Responding to IT

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I had been expecting an email like this, after writing the last half of this
and finally got it. No knock on the guy, he just said what I bet some of you were thinking.

The reason why I wrote that in the first place was that I’ve gotten comments about 64-bit computing over time from people who essentially said, “I’m the IT person, what I say goes.” I was and am very skeptical this approach works very often any more, and said why I thought so.

The days when IT people determined IT policy by themselves are over. IT is too important and too big to be left by ITself.

This is no doubt unpleasant to IT people. Reality often is. However, unlike elected officials, it doesn’t need your approval to stay in power. You may not like gravity; it doesn’t care. Ignore it; it still works. It’s deaf to cries of injustice. It just is.

I agree with most of the points made below by the person who wrote me. But it doesn’t matter. This is like the old StarTrek episode where Kirk and company were brought to a recreation of the OK Corral, where the bullets only killed if you believed them to be real.

If you look into the world of corporate decision-makers, they don’t believe your bullets are real, so they don’t hurt. They usually don’t hurt EVEN IF THEY PROVE TO BE REAL much later on.

Decision-makers have their own reality, which may bear little to no resemblance to yours.

I’ve seen this in action, and I know the typical IT “we are the experts” reaction hardly works any more. The goal is not to insult you, it’s to tell you to find new approaches that work.

Ed

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I just read your article “Never Forget, Never Learn” and I have to respond
to some of what you said. . . . I *DO* have to respond to your mention that “IT staff members are
closer to mechanics. . . . Your article suggests a lack of respect for the IT industry.

Actually, I was talking about the status of IT members as perceived by the decision makers.

What I was saying was that the corporate world has relatively less respect
for practitioners in this field than it did a few decades ago, and why. Too
many people with these skills are walking around, and at least some of these
skills at least seems comprehensible enough on a shallow level to those who
would have been mystified a couple decades ago. So the decision-makers are
questioning now when they would not question before. Don’t shoot the
messenger. Realize what you are up against.

Look at it this way: Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire get paid a ton of money and
get accorded a lot of respect because they do something very few people can
do. The computer industry was perceived that way a few decades ago.

If 10% of the people in your neighborhood could hit 60 home runs in the big
leagues, wouldn’t you think less of Sosa and McGuire and their skills?
That’s what’s happened to large chunks of the computer industry over the
past few decades; it’s gone from an elite to a commonplace occupation. That
means a permanent loss of status for at least most people in the field compared to, say, circa 1965 or even 1980.

As per lack of respect for the “industry,” I find it nonsense that belonging to IT or any other industry
is some sort of vaccine against dissing. When I see a claim like that, and I have many times in many different circumstances, it’s
almost always an unknowing admission of incompetency. Competent people and
organizations need no help getting respect, they earn it. It’s the ones who can’t who demand respect
for the industry (i.e, themselves). I’ve dealt with some brilliant people in IT, many with few or no
credentials. I’ve also dealt with plenty of people with tons of credentials
who were complete idiots. I admire the good; I scorn the bad. What else could anyone sane do?

I’m sure there are folks out there who can point to some of my work, say “What an idiot” and back it up. Should I say, “You are disrepecting the journalism industry?” If he’s right, and I’m wrong, what defense is that?

Regardless of my personal opinion, you can yell until you’re blue in the
face that you somehow are entitled to “respect,” but like beauty, it’s purely in the eye of the beholder.
If you don’t get it, whining about it is useless. Far better to understand why you don’t, and take steps to
remedy that.

Sure, you can pretend you’re a member of some elite like it was in the old days, but if
the people who count don’t believe it, it’s like calling yourself king without any subjects.

Mechanics can get paid a lot of money, more than others with higher status, but for
some reason in most societies, people who fix commonplace things aren’t
given a great deal of status.

I’m sorry. Maybe some corporate suit who knows how to shut down the
machine correctly in a Windows environment and maybe save a document in MS
WORD will THINK that “his thirteen-year-old kid could give his tech staff
(which is often not much older) a run for their money. How hard could
it really be if all these pimply-faced punks have it figured out?” Now MAYBE this corporate suit DOES have this idea.

He has the money.

Imagine Bill Gates and I locked in a room. Bill Gates tells me, “I’m a programming genius compared to you, Ed Stroligo.” I disagree, for absolutely no good reason, except that he’s unarmed and I’m not, and my gun tells Mr. Gates that I rule.

Guess who wins that particular argument?

Always remember, the “corporate suit” has the gun. You don’t.

