Confessions of an IT Director

A Case of the Mondays/If you Give a Mouse a Cookie

Peter Gibbons: Let me ask you something. When you come in on Monday, and you’re not feelin’ real well, does anyone ever say to you, ‘Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays’?

Lawrence: No. No, man. S***, no, man. I believe you’d get your ass kicked sayin’ something like that, man.

It was around my first week on the job, I think. The CEO was at a conference, or show, or something out of the office, and he called the main line looking for me. He couldn’t get emails on his phone, or something to that effect. Come to find out he had left his phone on airplane mode from being on the plane ride, and when he turned off airplane mode, voilà… emails started flowing. I had saved the day without actually doing anything but answering the phone… then came the trap.

CEO: “Hey… your office phone doesn’t have a direct dial number”

Me: “No, we don’t have any direct dial numbers left, and they’re mostly reserved for the sales department”

CEO: “Oh, well we really should be able to get ahold of you directly, instead of calling reception”

Me: “Well – I have my extension forwarded to my cell, so if you call my extension, it’ll ring my cell…”

CEO: “Let me get your cell number so if I continue to have problems on this trip, I can give you a call or text…”

Me: “Oh… okay… it’s…… _____”

That was it. That did me in. Somehow, from that moment, it became open season on my cell phone. Fast forward to present time, and I’m getting texts from the Warehouse manager at 7pm because he can’t find his docking station. I’m getting texts on Sunday when I’m on a date with my wife because someone can’t figure out how to log into the Remote Desktop server. I get texts at lunch when they can’t find me at my desk, calls when I’m in the employee lunchroom, bathroom, or anywhere but visible to everyone.

Then came this last Monday – one of THOSE Mondays. Nothing worked. A couple members of the sales team had ignored the Microsoft warnings that their mailbox was almost full, and they let it fill up, so they weren’t receiving mail, which means they couldn’t get purchase orders. Our credit card processor went down, and computers in our remote warehouse had lost their trust in the domain and so therefore weren’t authenticating users at login. People couldn’t scan, printers wouldn’t print, programs were hung up, reports didn’t go out… basically, if it could be broken, it broke. And my cellphone did not stop ringing.

By the end of the day, I had mitigated most of the issues (the credit card processor wasn’t anything to do with me, our internal systems, or anything we could do…. But the business looked at IT to fix it anyway) and one of the executives walked over to my desk. 

EXEC: “I haven’t talked to you today”

OFFICE MANAGER (who is my cube neighbor): “He’s been very busy”

Me: “If it could break today, it broke”

EXEC: “Oh yeah, well… it looks like you had a case of the Mondays… but here’s what I need from you….”

I was living in a scene from “Office Space”

It made me think.. At what point in this career is IT too accessible? I realize that systems don’t go home at 5pm and back into the office in the morning, so there was always a degree of after-hours and non-traditional time to be put in for this vocation. It is something I’ve accepted, understood, and was fully aware of when I began this career. Furthermore, as my purview began to expand beyond local operations into national or global IT operations, I knew that I was never going to be really “off the clock” in a sense… that somehow I would always have a degree of knowing what was going on… but what is contact worthy, and what isn’t? When is it appropriate to “ghost” your company? IS it appropriate to ever “ghost” your company? If you see your CEO, or VP, or someone who is high up on the chain calling your cell (no matter the circumstances in which they got your cell phone)… can you decline the call? Do you feel obligated to answer?

I’ll be honest. I do. I have this almost pathological need to answer and prove myself. But, I’m not so sure it’s the right attitude to have…. Because to this point in my career, my perceived “always” availability has been a bit like the children’s book, “If you give a Mouse a Cookie”

“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk”

If I answer the phone, text, or email at 8pm on Sunday, then the expectation is that if you reach out to me, anytime, anywhere, I’ll come through…. And it isn’t an altruistic notion. It’s an expectation.

I had this conversation with a superior recently (when being asked about my office hours). I said something to the effect of, “The system requires a lot of after-hours and weekend maintenance, and the operations in different time zones require support that I have to give/provide during off hours. So I’m more effective if I’m not sitting in the office 8 hours per day… ”

The response?
“We all work from home”

I felt like that gif where the guy is surprised and his eyebrows go up.

This one:

Either I’ve grossly understated what I do, or the business has no idea what IT’s role is, or both. 

Probably both. 

So where’s the balance? When am I “off” work? When is it okay to “ghost” my employer… if ever? I have a wife and three kids (all under 6)… and family life is the most important thing. Yet, somehow I feel like if I neglect the employment that provides for that family life, then I’ll be failing at family life… does that make sense? I don’t know how accurate that thought is, but it’s my paranoia. 

Thus is the issue with “invisible IT”… where I know that I do much behind the scenes to keep things running, it isn’t inherently felt by the company. So the (incorrect) assumption is that I’m not doing anything… hence my desire to answer when someone calls, starting the cycle all over again.  I need to do a better job of explaining to the business what it is I’m doing… but I don’t want them to have this expectation that I will ALWAYS be on…

I’ll tell you this, however… yesterday I had to leave the office early for a personal matter. About an hour and a half later my phone rang, twice. First the office manager, then a VP. For the first time seemingly EVER in my career… I slid the button on my phone to “decline”

The office manager followed up with a text about a vendor trying to contact, and I didn’t get anything from the VP. So far, today, I haven’t been told anything… so I wonder, is it okay to decline the call? I sit here with baited breath. 

Further bulletins as events warrant… If you see me walking on the street with a banker’s box, pick me up.

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