Confessions of an IT Director

“That’s not how the Force works!”

Was watching a (stupid, but entertaining) movie with my wife over the last couple nights. As we’ve gotten older and have had our children, we’ve gotten to the point where it’s near impossible to sit through an entire movie at night. So movies now span the length of two or three evenings, depending on how exhausted we are. 

So we’re watching this movie and it’s rolling along, stupid humor (it is a comedy/action/fun movie) and the climax of the movie approaches. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… the protagonists need to acquire evidence to find out just how the antagonists are carrying out their nefarious plans, or to discover where the bad stuff is, or to find out the twist as to who exactly is behind the problem, or…. Well… you know. Who do they turn to? The plucky tech guy. In this movie it was a “he”, but they generally are cut from the same mold. Not overly handsome or well built, socially awkward, many times overweight, and an absolute wimp that can’t handle the action part, but can “clickety-clack” on a keyboard clicking random keys and some random scrolling text later, the evil master plan is revealed. 

One of the lines that this “tech guy” said in this movie was, “I’ve never seen this type of interface before!” (Cause you know, if there’s a screen with a gui, somehow the tech guy is an expert in it) Also hacking, and things. Getting through a secure firewall is as easy as a bunch of keystrokes and some witty quip about security, camera pans to the more attractive but dumber lead, and voila! We’re IN! 

I can’t help but wonder how this portrayal of “tech” people came about. It’s hardly a new phenomenon, as movies in the 80’s had the same formula, if not necessarily the same sort of typecasting. I don’t have empirical data to back it up, but my observation of the typecasting of the tech person is a bit more recent. For all its posturing about achieving your dreams and not letting people stand in your way, Hollywood movies tend to put people in boxes. The chubby, socially awkward guy is the brilliant but-not-hot tech person. He can’t jump off the building, but man he can hack your firewalls. And start up your system. And spoof your cameras. And open your security doors, launch the missles, abort the launches, shut off the lights, turn on the lights… everything is a click and keystroke away!

Perfect example, albeit this guy was evil and greedy.

Whether conscious or not, this type of typecasting has an implicit bias in the real world. There is this misconception about what it is a “tech guy” does. Some of it I believe has to do with what people’s perceptions from the movies are. The other part of it is that “tech people” have sort of embraced the “guy in the chair” look. Stereotypes, wrong or right, are based in some sort of reality. 

Regardless, from an ability perspective, if the role of the IT person isn’t clearly defined the organization tends to believe they can do either everything, or nothing at all. It’s usually one of those, and not in between. “Ugh, he couldn’t [insert task here], IT doesn’t do anything”… or the opposite. If it plugs into the wall, IT does it. (A while back I had a CEO send me to a golf course/meeting location to setup a sound system and projector. Add sound engineer to my resume thank you very much.)


Yesterday there was an article in the Wall Street Journal called, “America’s Got Talent, Just Not Enough in IT” (You can read it HERE)

Basically, the summary of the article is that companies are having a difficult time filling the tech roles that they have open… and to recruit for these roles companies are offering high incentives (the article referenced one instance where a candidate was offered a $250,000 signing bonus to fill a role….) SIDE NOTE: WHERE ARE THESE COMPANIES! I WILL GLADLY FILL THAT ROLE FOR THAT SIGNING BONUS – CALL ME… THE IT CONFESSIONS GUY.

Here are some excerpts if it’s TL;DR: 

Gartner estimates that most large U.S. companies are competing to fill many of the same technology roles, including computer and information research scientists, systems managers, analysts, engineers and software architects. “Nearly a third of the most critical roles, like tech talent, are left unfilled after five months, costing millions in lost productivity on the table for each company every year,” Mr. Atkinson said.

And

Demand for these workers is growing as companies world-wide seek an edge over competitors by using technology such as cloud computing, data analytics and artificial intelligence. Global spending on these and other enterprise IT tools is expected to reach $3.79 trillion this year, up 1.1% from 2018, Gartner said.

In the first half of 2019, tech job postings in the U.S. rose 32% from a year earlier, according to federal employment data analyzed by IT trade group CompTIA. In the past three months, U.S. employers had about 918,000 unfilled IT jobs, CompTIA said.

Interesting, to say the least. I can’t help but wonder about this particular article. Are organizations having difficulty filling these roles because they aren’t really sure what the roles are that they are supposed to be filling? HR managers, not being well-versed in the IT world, are looking to check boxes on a requirements sheet. (“RDP? They say that they have RDP experience, check!”) But even those requirements, I have to call into question. How often does an organization know the areas of immense need and how to fill them? Who is coming up with the needs? “Oh we need a developer” What is that person developing? 

I made the comment a few weeks back that everything in IT went from generalist, to super specialized, back to the generalist space (due to cloud computing and converged systems)… and if it’s happening so fast that IT folk haven’t caught up, how do organizations know what it is they’re asking for? Furthermore, what I’ve found to be true is that once a person is hired, the expectations are drastically different than what was advertised. This is particularly damaging when organizations bring in talent for a specific project. How many organizations who make a commitment to invest in technology (IT) have the patience to see it through? In my relatively short career, I’ve seen organizations pull the trigger and change out people before the job is complete… effectively ruining chances that the project completes on time, on schedule, and on budget – and many times turning all the investment to that point into sunk costs. 

How do we level-set the expectations? You wouldn’t expect the corporate controller to generate a sales invoice, so why expect the IT guy to setup the sound system? Just because it plugs into the wall doesn’t necessarily mean it’s within the purview of the IT department. Or is it? Organizations need to level-set their expectations as well. I referred a friend of mine to an open position I knew of a while back, and after going through a couple rounds of interviews, he didn’t get the job. I knew the recruiter (she was a friend of mine) and asked why, and she said that the hiring manager felt that my friend (the one I referred) didn’t have the correct skillset for the position. In talking to my friend the candidate, he revealed to me that the hiring manager was adamant that he wanted someone who would do the job of (what my friend identified as) 5 different IT roles… and even though the compensation was decent, there was no way that he (or anyone else, in his estimation) would be successful in that. Months later, they pulled the position and last I heard never filled it.

So this never-ending cycle between make-believe and real life is blurred in the IT realm. It’s a chicken and egg scenario. What came first? An IT guy (or gal) who could seemingly do everything? Or some blockbuster flick that set the stereotype that IT folk generally sunk into?

Either way… that’s not how the force works.

Google Image Search “IT Guy” — See?

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