The hard times of being an IT professional and the three laws of IT Depts
I’ve been thinking about this post for several months, and finally found the time and right inspiration to go on with it. My personal, hopefully shared, opinion about how IT is evolving and how we do live it from a psychological perspective.
As far as I see it and can hear from my colleagues, psychologically we are subject to perhaps the worst stress if compared to other departments. I am not telling that other departments have an easy life, but let’s face the truth: every department relies on IT. Historically accounting relies on IT for anything computationally related: payrolls, invoices, Internet banking, technically anything. Marketing needs Internet access reliable and responsive to make their work possible (if it’s ever possible at all – nda ?). Logistics relies on IT for warehouse management, picking and packing lists and so on. Sales needs access to their own department tools, to be able to carry the business on. Every single department relies on us. And any kind of problem on IT goes upwards to the single department, hopefully, if not the entire company.
From the psychological point of view I mentioned before, our responsibility is to make the companies run, and the amount of complains running down on us is like an avalanche that falls down without control. Just think of what happens if the accounting system fails the day before payroll. Employees complain, accounting starts screaming because top-management screams over them, and possibly they start screaming over us right after it. And this mess goes on until the problem is fixed. And it’s not even the worst scenario I’ve been involved in (and luckily, survived).
Our service desks are fulfilled with requests of frustrated users unable to use a program that hangs, an OS crash or an undelivered message (even if it’s a user’s fault). We have mostly to deal and give psychological support to our users rather than technical, which is dealt with when the user is not interacting with us. Our service desks are also the interface between the laic language of the end-user (which – remember – has absolutely no need or duty to have IT know-how) that tries to explain a problem and the IT Department that has to solve given problem.
And when talking about knowledge I’ve been heard people saying “well bringing up a network shouldn’t be that hard! It’s just plugging some cables”. People really have no idea of what does IT mean, and how many books (either paperback of electronic) we need to get our heads into to be able to make that sort of magic happen. Add to that the different topics that are necessary to make something work: networking, different operating systems, applications, cloud services, databases, and the recent BYOD related stuff.
The three laws of IT Department
All we do, mostly, is hearing complains and requests, and almost never congratulations for achieved goals. Probably this describes at best how it goes by (Taken from the IT Crowd series, Season 1, Episode 6).
That’s why, in part as a joke, but not so much at last, I’ve been able to describe the three laws of IT Department (in memory of Asimov’s three laws of robotics, but not that glorious):
- If it works, you’re useless
- If it doesn’t work, it’s because you’re not able to make it work
- If it’s broken, it’s your fault
The need for a change
During past years things have really changed, and our approach to our, let’s call it this way, mission, has a little changed. I might add that, as it often already happened, we have changed our approach.
As of my experience of being within different IT service desks, the human approach to a user calling the support line makes the difference. You should consider that if someone is calling you is probably already upset because of a problem, and having to call “those guys we call for problems only” throws them in a state of anger that can possibly go worse. If on the other side (the service desk to be clear) a first line responds in an upset way, it’ll probably lead to a massacre. Add to that a technician talking with acronyms or technical stuff doesn’t make him/her more smart, but probably quite rude.
One more shot of the IT Crowd series, which does perfectly fit this topic is this one.
Start changing the approach. A friendly service desk closer to the end-user is the first step for a successful service desk. A happy user is a non-complaining user. Help him/her getting rid of the problems in as simple way as possible, and here’s the tricky part: not simple for you, but for him/her! A simple example that could help is giving indications on where stuff is. You probably did roll-out the hosts on the network, so you know how the desktop should look like on every user’s computer. It may be silly but repeating three times “click on the start button” on Windows 7 can be ridiculous for you, but a user could feel offended. Suggesting “click on the start button on the bottom left corner” makes it really easier for you and for the user, and does denote you knowing your stuff, and allowing users to reach information sooner, and you solving the issue in shorter time.
