5 tech team lessons from 'The Avengers,' and a movie review

Last weekend I went and saw the new movie "Marvel's The Avengers". For those of you who don't know me very well -- I am a HUGE fan of superhero movies. I went into this movie with very high expectations and with the realization that even if it wasn't very good I would still love it with a passion that only a true fan can understand.

The Avengers exceeded my expectations in every way. It is, in my humble opinion, the greatest superhero movie ever made. At times it was exceedingly funny and at times it brought tears to my eyes. Additionally, the visual and auditory effects of the movie were outstanding, and I highly recommend that if you see it you see the 3D version. The story was excellent and they held true enough to their comic book legacy. In summary, on a scale of one to ten these guys took it to eleven...

By now you may be wondering what this all has to do with network engineering, system administration, or data center management. Well, let me tell you. What stood out to me about The Avengers themselves was how dysfunctional they were as a team early on and how they remedied that quickly enough to save the earth. Here are five key things that we as IT professionals can learn from this team:

  • There are some core strengths that everyone needs. While it's true that The Hulk and Thor are very different, they also share several key characteristics. They're strong. They're fast and agile. They're passionate about fighting evil. Likewise, your IT management team should share some core strengths. Everyone needs to understand TCP/IP. Everyone needs to understand basic IT security principles. Everyone needs a background in general computing concepts. These core strengths allow the team to be more scalable and flexible.
  • Strong is good, smart is better; both together are just plain awesome. No, I don't care how physically strong my network engineer peers are, but let's replace physical strength with interpersonal skills and strength of character. It's great to have some folks on your team that are really smart and super technical. However, if those folks don't have the ability to communicate technical concepts to non-technical folks, like your executive team or your customers, their value is significantly limited. Likewise, if they have the habit of using their intellect to belittle other folks then they might be a better fit for Loki's team.
  • Recruit specialists. The Hulk is my favorite Avenger. However, you really don't wanna bring in the big guy until you really, really need him because he's going to make a mess. Likewise, Thor is a specialist at anything Asgard related and he and Iron Man are the only two Avengers who can fly. While it's true that we all need a common set of core knowledge, it's impossible to be an expert at everything these days. Be sure to recruit folks for your team that bring deep levels of expertise in areas that aren't already covered.
  • The right tools can make all the difference. Tony Stark is cool but he's not much of a superhero without his Iron Man suit. Thor without his war hammer is pretty boring and Captain America just isn't as impressive without his shield. Whether you're talking about protocol capture and analysis tools, network monitoring tools, or even your favorite laptop, smart phone, or tablet -- the right tools magnify your powers exponentially.
  • Wardrobe just doesn't matter. Not that long ago many of us were forced to wear suits and ties to work. I can remember visiting customers where you were only allowed to have your jacket off if you were at lunch or in your office. Nowadays though most people focus on the work you do vs. what you're wearing. Sure, Black Widow looked pretty sweet in her uniform and I'm sure that some of you love the way that Thor rocks those tights but I'm sort of partial to Dr. Banner. He dresses modestly and focuses on his work and when he really gets fired up he never let's what he's wearing get in his way...

How is your team similar to this team of superheroes? What skillsets do you feel that everyone should have nowadays? Are there specialties that you'd like to see added to your team? Post a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Flame on...


Josh Stephens is the founder and CEO of Bearded Dog, an Austin-based strategy consulting and development company, specializing in tech innovation and IT management best practices. Follow Josh on Twitter @josh_stephens.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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