The cold wind of experience...
It's a soberly cynical thought, but any increase in status (apparent of otherwise) isn't going to last beyond your half-yearly review - if it lasts that long at all.
Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you the reader choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday. During the week you can cast your vote on …
Having to fault find why a remote worker cannot connect to a company resource forces us to examine peoples home set-ups, which typically involve a lowest-bidder back alley Chinese router, so old that firmware updates are unavailable, with 10MB CAT 3 cabling that the cat has been chewing on.
It also puts us head-to-head with people who think they know what they are doing when setting up their Wifi, like using the same subnet as the datacenter they are VPN'ing into.
My last experience was dealing with a self described "tech savvy" VP who had a local stereo company install a half dozen 802.11AC Wifi repeaters in their house which had a 25MB down 5 MB up ADSL Internet connection.
He complained it was "slow" and expected us to bring his VPN connection speed up to the 802.11AC standard the stereo guy had promised him given that he had just spent "over a thousand dollars." This is while his wife and kids watch Netflix / YouTube as well.
I'll just point out that I have CAT3 cabling (installed in 1993 when the house was built) and it works just fine for GigE. No cat, so can't comment on that.
My home router is a Netgear R7000 and I have a castoff GigE switch from when work upgraded.
It's not quite commercial quality, but it's a good compromise between function and ease of administration.
As to the respect accorded to IT...well, if you're smart, you let them know how much you appreciate them and don't bother them unnecessarily ("have you tried turning it off and on again?"). Learn a bit about how the tech you have in your house works, and try to handle the small stuff yourself.
Our 100+ person company is lucky to have the high quality IT people we have.
>>It lasts about 2 minutes
Yeah, everything around us all is changing so fast, it can be pretty hard to tell if you've made a job better/easier or harder/worse for people who have to actually use systems.
More people people have gotten into IT and tend to move around a lot too.
Seems like it is easier for companies to find someone (else) with IT skills (in my area at least).
So... I am not offended when people don't show me too much appreciation.
Tells me that any service whether it's IT, car mechanics or drain cleaners, is only as good as its last success and always as bad as its worst cock up.
It doesn't matter if you single handedly saved the world from the Y2K bug if you were merely involved in a system out, people are more likely to remember that.
All very true. There's probably some theory that can explain the relationship between failure-events (Boo!) and success-events (Yay!) and how, over time, they cancel each other out, so the current perception of your "awesomeness" depends on whether the last event was a success or failure. Most of us had successes last year in getting WFH going, so we may still have the "hero" scent to our users.
Then, too, as the timescale extends in years, it's all too easy to find that the people who saw your successes (and failures) have left the company - moved on, retired, etc, and their replacements don't know you, don't know the mountains you climbed, or the miracles you worked. That's all in a past that doesn't include them, so you're back to being just the IT guy of unknown providence. And as that time scale stretches into decades, those new people get younger and younger and are, perhaps, less inclined to think so highly of the "older" guy in IT who handles email problems and telephone issues. One day, you get to work, and realize all of your "allies" are gone, and you are the last vestige of that awesome time period 15 years ago. Then your job gets outsourced to India. heh.
>All very true. There's probably some theory that can explain the relationship between failure-events (Boo!) and success-events (Yay!) and how, over time, they cancel each other out, so the current perception of your "awesomeness" depends on whether the last event was a success or failure. Most of us had successes last year in getting WFH going, so we may still have the "hero" scent to our users.
At least one former organization awarded staff higher grades in the annual appraisal if the account they worked on suffered more serious, high-visibility failure-events than those who worked on accounts that just ticked away because the systems were managed better...
The format of this debate vote is still very unclear and confusing. So the motion is: "The pandemic improved the status of IT workers … forever."
My interpretation is that if you vote FOR this then that means it has improved the status of IT workers?
Therefore as I think it's a flash in the pain I voted AGAINST and was surprised to see that FOR is winning with nearly 60% of the vote, which can't be right with my cynical down beaten IT monkey colleagues can it?
