was by no means an XSIM jock, but one of my peers was.

"Amos" was, in fact, the primo XSIM user of all the consultants and an all-round really smart, high-IQ guy with clear technical ability and a strong work ethic. He was also an exceedingly difficult person to deal with: a rigid. control freak, no sense of humor (and no eye-contact), workaholic. Whenever anyone else in our group was tapped for a project or people-managing position, Amos's resentment and fury were palpable. While he had a technical undergraduate , Amos also had an MBA and he really wanted to manage something other than himself.

Now we would probably diagnose Amos as suffering from garden variety Asperger Syndrome. In those days, the diagnosis was simpler. Amos was an odd-ball. And we had to put up with his odd-ball behavior and occasional temper tantrums because he was so good at what he did.

Amos found it particularly galling when I got a promotion. The promotion wasn't exactly earth-shattering - my vast empire consisted of one person reporting to me.  But the position, and the effort I was heading up, was pretty prominent. Amos was quite perturbed. He interpreted the promotion as my first step on the road to a real management position that could conceivably have put me in a positive of authority over him. So Amos took advantage of his vast technical skills to tap into our primitive e-mail system to send an anonymous screed to our group president attacking all the women in the company (in general) and me (in particular).  At that time, I was the ranking woman there. (We could tell because I was the only one with a window office.)

I wish I'd kept a copy of the famous Amos' e-mail, but I do remember being upset because the attack was so personal and irrational. Plus I was more than a little unnerved. The letter contained dark mutterings that could easily be interpreted as threats that something could happen if someone like me was actually named a Director or VP.

As it happened, the hoopla over Amos' love letter was quickly swept aside by a major reorganization. After a few years of trying to figure out what to do with us, our parent company did a little forecast of its own and predicted that there were going to be fewer and fewer buyers out there willing to pay big bucks for our stunningly useless forecasting models. Our parent was going to put us out of our misery as an organization. They closed us down, laid off a few people (including my boss and the one-and-only person reporting to me), placed most of us into new positions at corporate HQ, and shut the place down.

With all this as backdrop, any response to the Amos letter just fell by the wayside. He left the company soon thereafter. I heard he took a position in IT somewhere, which sounded like a good fit for him, and I later heard that he was running a group, which didn't sound like such a good fit - but, hey, people are subject to change. Maybe Amos did.

I thought of Amos when I saw a recent online article by TechTarget's Shamus McGillicuddy entitled, "People Skills Outrank Tech Skills, Researcher Says". In the article, McGillicuddy writes:

Within the next few years, businesses will demand an entirely new mix of expertise within their IT organizations -- but tech skills aren't likely to top the list.

He cites the research of Gartner's Diane Morello, who underscores prediction that "by 2010, the demand for IT infrastructure and services expertise will shrink by 30% or more,"by noting that "demand for business process and relationship management skills will double."

In this new world, one of IT's "most important roles will be managing 'points of interface' with other parts of the business."

IT employees will need to speak the same language as business stakeholders. This means less demand for specialists (IT employees with a deep understanding of specific technology) and generalists (IT employees who have a broad set of relatively shallow technology skills). IT will still need technical skills, but the most valuable technical employees will know how they can apply those skills to different situations in different parts of the business.

Gartner has apparently come up with a term for these folks. They're  "versatilists." I have no idea where Amos is, or what he's up to. Perhaps he has changed, and has become more of a versatilist than he once was. Perhaps he is no longer someone who would think of "versatilists" as really nothing more than "shallowists" who got ahead because they had more EQ than GQ or IQ.

Perhaps Amos would be delighted to learn that I did, somewhere along the line, make it to senior management positions where I thanked my lucky stars every day for those folks on my teams who were in every way smarter, more knowledgeable, and much better at their jobs than I ever would have been. My job was being a versatilist, doing whatever I could to make sure that my teams got the support and resources they needed to get their work done, and to make sure that they got the recognition and opportunities they wanted and deserved. I guess I had no choice. I wasn't smart enough to do anything else.

1 comment:

Mary Schmidt said...

Maureen,

Your Amos sounds a lot like my Dave. In one of my corporate "real jobs" Dave ended up reporting to me. One of the VPs once asked, "And what planet is he from? Zoltar?" The HR manager stopped in the hall to tell me how she admired my fortitude in managing Dave. (Manage him? I just try to keep him in the building.)
All this while having Dave tell me point blank I was incompetent and unqualified (screaming it at times.) He made it very clear he was smarter than me and everyone else - and yet could never quite make any of his deadlines or goals (but then, us ignorant masses just didn't understand.)

I actually felt sorry for the guy, but it didn't make my life any easier.