Communication is a core part of the human experience, yet we struggle with it from time to time. For instance, a 2014 survey from About.com found that the top three reasons people quit their jobs is due to communication related reasons. In response to these struggles, Jonathan Lewis, a professional at Ascension Technologies, shares his “Keep it simple” advice. Straightforward, right? After helping to manage McAfee, Mr. Lewis eventually moved to Information Security and, with his many years of experience in IT, he offers excellent advice regarding Excel, stats on devices compliance, as well as the status of servers. He also offers advice to up and coming professionals learning how to communicate in a business setting–advice providing a glimpse into the world of business communication.
1. What is your professional history (include your timeline and roles)?
a. “I worked retail (mostly gas stations and retail stores) from 1998 through 2005 between NY and SC.”
b. “In 2004 while working at a machine shop for minimum wage I realized I could make more money at a gas station doing a fraction of the work so I contacted a local ITT college to get a technical degree just so I’d have a degree to show employers.”
c. “I worked at a small company that handled the IT work of numerous small businesses that couldn’t justify their own IT department from 2006-2007.”
d. “From 2007-2008 I worked for a small business dealing with home PC servicing, and a few small business IT needs.”(https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Field_Service_Technician/Hourly_Rate)
e. “In 2009 I was offered a 6-month contract with Ascension via one of Computer Science Corporation’s recruiters as a FS tech. That became permanent after 11 months until I was hired by Dell as the FS Team lead at the transition from CSC to Dell.”
f. “In 2015 I was hired directly to Ascension as a desktop engineer. Helping manage McAfee lead me to moving from Engineering to Security during a reorganization, and I’ve been part of Information Security since then.”(https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/information-security-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,28.htm)
2. What writing advice do you have for professional communicators?
a. “Keep it simple. Most people don’t understand the technical terms with each product being used, and quite often acronyms are interchangeable between them. I like Reddit’s “Explain it like I’m 5” section(https://www.reddit.com/r/EILI5/). Simple without being insulting or blaming, and factually accurate. Leave emotions out of it as much as possible.”
3. What is your one pet peeve when it comes to professional writing?
a. “People getting overly emotional about a topic. As an example, I support McAfee antivirus. People hate antivirus and tend to blame it every time an application doesn’t work right. Often it truly is to blame, but equally often it isn’t. When it’s not, nothing bothers me more than people trying to blame AV and expect me to fix the issue when they’ve done little to no troubleshooting, or claim an issue is somehow related to AV when it’s not. (EX: Someone complaining they get an “invalid credential” prompt trying to log into a system. AV doesn’t block logins, so immediately blaming AV for and getting angry at our team for it is pointless.”
4. What kind of business reports do you read and/or compose regularly?
a. “We have daily reports on the status of our servers, threats blocked by McAfee, stats regarding device compliance (having the correct McAfee versions, up-to-date detection files, etc). Most of which is automatically emailed to those that need them from the McAfee management console for review. However, quite often we’ll take data, manipulate/filter/graph it in Excel, and distribute to various team members.”
5. What are your writing suggestions to make those types of reports successful?
a. “Keep it concise and to the point, exactly what’s asked for or needed. To me, there’s very little more annoying that opening an Excel spreadsheet that scrolls off the screen past column AA, having to delete/hide half of them because the data is irrelevant, and then resize the rest to actually see what you need.”(https://www.excel-easy.com/examples/hide-columns-rows.html)
6. What speaking advice do you have for professional communicators?
a. “I tried to speak to everyone equally, regardless of role or rank. A janitor gets the same respect as the CEO. After that, understand your target audience. Are they technical as well, or do you need to break it down for the non-technical to understand? Be able to answer questions. If you don’t know the answer, make a note to look into it and follow-up. Remain calm. Being in healthcare I could walk into a situation where a patient is badly injured, or a doctor just threw a phone across the ER during a tantrum. Being able to calmly talk to whoever is involved in those situations helps ease the stress, regardless if it’s related to a patient’s life or the company bottom line.”
7. Name one thing you wish you had known about business communication prior to your professional career?
a. “I wish I’d known how “political” things can be in a large business. Decisions are potentially made because someone complaining is a doctor instead of because it’s the best technical decision. Sometimes saying the correct technical reply is not what upper management wants to hear. Figuring out those situations before making “career limiting” communications can still be a challenge.”
8. After assessing the Burning Glass list of Baseline Skills (2016), which skills not in the top 5 would you move into the top 5…and why?
a. “Teamwork – You need to be able to work well with a team. I like to say you come to work to do a job, not to be friends. However, if you’re working 40+ hours every week with people that can’t get along, then it becomes a miserable experience and you hate your job. Tech skills can be taught, but team members would rather see you let go if you can’t get along with them.”
b. “Time management – IT never stops. The tickets roll in all day every day, most of them take different amounts of time to complete, and we have SLAs to meet. Being able to manage your time and not get buried under work leads to a less stressful (and more productive) work day.”
c. “Building effective relationships – This goes along with teamwork. If you can’t build good working relationships, then no one wants to work with you. They don’t want to help you. The job becomes so much harder because now you must overcome a negative opinion of you in addition to doing the basic job requirements.”
9. What team skills do you feel young professionals need the most?
a. “Speaking for my team, I feel these make us successful:
i. a desire to learn from each other
ii. willingness to help
iii. ability to retain knowledge (or document for easy access in the future so it doesn’t need to be repeated a hundred times),
iv. have an open mind to cultural differences, or different approaches to the same problem
v. and above all else, have a sense of humor. When things get tough, if you can’t laugh about a challenge, then you’ll cry or drink. Neither of which are helpful to the resolution.”
One of the most import business takeaways from Lewis’ answers is to keep a level head. No matter what complications might occur in the workplace; stay calm and resolve the issue. Another is to build work relationships. Solving problems work more efficiently when the team, or any other fellow employees can work together to complete the task at hand. Time management is also an important business practice. Not being able to complete objectives on time can build stress, and hurt the company. Using time wisely can lead to a much more productive work day.
Jonathan Lewis works for Ascension Technologies in Binghampton, New York. Jonathan is currently an information security analyst. In 2015 Ascension hired him on directly as a desktop engineer. Before climbing to senior security analyst, Lewis worked part/full time jobs at common retail stores and gas stations. After realizing he could make more money with a degree, he contacted a local ITT college to get a technical degree. After receiving his degree Lewis worked in small business’ IT departments until Ascension offered him a six-month contract in 2009. Lewis continues to work as an information security analyst for Ascension, also working alongside McAfee, to this day.
Quinton Fife is a sophomore at the University of Southern Indiana. He is studying Computer Information Systems and aspires to one day be involved in video game design. Find Quinton on Linked In