Whatever is your goal, you should work in a way users don’t have to complain, and the business runs smooth. Be helpful to your users, and teach them how to better use their applications at work, and most importantly never underestimate a user’s request, this might turn against yourself very quickly. Talk with your managers and get information, and give it back to who asked you for them. If it can’t be done, let them know it can’t be done! And keep refusing fixing their own computers… you need to be focused on Company goals, not private people, so politely consider refusing. But if you must do that, do it the same way (professional and easy as you do it day by day).
Service Desk managers should be the same way, even more politically. We are tired of “yes-man” that take the challenge for anything asked (even the network driven toilet paper monitoring system). We make companies do their businesses, and this is our sole purpose. Glory comes from the company’s glory itself, and hopefully one day we’ll be mentioned for success as well. If something has to be done, and you’re a manager that has not grown in IT-fields, do not take decisions by yourself, and most of all do not trust Vendors. Those are sales-man and they will most probably talk you about the focus points of their products, not the weaknesses (this, perhaps, should be a topic for a future post). Deal with them and analyze the solution before saying “yes, we’ll do it” and turn it into a disaster.
Your duty as an IT manager should be giving service warranty to the company, not just solutions over solutions in a resulting house of cards. If it’s no don’t say just “no” try giving out a new solution to the business need if possible.
There are few big truths behind our successes today. It’s not technological achievement, it’s not how many hours we did spend to tune up a SQL query and how nice the SQL script did come out. I might summarize those truths as follows:
- The success of an IT project of either size is determined by the happiness of the users
- The quality of your job is based on how clean your datacenter and office is
- The reward comes when big mess happens and you’re in charge and able to get out of it
As time goes by we need new challenges. Let’s face one big truth of our job: we do like it, and we have fun at it. If we start feeling bored, we try to find alternatives. Also companies try to cut costs to the bone, which leads often to IT Departments reduction and vacancies. Because of these two factors I think IT Departments should be outsourced.
An outsourced IT Department have a wider chance to get hands “dirty” with different situations and solutions. This opens the way to a greater chance of getting knowledge and skills, and also being able to be ready to face uncommon issues. Probably during the growth of a technician, if he’s really willing to go on in this mind-blowing world, he/she will want to learn new things and be involved in new interesting projects. The way IT “geeks” (or future ones) think is pretty different from other people, and the amount of knowledge to be acquired must be somehow well driven before he/she will start having large incomplete and confused information, which will probably lead him/her to leave this job and possibly hate it.
If the earlier statement is true, i.e. your staff is motivated, and is having fun, your IT Department should be efficient, meaning it delivers successful solutions and help-desk to your customers, which means companies relying on you are making a good investment. Need to add anything to that?
The final thought
One of the most relevant figures I had the honor to work with and can claim as my mentor, was my CFO. Among the last quotes he used this one should be your professional assurance and business card: “Don’t put effort to make your presence be noticed, but make it’ll be your absence”.
Your position as a professional will change in time, there’s no way you can rely on being hired by a company and live there until retirement. Face it and get to it. Also since it’s an economic-driven market, your position will be due to revisions, because of new suppliers or professionals that will be “better” than you. Which is good, there’s always someone knowing more than you, likewise you know more than others too. Do never let your attitude say someone’s stupid or worse than you, instead challenge the situation ethically. Prove your work is better than others by your results and when your position will be cut off, let your results speak for yourself.
Albeit I do love writing about technical stuff, this time it’s all more about psychological view, my own as I stated earlier, of the IT world as it runs today. IT is a truly challenging and merciless environment to work within, and we really need to change our way of thinking and approaching the field.
I hope this post was interesting, if so or if you want to discuss more about the topic please feel free to join the Geek Talks group on LinkedIn where people like me share common ideas and of course develop new ones.
This article is a personal opinion of myself and does not necessarily refletct the vision of my current employer. Also the two videos shared via YouTube are taken from the TV series "The IT Crowd", Starring Noel Fielding, Chris Morris, Katherine Parkinson; written and directed by Graham Linehan and produced by Derrin Schlesinger, (C) FremantleMedia Limited. The videos are here for a representation in a comedy-like way of a real life problem. It was not my intention to criticize the series at all, I am a big fan of the series itself and I think it's simply great, I got all 4 seasons myself (you gan get it through Amazon.co.uk on this link).