The plight of the poor IT professional. Thirty years ago there were no IT people. They all worked at IBM and other software companies. They were the cutting edge of a cool, sci-fi, Tron-like world where there was no doubt they would own those people who once made fun of their amped up graphing calculators and mastery of their joysticks. For a wonderful moment in time there was a binary bubble. Then Apple and Microsoft decided to put a computer in everybody’s home…and car…and phone.
In the 1980s everybody’s dad was Tony Danza pulling out the old ball glove pretending they could still play. In the 1990s they gave up on that crap. Now they could be a hero to the family if they brought in a PC. Now everybody knows about computers – even old people! But where has all of this knowledge gotten us to? It’s kind of like when you give your dog peanut butter. He likes peanut butter, but you really think it’s just funny to watch him smack his lips and shake his head back and forth. We like our computers, but the real entertainment is when people can’t figure out how to use them.
Enter Donna Double Click. She’s the nice woman you work with who, just has no luck with computers. It doesn’t really make any sense because she’s had a PC in her house for years, but you ask her send out a meeting request and she says ‘I know you’ve shown me this before, but can you show me how to do that again?’ You suck in a deep breath and say ‘Of course I can because you’re a nice woman.’ Later on, of course, somebody is steamed about something and exclaims, ‘God, she’s such a dope!’ Then the Donna stories come out. How she called IT when she couldn’t get rid of the lines in Microsoft Word and they had to explain to her that she was in Excel. How IT got stuck there for an afternoon as there were 178 automatic updates that hadn’t run on her computer because she didn’t realize that turning off the monitor didn’t actually turn off the computer. And the seemingly daily struggle of the demons within her computer making the icons either far too small or Super Mario big.
Donna’s not even that old. You can’t blame people who had worked for twenty years before a computer even landed on their desk to be a little slow on the uptake, but it doesn’t seem to be that – there are just some people who don’t get it. Then there’s five accountants huddled around a computer trying to figure out why the screen won’t move up and down.
It’s tedious at times (especially for IT), but at least Donna asks for help. Kevin Keyboard Shortcut never asks for help until the Blue Screen of Death hits. Then you get ‘Dammit, this computer sucks. My last one was so much better. What’s IT’s number?’ IT comes up and grabs the computer and then you see neither IT nor Kevin for the rest of the day. The problem is that Kevin knows how to do stuff on the computer. He’s got like 15 printer options because he can add one without prompts. He’s accessing networks that aren’t really his. Yeah, he gets error messages, but most of them are just warnings; they’re not critical or anything. Then IT asks him what happened and he’s suddenly pretending to be as oblivious as Donna Double Click. ‘I don’t know. It just kinda popped up.’
IT should really just monitor some of these people’s screens all day. They might if they weren’t stuck running to the planning meeting only to find out one of three things:
- The presenter figured out the fix to his problem which probably means something else will soon be screwed up. For every check box clicked there is an equal and opposite critical error message to be dealt with
- The solution to the problem was so dumb that it had to be a practical joke because no one who is potty trained or can tie their shoes should have missed it.
- The network is actually screwed up in which case there is a shitstorm brewing in emails. Sitting here and pretending to try to fix this, while people keep telling me how yesterday their computer wasn’t working either, might be the best thing I can do for my own sanity.
Yes, most IT people didn’t seek it out as a profession, but getting blown around from company to company like dandelion feathers wasn’t cutting it as a programmer. Or the company they working for blew up and this is a job. There are two rules in the job as IT professional:
- Like a magician you can tell people what you’re doing, but never teach them how to do anything. It saves you and your buddy’s jobs in the basement plus teaching is for training. IT only trains their own.
- You are a data collector. Sure, figuring out diagnostics and solving problems is cool, but really you just need stories to share.
Sales conferences, at times, are like the movie Bachelor Party, you know with Tom Hanks before he got all Saving Private Ryan on us.
“God, the owner was freakin’ ancient with like mummy breath. You know like the mix of dentures and that Robitussin you can only get in Canada. He’s been jerking us around for three years. I finally just said to him flat out. ‘You could have had us at $20 a unit two years ago. What the hell are you waiting for? For us to throw in a pack of Tic Tacs for you and your wife? OK $35 a unit and one pack of Tic Tacs.’ I actually wrote the Tic Tacs right on the sheet.”
“No, you didn’t do that, Barney!”
“I most certainly did and he took it!”
I imagine IT conferences are a little more subdued
“Yeah, I was trying to fix this guy’s network connection and I jumped on the phone for a couple minutes and suddenly a screen saver pops up and it’s a naked woman…who might just have been his manager. I hit the mouse and we pretended like nothing happened.”
“Was she hot?”
“You should have said, A little pre-meeting scouting?”
“Yeah, I shoulda said that – damn.”
Poor IT personnel, their stories will make you frightened to ever turn on your computer, but they can’t tell anybody. They just fix your little hiccups and go back to their basement cubicle monastery in the shadows of the junked computer parts closet.
Screw national administrative assistant day (OK, that’s a good idea too), but IT needs a pat on the back once in a while too. Who would play a good IT pro in a movie? Are you the IT Hall Monitor on your floor helping to fix everybody’s computer issues before calling in the big guns or are you the saboteur who uses a broken computer as an excuse to leave early? IT has a dossier on everybody – what does yours say?
Once I heard a coworker on the phone with IT and of course they asked what they always do first – “Can you try restarting”. I heard her say to them that she was holding down the button and I just happened to glance over at her . . . and she was holding down the button on the monitor.