Can you please put on these votes, NEXT to where to vote a simple statement confirming what you are voting FOR or AGAINST. Please El Reg? Make it very clear... I n this case it would be "You are voting for or against the motion that 'The pandemic improved the status of IT workers … forever'"
Disclaimer: The following is a theoretical analysis and does not reflect the personal opinions of ThatOne. Switch your knee-jerk reactions off before reading.
You have to see the larger picture. All right, people are ungrateful, and will soon (or even have already) forget the contributions of IT. But ask yourself the question, what is that "IT department" inside a large (non-IT) company? For the normal people, the IT crowd are those bothersome and slightly incompetent people which prevent them from doing whatever they want/need to do. "Incompetent"? Yes, of course: Take some other necessity like lights or heating: A professional installed those, then left, and it might be many years before you might need to call them back because of a problem. Not with IT: Those people need to stick around to prevent their fragile system from collapsing, isn't that a sure sign of bad craftsmanship?... Once again, this is the point of view of the vast majority of people who haven't a clue about IT, and most importantly, aren't interested in having any (hard to imagine, isn't it...).
So, what does "IT department" mean for the normies inside a big company/administration/whatever? It's a service, like the cafeteria or the cleaning. Like those, IT is there because you need it, but the less you see them the better. Much like most of the cleaning staff, IT staff speaks a funny language and is clearly not like "us". Unlike the cafeteria staff though, IT staff is always under your feet, unfriendly, crabby, and only there to make your life harder with their stupid useless procedures. Every time you see them you go "uh-oh, not again"...
So, what's the conclusion? It's a clash of extremely different cultures and a total lack of comprehension: On one side the normies, who don't want to be bothered by this "IT stuff" which should work reliably and simply, like the aircon or the telephone; On the other hand the IT staff who usually does want to do a good job, but has to wage this constant uphill battle against both the management and the users. Some even get bitter, or even start nurturing dreams of revenge...
And the solution? Well, that's a hard one. The normies won't ever be interested in computers, for them it's just a tool, much like their coffee machine. Also, they are the vast majority, so I think the only solution would be for the IT people to communicate better, and try to use the same language as the normies. It's pointless and counter-productive to bury them under something which sounds like "Yada yada self-caused problems yada yada unnecessary expenses". Yes, it will be more difficult, even beyond the reach of some, but it's IMHO the only way.
Take some other necessity like lights or heating: A professional installed those, then left
Most of those lighting and heating systems have controls which end users manipulate. Even modern door locks for buildings tend to be complex things with fobs instead of keys and they need "users" added and removed.
Of course the fragile nature of the system may be due to the materials that IT people are required to employ, you're not going to build a house out of balsa wood and tissue paper after all. If you did that you'd need the builder to stick around to patch up holes that are bound to happen from day to day use.
The argument that is made regarding IT sitting in it's corner speaking a strange language can be made about most departments in a business.
> the fragile nature of the system may be due to the materials that IT people are required to employ
That's a self-defeating argument from the normies' point of view: So why do you use balsa and tissue paper?... (IMHO it's because IT is still a young and not yet fully mature thing. Think beginnings of heavier-than-air aviation, which saw many improbable contraptions taking to the skies (but not necessarily staying there).)
> The argument that is made regarding IT sitting in it's corner speaking a strange language can be made about most departments in a business.
Partly true, off the top of my head I can only say that for accounting, and they mostly keep to themselves, as opposed to IT which is all over the place, coming to bother you when you're working. Other departments usually speak fluently English, and if they have a jargon (management, marketing comes to mind), it's usually less dense and cryptic than IT's. (IMHO, YMMV, etc.)
No, its because you gave us budget for eBay Linksys routers and access points and demanded the security of 802.1x and SSO. Also you'll note that you didn't give us budget for test/dev hardware, or support contracts on the production devices.
And you wonder why we think so little of you and your abilities beyond converting food and oxygen into hot air and other wastes.
> No, its because [...]
Of course. And BTW thanks for the storybook example of a frustration-induced knee-jerk reaction (You're probably aware of, since you preferred to stay anonymous...).
Anyway, for bean counters those expensive routers and test/dev hardware are clearly unnecessary expenses. The only person who can explain why this isn't true is you. So it's your failure to explain to them which has caused that!
