Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Work is Cyclic

There are many roles in the IT world. In many large corporations they spread the IT workload across multiple, narrowly focused roles. In smaller companies, such as the one I work for, there is a small department of IT professionals that focus on all aspects of IT. The department is really small in my company; I am the only IT professional.

In my role at work, I am the hardware  and software specialist, network engineer, server infrastructure specialist, help desk, and the list goes on. My first priority is to keep all of the employee computers up and running and thus one of my primary roles is desktop support. When I don't have to fix malware issues or crashing computers I work on the projects I develop to better our computer and server infrastructure. This might include extending our wireless network coverage, implementing networked video cameras, replacing aging servers, or virtualizing our physical servers.

These variables (among others) make my workload very cyclic. When things are busy, I often work 10-12 hour days (both at work and at home) and even nights and weekends. When my workload is light it gives me the opportunity to research preventative implementations and measures and develop future project plans (and I can often go home early, allowing me to work from home in the evenings).

The change of pace in my job can be frustrating at times but it's also welcomed. I appreciate being able to take my time planning initiatives but enjoy tackling time-consuming projects when the need arises. But don't worry, we just purchased $50,000 in software and $15,000 in server hardware that I get to install.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I wish I worked Bankers' Hours

I get harassed a lot because of the hours I seem to work. First shift starts promptly at 7 AM (it starts at 6 AM if we are especially busy), engineering must be at their desks and working by no later than 8 and office staff start there day around 8:30.

I get to work by 8:30. I have an hour drive to work and mornings aren't the best time of the day for me. I get through my day and end up going home anywhere between 3:30 and 5 (usually, I try to leave by 4). Now for the keen observer, you might note that I am at my place of work for less than 8 hours on an average day. However, just because I'm not at work doesn't mean I'm not working.

I usually get home around 5:00, spend some time with my family, then log into work around 8 or so. On any given evening I will need to apply updates to servers, restart rogue processes, install software on a user's machine, troubleshoot issues with machines, among many other mundane tasks.

My ultimate goal is for IT to be as unobtrusive as possible. In order to meet that goal I often have to do a lot of work on what most people would call their personal time. IT guys can't necessarily leave their work at the office. If something needs fixed, I fix it whether it's at 11 AM or 9 PM.

So go ahead and give me a hard time. I may not put in a full day at the office, but please don't imply that I get by with doing less work than anybody else. If you do harass me though, I might be inclined to give you a phone call and invite you to ride with me as I go into work at 4 AM to fix a RAID that crashed on a server.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why we have the latest toys

I'm a very fortunate person. God has given me many gifts and I am able to use them daily in my chosen field of employment. And man am I lucky that my field has some neat toys!!

I have never met an IT guy that wasn't a gadget guy (I'm sure they're out there but probably shouldn't be). I have a huge appreciation for breakthrough technologies and how they get applied to daily life and business. Personal computers revolutionized the way work gets done. Cell phones revolutionized the pace at which business occurs. The internet revolutionized communication, purchasing, the transfer of knowledge and information, and the way we approach and do business. Smartphones revolutionized who has access to information at any given moment. Social networking revolutionized how we maintain contact with people. All of these things absolutely blow my mind and I get to live and work with it every day.

So there's the "Oh man, that's so cool I can't believe I can do that!!!" side of gadgets, but there's also the "Oh man, that's so cool but what will it do to the network and what vulnerabilities does it open up to the company" side of gadgets. It's almost impossible for us to figure out the dangers of a technology (or the usefulness of a technology) if we don't get to experience and play with it hands on. An example that's going on right now in my company is smart phones. We proved the usefulness of Blackberries but now we have people desiring iPhones and Android phones. I have to understand them and work with them before I can effectively implement them. Also, I'm the first person someone comes to when they have a problem with the technology. How can I help my customer if I've never used the device before?

Since I am so immersed in technology I also have the ability to bridge the gap between technology and business. Maybe I see a gadget on the internet and can visualize a use for it at my company. Before we buy one for every employee, someone needs to experience the product and try to fit it into their daily workflow. Who better to do this than the IT guy (who also needs to know how to fix it if we do happen to buy everybody in the company one)?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cursing me out will not put you on the top of my list

A couple of weeks ago I had a new experience.

