Three Types of IT People

Greetings and Salutations,

Today, I’m going to present an excerpt from one of the many articles I began to write, at some point, and either lost the direction or lost track of time, as other issues (i.e. such as job-hunting) took priority. This is a contentious topic, as everyone will want to put their $0.02 worth in … but I guess it’s my blog and I can express my opinion!

In Short, It’s about the three types of IT people out there and how they affect the relationship with the business they serve …

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The IT industry has undertaken a number of roles throughout its juvenile life cycle. As with any new field, it has had its share of growing pains, mistakes, failures and successes. While it is unfortunate that the business community quickly dismiss successes as expected outcomes and holds an elephant’s memory for the failures and mistakes, it also holds true that, if the industry was to be objective with itself, it has not furthered the cause for itself in the business world.

In my view, the IT industry is generalised into three major generational qualifiers. Each of these “generations” has caused great benefits to the field of Information Technology and yet caused a great disservice to the field of sibling unity in the business world.

The White Coats
In the early days of ICT, the devices were large, complex and above-all extremely expensive pieces of machinery that were kept in a sterilised environment – far away from the users – and maintained by specially educated scientists.

The ever-visible white lab coat denoted and enforced the special place that was held by the device operators – a badge of distinction they wore with honour. These ‘high priests’ were the keepers of the sacred knowledge that was the new field of computing.

The ‘white-coaters’ ran the equipment like a holy relic. They nurtured and protected it, applied strong concepts of proper procedural methodology and demanded respect from the clergy that was the business users. These ‘high-priests’ took ‘requests’ from the clergy and deemed their worthiness. They told the business what they could and could not do. The focus was not the business – the focus was the device. All mere mortals were looked upon with disdain for they were not worthy, not capable and, in most likelihood, not clever enough to grasp the wonder of the technology.

A decade later with the advent of Personal Computers, this mindset was still quite common in the industry. The white lab coats were replaced with a complicated, technical, three-letter acronym rich language. Non-IT professionals were kept at bay by the simple ethos – if you cannot understand us, you are not worthy of our time. Even today, many IT workers continue to utilise the linguistic barrier and maintain the ‘high-priest’ mindset that can be heard reverberating throughout many an IT department:

  • “the business can’t make technology decisions – they don’t understand it”
  • “users shouldn’t be allowed to utilise a computer until they are certified”
  • “computers should be locked down, we’ll tell the business what they can do and they should be grateful we let them touch the technology at all”
This thinking naturally places and actively promotes a direct conflict between the IT department and the business. It promotes a negative feedback loop between the IT department and the rest of the business. The users are disillusioned with white-coaters; they are consistently made to feel incompetent and consistently unhelpful in the goal of improving the user’s job and thus making the business’ requirements unachievable.

Thus, this type of department is considered hostile, a hindrance to business requirements, unreliable and even untrustworthy.

The Gadgeteers
The gadgeteers are the second generation of IT professionals, born from the PC revolution. These individuals have been attracted to the IT industry because of the gadgets. They revel in the latest and greatest. Simply put, they are Technology Junkies.

This group is commonly considered the stereotypical IT professional. The primary goal of the gadgeteer is to get their hands on the latest – Software, hardware, portable, peripheral, server– anything, as long as it is the latest, the greatest and the best. These individuals can cite the latest specifications of any new IT component and argue the benefits of the most minuscule differentiators between products.

They simply love technology and its potential.

Users love the gadgeteer – they provide a wealth of information for their next home purchase, offer a wide range of “cool hardware” and are quite happy to deal with a user who shows any sign of interest in the technology.

The business relation with this department is not so rosy. Managers are always befuddled when they see an outrageous price tag for the latest technological fad. Managers tend to shrug and throw money at these departments … at first. They will begin to question why there is a requirement for 42” Plasma Screens on the desktop of every IT worker. They wonder why every year the IT budget gets bigger, but the solutions provided do not match the output.
In the end, the business views this department as untrustworthy, unreliable and most-of-all a money-sucking black hole.

The “Yes” Department
The third generation of IT professionals grew out of the corporate requirement to reign in the rogue IT department. More in line with accountants that the previous two generations, these professionals do not impose rules on the business, only purchase what is required and only implement what the business asks for. The business managers out there are most likely already salivating at this. It sounds like the ideal department – in check, in line and in control.

However, this group of IT professionals lack the pure passion of the previous two generations. They always agree with the business, never contradict it and always say yes. As appealing as this appears to the business managers among the readers, there are downsides.

The decisions for technological advancement in this group is usually made by other departments – unrealistic time-lines and budgets are put forward and the IT department simply agrees to these restrictions, accept the project and run off to complete it. Not providing the business with the correct feedback or advice can result in the implementation of the wrong technologies, the wrong solutions or simply the least cost effective result.

Many a business has set its management friendly ‘yes men’ off on a project that they anticipated to be complete in three months for $150,000 only to discover that it took a year longer and ended up costing $700,000.

Even without this extreme, this group has a hard time justifying saying “no” to the business – even when they really should. Processes are undermined, procedures overwritten and standards subverted all in the name of pleasing the business.

Unsurprisingly, this forms a negative feedback loop and the business will once again view the department as unreliable, untrustworthy and a hindrance to timely requirements – regardless of the constant aim to please.

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Well, that’s all for now … I will right more on this later … I hope you enjoyed my “little” entry, and look forward to hearing your feedback.

TTFN!

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