I’ve seen heads of IT departments essentially say to the guy with
the gun, “I’m IT. You can’t hurt me.” It’s like the Indiana Jones movie where a martial arts expert jumps in front of Indy and
makes all kinds of moves. Indy just pulls out the gun, blows him away, shakes his head, and moves on.

Your job is not to tell the guy “You can’t shoot me,” but to get him to put the gun away, or at least shoot somebody else. This means telling him why in ways he can understand, and getting him to agree on his terms that you’re right.

Does that mean that because his son can install Win95 and play a few games
of “Rainbow Six” against his friends on the Internet that IT is something
EASY? Does this mean you can replace EXPERIENCED IT staff with
“Pimply faced punks”? Can he build a server? Maintain it? Has this kid even been in a Non-Windows environment?
Dealt with other OS’s like DOS or LINUX, Unix or even (Gasp) Sun?

Actually, that’s just what a lot of places are doing to save money, and sometimes the
“pimply-faced punks” are better. Sometimes, they are not.

Actually, quite a few of those kids do put together and maintain servers just for Quake matches. Ask any cable modem company.
Not quite the same thing as running a corporate server, but a lot closer to it than “Wow, I installed Windows all by myself.”
These kids will take at least one job away from this guy, and probably sooner rather than later.

(Have you noticed this guy is a little out-of-it? Win95? Rainbow Six (it’s a game based on a Tom Clancy novel)? Running a server as something just for specialists? Venerating DOS and UNIX?
This guy is under thirty years old, BTW.)

Mechanics deal with technology
that (at the core) does NOT change. Everything is a clear cut and dried
system. Hell, the internal combustion engine had not changed at the core
since being invented in the 1800’s…..

Based on that, computers haven’t changed at the core since the 1940’s
either. 🙂

The reality is technicians handling commonplace equipment don’t have the status of, say, doctors, or business executives. They just don’t. May be tremendously unfair, but it is.

“I” deal with technologies that change every few months, and try to keep
older and newer tech working together. I deal with hardware and software
that gets changed constantly. Including custom designed apps written in
house that don’t get tested nearly as much as they should….

Why don’t they get tested? Because the decision-makers override you.
They think they know better now, they wouldn’t have several decades ago.

Hmmmm….OK lets let this 13 year old and his accountant father hop in the
driver’s seat for a bit….. Hmmm…..why is the GHOST server acting up?
Why did that four year old app just blue screen after a web browser was
installed? Powerbuilder ? Whats that? A network chart? Well, golly
gee….I only used an AMD chip on that FTP server….what do you mean that
software needs a patch for that? My 98 box ran JUST FINE when I used the
identical chip to play Quake!

What I said in the earlier article about this was:

“The issue is not whether they know enough, they probably don’t most of the
time. What has changed is that they now think they know enough to meddle
when they didn’t before, and perception is more important than reality.”

The author has two problems. First, he’s giving me all the reasons why the decision-makers
SHOULD greatly respect him, not a hint that I’m wrong because they DO greatly respect him. These are bullets that only work when the recipients believe in them.
They don’t. You can say “they should” until you’re blue in the face, that doesn’t change a thing.
You only make progress by acknowledging that they don’t, figure out why, and do something that will
change their minds. The only way to do that is to get into their minds and press the buttons that count for them.

The second problem illustrates problem number one. To a decision-maker, making the decision
is the difficult, noble, status-laden task. Making it work is a lesser job. In the mind of the
decision-maker, his buying a cheap POS has absolutely nothing to do with it not working right. Obviously
the IT staff is incompetent, and we pay them too much anyway; we should get rid of them and hire some pimply-faced kids for less and save even more money.

Remember, he’s got the gun.

Why quibble over a few thousand bucks here and there when you are losing
hundreds of thousands because of downtime
?

Essentially because the beancounters and executives all understand those thousands of dollars.
That’s clear, visible and a feather in the cap of the person who suggested it. They do not understand the
cost of downtime, that’s a vague, unclear possibility that wasn’t on that sheet of numbers they based the decision on.
In any case, you blame IT for that.

Besides, by the time the downtime shows up, the guy who suggested it has probably been promoted and is no longer
responsible for its success or failure.

If you do not understand the mindset of the beancounter, and fight him on his own grounds, you can’t beat him. You can’t
because everybody who is going to decide understands the language of dollars and cents a lot better whatever technobabble you’re coming up with.
People understand saving a few thousand NOW; they don’t understand maybe spending a lot more maybe later.

Is the bean counter going to call his son when the PDC goes down because
they bought the cheapest no-name box they could find and tried using it as a
server?

