Monday, November 15, 2004

The Scalable Worker

The Scalable Worker

In the IT world, we often talk a lot about scalability as being a desirable systemic quality. If a system can scale, it means that one can easily add in more resources, or extend it to meet higher performance requirements without having to replace or redesign the basic system.

My friends in the industry also like to refer to certain types of workers as being "scalable". If a worker can adapt to change and is always willing to tackle new things, then he or she possesses "scalability". These are the type of people one would love to hire, especially in the IT industry where--pardon the cliche--change is the only constant.

The scalable individual always believes that he has the potential to tackle any kind of job that is assigned to him. Even if he is not trained to do it, he will take his own initiative to pick it up himself. He accepts that there will always be things that he doesn't know and he will have to continue learning throughout his entire career.

Young workers, or rookies who have just joined a company are usually willing to be scalable because they are put in a position where they have to prove themselves first. But once they have found a particular niche or comfort zone in the company, they stop learning and lose their scalability.

Furthermore as a person grows older, his energy and enthusiasm for work diminishes. He becomes more interested in mastering the intrigues of office politics and aligning himself with the right people in the company--because it is the easier thing to do.

Scalability implies change, constant and unrelentless change. It is extremely difficult and perhaps even unfair for a person to be constantly changing to meet the demands of his job. But a scalable person has to learn to be comfortable with that. There is no such thing as a comfort zone. Scalability requires one to accept uncertainty and to value learning as an end in itself.

Are there many scalable workers out there in the industry? The surprising thing is that, there seems to be a lot less of them in big multinationals compared to smaller companies. In large companies, a different type of "scalability" is evident--the ability to manoeuvre oneself up the corporate ladder. Sometimes that is all that matters for success in the corporate world.

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