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Introverted technologists

How to survive in an extroverted world

By Kathleen Melymuka
April 26, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Surveys show that about 75% of people consider themselves extroverts, but anecdotal evidence indicates that the majority of IT folks are introverts, struggling to deal with their extroverted peers, business partners and customers. Naomi Karten, a consultant, author of Communication Gaps and How to Close Them (Dorset House, 2003) and a self-described introvert, is currently working on a book to help IT introverts use the trait to their advantage. She talked with -- and e-mailed -- Computerworld's Kathleen Melymuka about how IT introverts can prosper in an extroverted world. She welcomes feedback at naomi@nkarten.com.

Most people think of introverts as shy people. What's your definition? As described by personality instruments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, introversion and extroversion concern where we get our energy. Extroverts get their energy from interaction with the outer world. Introverts are inwardly focused. We process our thoughts and feelings internally and have active inner lives. But outwardly, we tend to be reflective and reserved - though we can talk at length about topics of interest. Introverts generally like working alone, prefer conversations one-on-one or in small groups and favor written to spoken communication. Although we may enjoy occasional parties, reading a good book often seems more appealing. Extended interaction with others -- even just listening -- can zap our energy, and we need lots of "cave time" to recharge, especially after a hectic workday.
Why a book on introverts in IT? IT is one of several fields with a much higher percentage of introverts than in the general population, while extroverts are represented in much greater numbers among IT customers. Numerous IT professionals have asked me for advice about how to succeed as introverts in an extroverted world. My goal is to help them recognize the strengths they have, the skills they can develop and the confidence and know-how they can acquire so they can advance in their careers. I also want to help introverts and extroverts appreciate each other's strengths and avoid common misconceptions.

Naomi Karten, a consultant and author
Naomi Karten, a consultant and author
If I'm an introvert, how might that manifest itself in the IT workplace? Most IT introverts are happiest when left alone to do their jobs. As a result, some don't adequately seek input from others, and some spend less time with customers, colleagues and team members than they should. Some IT introverts feel overpowered by colleagues who seem to so effortlessly speak out, offer opinions and contribute ideas without needing time to reflect.

What are some challenges an IT introvert is likely to face when working with extroverted business people?


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