No, again he’s going to blame you for being incompetent, and probably hand your
job over to a pimply-faced kid and save even more money. By the time that
blows up, he’ll be elsewhere in the organization.

I just had to give my opinion on this…..

No, this person just had to knee-jerk to a perceived insult. Doesn’t matter here, but
that’s exactly the wrong response when this happens for real. The
decision-makers couldn’t care less about you feeling “dissed,” they might cut your budget some
more just to show you who’s boss.

This is not
to say most of the person’s points points aren’t valid. It’s to say THAT IT DOESN’T MATTER. So long
as you think it does, you’re going to lose.

There is a separate and different “reality” among the decision-makers.
Reality there is a very short-term, based on impressions from numbers on a sheet of paper
and whatever little real-life experience these people have. If
it can’t be quantified, it doesn’t exist.

I tried to convey what that reality is. You have to accommodate yourself to
that reality and fight the beancounters using their own weapons, not jump
and down and whine, “they aren’t listening to me, the professional.”

I’ve been in both worlds, and got to watch top executives operate and how
they think. I know what I’m saying is true; it’s a different world up
there, with often tenuous or even non-existent ties to what you or I would
call reality in the trenches. You not liking it is irrelevant, you thinking
that it’s wrong is irrelevant, you actually being right in thinking it’s
wrong is irrelevant.

Nor am I saying the corporate decision-maker is Spawn of Satan, either.

If you are the average corporate decision-maker, you often feel that you’re the only person
in the world who doesn’t think money grows on trees. Everybody you deal with wants more, more, more, and
you know it isn’t there. Your job is to try to sift out kernels of truth from mountains of BS.

The odds
are against you. The people asking for more money aren’t going to be honest with you; they want as much as
they can grab, and they know more about the situation than you do, and keep you in the dark as much as possible. If there are
problems in the trenches, that makes the people responsible look bad, so you’re more likely to get an honest report from the newspaper
than your subordinates.

But what can you do? You can’t fire all of them, and you’re already working fourteen hours a day.

You’re asked to make a million decisions a day, most of which never should have gotten to you if your subordinates
were even vaguely decisive or reasonable. But it generally does not pay to be decisive or reasonable, so you get to make them.

Under those battle conditions, you make decisions based on whatever knowledge you can muster that you have some faith about. Since
money is always a big factor, you always give it high priority. You believe the concrete over what you’re told might happen, because you get told more fairy stories when you’re fifty than your kids did when they were three. Unlike your kids, though, the people telling you the fairy tales actually expect you to believe them.

Your thirteen-year-old kid might not be the greatest computer expert in the world, but even he’s never tried to beat you out of the kind of money that guy across the table is going for.
Your kid is probably more honest, and at worst a lousier liar
than the shameless one six feet from you saying, “Give me more, and don’t worry about it” when doing just that in the past almost ensured you not have a corporate present or future.

People throw all kinds of numbers at you; you don’t have the time most of the time to figure out what hidden agendas lurk
behind those numbers. You don’t have a choice but to usually take them as is, and only question the BS that’s obvious even to you. You decide based on the
information you have and your guts and your instincts and a million other little items like whether your boss or your boss’s allies likes a particular project, for reasons ranging from reasonable to insane, and hope more of them work than not.

This is how the decision-making process usually works.

This is hard to understand and even harder to accept, but you have to in
order to succeed when they make the decision. This doesn’t mean you become
a “yes-man,” it does mean that if you get into the games, you play by the rules, or you
are sure to lose. Even if you do, you’ll still lose
a lot, but at least you have a chance.

If they want numbers, give them numbers. Lots of them. Don’t say, “We will all surely die,” everyone says that, and nobody ever does. Say, “this will cost you $X.” It doesn’t have to be rock solid documentary, just a bit more than vaguely rational, but don’t write fantasy, either. Don’t worry about the small things, don’t guarantee physical meltdown if your rubber band budget gets cut. Save the guns for the big stuff, let the small stuff slide.

Explain this in English. Real English, no technojargon. Keep it simple and clear, that alone will make you stick out. Most importantly, no attitude. This is not beneath you. Questioning your budget is not an act of insanity, don’t act like it is. Don’t lie to a direct question, ever. There’s only one way to bluff. Don’t.

Look at what happened last year with the budget, and figure the same this go-round. If there are across-the-board cuts, expect them and bloat enough to compensate. Leave little items that easily can be removed; it gives the people who live to cut something to do. Five little cuts are worth one big non-cut.

And last, remember who has the gun.

Email Ed


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