If you're still reading and not already venting, what I'm trying to say with this voluntarily provocative statement is that the faults are on both sides: You can't possibly blame a MBA for not knowing his router specs, that's IT's job. The only thing you can blame the MBA is to not listen to IT's arguments, and in my own experience they are often cryptic for lay persons, just saying.
And don't think this situation only happens in IT. I'm not IT, and yet I've faced it many times in my professional life. I'm pretty sure everybody with at least some responsibility does, sooner or later.
The issue is the lack of (adequate) communication. Obviously the bean counters (I hate as much as you) are trying to spend as little as possible, so obviously you'll need the right arguments to make them chose the $10000 solution over the apparently identical $100 one.
We are an IT company. Some of the marketing monkeys and sales savants seem to have no clue or appreciation of what IT's job is and are always whinging about IT policies or the occasional failures. I can only imagine how much worse and more widespread those attitudes must be in a non-IT businesses.
As long as companies in a certain country will make outlandish claims as to their own efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and as long as suits in other countries will believe in those claims (or at least push them to get a promotion), IT will continue to be subject to long periods of downsizing interrupted by episodes of sheer unbridled panic.
Status is raised when there is general agreement that a person has done something beyond 'doing the job'. Sure, in the current pandemic IT's role might have been extended to enable remote working for a lot more personnel but did we have to invent anything new or innovate? Did it work? I think the perception is that we were just doing our job. Weren't we? So why would we be viewed as being more useful than a couple of years ago?
There may well be opportunities to improve salaries, but in truth that is (skill) demand-driven.
The newsworthy reports of IT failures (e.g. NHS Test and Trace) tend to implicate and denigrate the profession. If we claim it's down to the specification, well that's part of our remit as well. Political interference? We're not apolitical ourselves. Financial restraints? Poor IT budgeting. Bad management? Why do you work there?
To adopt a phrase from a different engineering profession: My status will improve when the boss invites me to meet his <daughter/son> not to fix his PC.
The failure of NHS Test and Trace was not an IT failure. It was a procurement failure caused by ideology (public sector, bad; private sector, good) and greed (one requires a middleman to divert public funds to favoured companies as is being recorded by the series of lawsuits being run by the Good Law folks and the various investigations and the reports emanating from them). Once, in desperation, proper expertise was harnessed from the public health and local authorities, things improved - too late, of course but it did give Winston Churchill’s grandson the cover to claim justification for his multi million pound bonus.
The pandemic improved the status of IT workers...
That's not an IT thing either. Sales, finance, production, marketing... all staff in all departments are largely judged by the most recent results, sometimes yearly, sometimes quarterly. The old 'wow' becomes the new normal very quickly. It's not even a 'big business' or 'nasty capitalism' thing, it's a human psychology thing. That's why having things working perfectly all the time can misfire - if you overperform for a significant amount of time, simply regressing to th emean is seen as underperforming.
Companies be more open to remote working isn't a "forever" win ?
Forget if you WANT to work in the office or not, everyone has to admit having businesses see how well it can work and being more open about it IS a win for everyone, not just the IT department
I vividly remember all the multiple disappointments I had when showing my wife some new and exciting thing I could do on our PC now that I installed a new OS, or program, or utility. On multiple occasions, her response was, "I thought it could always do that." No, non-techies,users, executives, wives, will NEVER appreciate what we do. This is a uniquely IT experience. Sales people, marketing people, product design and engineering people all get praise that is much longer lasting. IT people are mostly invisible--or worse, reviled. 'Twas always thus. So, whatever 'benefit' we got from the pandemic will not last.
"<edit>engineering people all get praise that is much longer lasting."
You can count us engineering types well out of that.
we get all the praise when X needs to be built and go out of the door ASAP, then its why cant you make Y as fast... followed by Z looks the same so thats a 5 min job too followed by the beancounters going "Make X cheaper".
But as I said yesterday.... any gratitude is likely to be all too short lived and the extra effort you went to to get a thing done will be either forgotten about or expected of you all the time.
<<does IT support too..... I'm doubley cursed....
