Confessions of an IT Director

Be excellent to each other

It’s my birthday today.

Coincidentally, it’s my son’s birthday too. He was born 31 years exactly after me. Everyone says that one day we’re going to find that super cool. I’m sure as we get older and enjoy the same things, that will be the case. Right now, he’s more about how many treats he can have… me, I’m sorta about that too, but more because I’m trying to figure out what will fit in my macros, not how many I can have without getting in trouble. I joke – it’s great. He’s into LEGOs and Star Wars and video games… and lets be honest, I’m into those things too.

I had a medical thing this week, so I was out of work for a few days. I wish I could tell you that things marched right along without me, but that isn’t the case. I’m not surprised, though. IT doesn’t sleep.. Not in the organizational sense. If computers, servers, services, websites, security all would shut down at 5pm when the business shut down, and then was able to be turned on each morning, that’d make my life easier… but systems don’t take a break. I guess that means the IT department doesn’t take a break either. 

I can never tell if my absence (or IT’s absence) from the organization results in a, “oh my gosh where is he we need him” response, or a “oh my gosh this is so annoying he’s never around when we need him” response. Probably a little of both. As expected, in my first day back to work, the work was piled deep and wide. It’s a tenuous relationship, the one IT has with the business… I guess that’s the entire point of this writing journey, to explore and help define that relationship. 

I admit I’m not good at the interpersonal stuff that comes along with working in an office. I don’t do watercooler talk, don’t really do idle chit-chat, and due to being burned (severely) by friendships that crossed the work/personal divide, I keep my coworkers as just that, coworkers. That being said, I’m told if you want things to be different, you have to try different things…. So today I’m shooting the breeze with people I know. Joking about people breaking their stuff, joking (sorta) about being jealous that they miss their old IT guy (a consultant), giving people grief that their current ask is in danger of lowering in the queue if they give me grief – office banter. It’s difficult, because my personality is one that I want to get in, do my work, and get out. I don’t want to wax poetic for 48 minutes about comic-con or your fantasy football picks, at least not at work. But (there’s always a but)… I’ve learned my lesson (harshly) several times about how important it is to the people we (IT) service to be personal and friendly with them. IT is a service industry, after all. Users want to feel comfortable, so relating to them on some level helps the IT/organization relationship. It actually improves it, because there’s such a stigma surrounding what it is we do, working on the relationship first makes you appear… dare I say it… human.

I actually have those “Ctrl Alt Del” cups

It’s this humanizing of the “IT” guy (IT Director, in my case, thank you very much) that surprisingly allows for a lot of leeway from the business. That friendliness paves the way for understanding, patience, and even statements like, “I know you’re just so busy, I don’t want to bother you with…” which is a far cry from, “It’s broken, you need to fix it” 

So why is it so difficult to find that balance? That crossroads between professionalism and interpersonal relationships? I’m not the first IT guy to be labeled as anti-social… I’ve already given multiple examples of how in popular culture the IT guy is tagged as a condescending know-it-all who enjoys making people feel stupid. Someone who has little patience for people who don’t have their technical knowledge, and makes sure that they tell people they have no time for their crap. 

I wish I could tell you. Maybe it’s part of the gig. Maybe it’s a deeply rooted psychological trait that is attributed to IT people. Maybe we are inundated with so much, we feel we have no time for the relational. Whatever the case may be, IT people are much to blame why there is such a chasm between the business and IT… and that aint it, chief. 

I had lots of anxiety driving into work today, because after being out for 4 days I dreaded the amount of work that was about to be heaved my way. My shields were up and I geared up for a fight. I dreaded amount of people lining up at my cubicle to explain to me their issue (one user used their cell phone to video how slow their processes were running on their machine, as if I didn’t believe them)… but I can tell you, the Proverb is true. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. It’s amazing what a smile, some small talk, some laughs, and a little bit of self-deprecation does. It goes a long way towards disarming your would-be work assailants and putting them in a position where not only do they give you understanding, but they become advocates on your behalf.

I write this primarily for me… but on the off chance that there’s another IT dude or dudette out there googling “IT confessions” because you’re frustrated with your environment and you want to see who else out there can relate to your predicament. You’re overworked and underpaid, under appreciated and under resourced… I don’t have the answers… but I do know that we’re all in the same boat. One thing I need to remember myself is the same advice I give here.. Be nice. Or rather – listen to Abraham Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln: Fourscore and… 7 minutes ago, we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure, conceived by our new friends: Bill and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to a proposition, which was true in my time, just as it’s true today. Be excellent to each other… and… PARTY ON, DUDES!

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