I went to Tom Curran’s funeral yesterday.
He was a friend, mentor, supervisor, co-worker, peer, and all around good guy. Like many of the readers of this blog, Tom had spent his career in IT – mostly in the public sector, or in a company that specialized in public sector privatization. His most recent role was CIO in a state agency.
In attendance was a cross section of IT types: the up and coming developer/architect. The retired senior executive. The middle aged programmer/analyst. The consultant. All whose professional, and personal, lives had been touched by Tom.
It’s not like I haven’t gone to funerals. At my age, I have already done the prior generation of family; I am on deck for St Peter’s next inning. I have also attended my fair share of co-workers deaths – but this one is different.
Before, funerals were generally an aberration, and usually someone who worked in my organization. The car accident. Or the thirty-something live-hard die-young heart failure, or the suicide. IT has a tendency to encourage the last two.
This one represents the first of a coming bumper crop of IT co-workers. Tom died young – 63. He was preparing for retirement later this year. Reminiscing on Tom’s career, and how he lived his life, brought me to some conclusions about IT and IT management that I thought I would share.
It’s pretty clear that the IT career ladder reflects three types of people. I put it in a pyramid form (right).
The top of the pyramid are IT leaders and professionals that are now in the senior executive ranks. But they aren’t all of the IT workers in senior positions. These tend to be the most successful – on the Computerworld top 10 lists, see their next move as a CEO, venture or angel capitalist, or part-time board member working from the sailboat in Tortola. They would never ever consider a consulting position, or step down into a lesser role – especially since being in the MotU role. MotU’s don’t need to work, but enjoy being on top.
The next level down is a broader swath of people. They have been CIOs, CTOs, consultants, senior managers, and are not adverse to swapping roles. Over the years, Tom worked for Russ (his best friend), Russ worked for Tom, and sometimes they were peers. Utility Masters of the Universe. They tend to have less ego, and also tend to need to continue bringing in a steady income stream, for whatever reason (until they retire). Tom was a prime example of a UM: slow, steady, non-judgmental, ego-less, willing to do whatever it takes, in whatever role, to achieve an objective. People tend to like these types of guys with those qualities.
The overwhelming majority of IT types are Masters of their Trade. To relate it to Gartner/Burton, these are the targets for Gartner IT professional research (although folks from up and down the pyramid tend to read the Burton research). They could be managers, sometimes even CIOs, but they tend to be enamored with the technology – and have specific technology areas that they relate to.
Besides those career observations, I took away three rules of life that reflected how Tom lived his life. You see, his friend Russ captured Tom’s essence beautifully in the eulogy. Unflappable, slow and steady, the problem fixer. How Tom did that was through relationships, not just a sixth sense for what technology could contribute to an enterprise. But in the end, Tom was also a private man, and only let the closest of friends and family in on what was happening with his body – the fast moving cancer that eventually took him from us.
These three rules are what I have learned from observing Tom:
1. Reply to friends when they reach out
Tom made sure he was always available to whomever asked – no matter how busy he was. He even returned my call from the hospital bed.
2. Reach out to friends regularly, but especially when you need them
Being a private guy, this was not Tom’s strong suit. Even towards the end, he was reluctant to burden others with his trials. My take away is to not follow that lead; people will listen, when asked. Especially true friends.
3. Drive your life at our own speed
Probably the most important rule, and hugely important for those of us in IT in this world of exploding information, pressing demands, and 300 emails a day. Be your own speed governor and do what you need to do at the level you feel comfortable. Tom’s life reflected this rule, to the irritation of many of his colleagues. But a truer and more reliable friend one could not find.
So long, Tom. The IT profession is one person less rich today.
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