I wouldn't count on engineering getting long-lasting credit for things. Especially if the people telling engineering what to do aren't engineers themselves, because they don't know when something the engineers have succeeded in doing was a real accomplishment obligatory XKCD. Some may be able to frequently remind others of an achievement and turn that into lasting reward, but let's face it, doing that is boring and most of us would rather do good work or interesting work than spend time and effort trying to remind others of good work we once did.
I and several hundred thousand (a couple million? Dunno.) computer people "worked through the Y2K problem" for well over 20 years, on and off. Come the morning of January 1st, 2000 damn near everything worked as intended.
Brilliant minds concluded Y2K was never a problem to begin with.
1000 times this.
The bloodbath in late 2000-2001 in IT was mind boggling. Budget cuts, contract rate cuts, salary cuts, benefit cuts, job/position cuts, and a flood of "talent" on the market clogging the inboxes of corporate America with dross.
Don't forget a lot of the people hired to deal with the Y2K issues weren't necessarily the best at programming, but they were available when needed, and dropped like hot potatoes as soon as they weren't useful any more.
IT is not a product.
IT is maintenance. Overhead. A cost center.
Think janitorial, or grounds/building maintenance, only slightly more spendy.
IT is needed in this current era, and IT costs money (sometimes LOTS of money), but in reality it doesn't, in fact, actually MAKE money in and of it's own, any more than cube farms full of people using 13-column pads and 10-key calculators did in the 1960s and '70s.
It's up to Management to figure out the direction any given company is going ... however, Management rarely looks into the details of how the plumbing works, or who is cleaning the windows or trimming the shrubbery. That is left up to the maintenance people.
Unfortunately, computers (and the use of computers), gets very expensive when you head into the several hundreds of seats range ... and extremely expensive when your eclipse 1K seats ... I won't get into the costs & complexities of 100K+ desktops spread world-wide. That's a lot of money being spent on what traditional management sees as "just maintenance" ... So traditional management thinks that it must be something more than maintenance. IT isn't.
Any company with half an ounce of common sense in this era will have both a "technical" track and a "managerial" track ... In this scenario, management does management stuff, and a more technically inclined person with managerial ability, hopefully sitting at the Board level, manages the technical side of things that most management quite frankly aren't properly equipped to understand. This person's duties should include hiring, firing, and promoting of more technologically capable employees (or, in larger companies, appointing staff to do same).
Traditional management's feudal derived mindset doesn't work with IT. IT changes too fast. Traditional management can't cope with fast changes. Trying to define IT in traditional MBA terms is, in my mind, an exercise in futility.
So no, as far as "The Corporation" is concerned, any "status improvement" won't last any longer than the plumber's status is improved after unclogging the executive washroom's bog.
What of companies whose "products" ARE systems, programs, and IT services?
Most "IT" is internal or corporate and I think that's the nature of this thread. The side you're talking about are "Product" and while have a better status they do fall into a similar category of "Well you've made it, we can sell hundreds or thousands of this now, why do we need to keep you around?" The answers boil down to "extend" and "support".
The support side is money down the drain (for both sides). From the company who sold the product, the cost of supporting it is a cost on what would otherwise be additional profit
"IT is maintenance. Overhead. A cost center."
So, clearly the answer is to stop spending money on it. Need a new PC? Why? Is the old one broken? No? Then why would you need a new one?
The number of people who are "too busy" when we're going around installing new kit, and despite weeks of notice and specific dates/times being notified, they whinge and whine if it takes more that 10 minutes to swap out the old clunker with new shiny, then complain that it looks and works different too. A few years ago, one arrogant twat of a senior manager even refused to let us do the replacement of his kit. So we dropped the boxes in the corner of his office, reported the incident back to the director in charge of the refresh and left it. Those boxes stayed in his office for months until he realised his underlings had better kit than he did. The shitty email he sent demanding we come and instal his new kit "RIGHT NOW" got appended to the email chain to the director previously started when the manager refused access. The director did a "reply all", telling said senior manager that his upgrade couldn't be scheduled for at least six months due to work current workloads and the since reduced staffing levels that same senior manager had recommend and instigated and he should have made time as agreed previously. Ho hum :-)
I agree with the sentient of the article 100%, and said much the same in short yesterday on the "pro" side's article.
Fame is always short lived for just about anything in life. Very few things achieve a "legendary" status that lives on beyond any reasonable amount of time, and I have never seen that status achieved in a work environment, only in the media.
But even "legendary" actors like Clark Gable are largely fortgotten nowadays except as historical footnotes. Nothing lasts forever. Especially not fame and glory.
I saved the company £1/2 MIILION in costs in one year by changing the infrastructure.
I pulled 72 hour shifts for 6 weeks to make a project arrive on time.
I designed a monitoring and reporting system that the (multi billion dollar) vendor said couldn't be done.
No thanks..... But after months of telling them the licence was going to expire and the needed to buy a perpetual licence for £1k (about a 10, 000th of the IT budget), no joy. But it was my fault when they didn't get their pretty pie charts on the monday morning, or when a customer complained and we couldn't find the history.
I could go on for hours with this sort of shit.
Oh and before you ask, the "Paper jammed in tray 4" picture on the photocopier... it means there is a paper jam in tray 4. Open tray 4 and remove the jammed paper.
The odd praise from users over the year saying thanks to us they get to work from home flawlessly. What is annoying however are the ones that say "You do nothing all day yet get £30k a year". We make sure IT still works all day and I wish I was on £30k a year but where I'm at they are tight and not paying anywhere near that (I really should leave but I really like our team)
Promotion to an elevated status usually entails naming the person, group or class in question heroes and giving them grossly inadequate compensation. I would much rather retain my unelevated status of a person often ranted at but well paid. Moreover, I would very much wish the adequate compensation upon all those nurses and firemen who deserve it. Taking the money out of the pocket of seriously overpaid and unaccountable public servant would be a cherry on the top.
Worked for companies of all sizes and the bigger the company, the bigger the IT team, the bigger the divide between them and the business and the faster good stuff is forgotten.
So much of what is delivered by IT is functionality. Its a swap out of older more labour intensive processes for hopefully faster, more streamlined, more accurate versions. Actual new shiny is relatively rare so updates are way less memorable. Give someone a new car, definitely memorable, change the oil? not so much. Add to that the IT department is usually seen as a bunch of identical drones. So individual contribution just gets subsumed into what 'IT' delivers. By the same token screw ups get painted across the entire team too. No matter how good you are the acknowledgement of that effort is diffused across the team and everything ends up average. The business has short term memory (about positive stuff) and looking back a few weeks will just see average and complain about how much it pays us.
Sure, you can work on and build a solid reputation and become "the IT guy who can actually fix things sometimes" no matter how good your track record is. You can build good working relationships with those you are providing a service to. At a local level you can keep a sort of IT Guru type label. But only at that level. Jump up one, definitely two hierarchy levels in the company and you are back to being a cog in the IT machine, the same as all the other cogs.
In those big companies the IT leadership needs to sell what they do and offer the company and always keep reminding the business that IT is an enabler allowing the company to be better. Unfortunately I've rarely seen this happen well so the disdain and thus dismissal of the IT team trickles down from the top.
At much smaller companies you can make the same effort, create the same reputation but with a smaller IT team and less distance between you and the rest of the business that reputation shines way way better. The downside is if there is a screw up then there is nowhere to hide, though that is a good thing.
If I were to go work for a different company now, I'd target a company in the 100-200 staff range with around half a dozen IT members with the IT being core to the companies operation. They value IT because they have no choice, without it there is no company. This is something those big companies don't seem to grasp.
Sometimes it doesn't matter how good your IT department is, when there's the senior Manager that likes to build his own kingdom, while white anting every other Manager and the IT department, until they either retire or a new CEO comes in and they realize they can only get away with things for about 6 months, so they jump ship rather than get the boot.
Been there a few times, I put the wind up the last one when I mentioned that staff do 95% of the workload and Managers are usually there to make the hard decisions and sign off on documents etc. then when he tried to respond - this was in front of his entire department mind you - I said "So when are you getting on the phones to show us how it's done".
He wasn't happy, I didn't care and I also got plenty of drinks bought the following Friday night.
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