I was working on our barcode capture system which forced me to visit 8 terminals around the plant to find the one causing the issues (this system is 15 years old but for the most part is rock solid). Fortunately for me, the terminal causing the problems was right next to a computer that allowed me to remote into the server and send it configuration commands.

A gentlemen (I had never seen him before which suggested to me he was a recent hire) approached the barcode terminal to which I told him it wasn't working and I was fixing the issue. He proceeded to curse me and the 'blasted' (edited for content) barcode system up one side and down the other. He definitely was NOT a happy customer.

Because I work in the IT field, I work in the customer service field by default. I've had some pretty ticked off customers before but I've never been spoken to like that before. I don't know anyone would speak to their dog like that. I understand frustration when a tool you rely on to do your job stops working; I do not understand transmitting your frustration in such a way that not only demeans the person fixing the issue but also makes you look like a buffoon. I have other morals and values at play but I essentially prescribe to the golden rule (treat others the way you want to be treated). If you show me respect I am more than willing to show you respect.

I did resolve the issue (about 4 minutes after the gentlemen left) despite his attitude because many people more people other than he rely on that system. If I had a place of business and was treated that way by a customer I think I would politely explain that their business wasn't appreciated.

All that to say, I understand what I signed up for. We are often the scape goat for people and/or problems and I'm fine with that. But if you respect me and what I do, I'll be more inclined to respect you and what you do. I might also be inclined to give you better service.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

IT Personality Types

A good friend and colleague sent this web page to me this past weekend. I thought it fit right in with what I was trying to accomplish with this blog.

Personally I have not deal with every single personality type. I have seen all 8 tendencies in different people I've associated with over the years but am not familiar with each individual job role.

Are you familiar with these tendencies? Do you work with any one of these people?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Are we just lazy? Why we don't fix your problems

Please stop calling me every 2 hours to ask if I've fixed your problem yet. I understand that you have a job to do and if something is preventing you from getting that job done, it really is a big deal. There is, however, something I need you to understand. I don't work solely for you; I work for the company that you work for.

You see, I have a lot to do every day, just as you do. Not only do I sift through log files to find out why a backup failed last night, setup new computers for new users, recondition computers that have seen better days, read up on the latest virus/malware that's threatening to take us back to the stone age, but I also have to be on call for the 135 other people that work for this company. I understand Outlook is running slow for you and I will get to it at some point. But I currently have a SQL server that is crashing and a network switch that is going down for no apparent reason.

When I receive an issue request I immediately have to prioritize it. I might already have quite a list and your request gets placed at the bottom of the queue. I might be working on your issue and something more important comes up. I might be walking out of the building on my way to lunch and ignore your email or phone call. Also, the requests don't end when I leave the building. Occasionally I will have to drive an hour back to work and stay until the problem is fixed (try being at work at 2AM when no one else is around; talk about quiet).

Sometimes I forget that you submitted a request via phone call or in person. In that case, please send me a reminder via email. Sometimes I sit on issues until I have a better understanding of the problem. Sometimes there is no fix to your issue and I send the request to smarter people than myself. Sometimes I'm told that it will cost too much money to fix your issue and you have to deal with it.

I must also admit that I am human. Sometimes I attach less of a priority to your issue because I don't fully understand it. Maybe you ask for so much help that I try to focus on another problem because you've already called me 3 times today. Maybe you were a jerk to me and I don't want to work on your issue now. I hate to admit it but we all struggle with that sometimes.

I see it as my job to keep my customers happy. It would not be conducive to that relationship for me to simply ignore an issue. As mentioned before, I do understand your job is important and I simply ask for the same understanding in return. Also, it never hurts to be nice to us :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why you can't visit that website

My general IT philosophy is that IT should be as unobtrusive as possible. Who am I to restrict what someone is and isn't allowed to do or go on a work computer? My job, as I see it, is to protect the computer infrastructure that I manage; I let the individual managers in my company decide a user's job roles and what they should and shouldn't access on the internet.

I don't actively block YouTube, or Facebook, or Twitter, or Hulu, or (insert time consuming website here). There are some employees at my company that benefit from accessing these websites on a regular basis through research, customer outreach, or training. When a manager approaches me about blocking a website for an employee I first explain to them my philosophy and stress the need for them to approach the user. If the issue is addressed and the problem still exists I will then actively block a website for a user. I have never had to block a website due to a request of this nature.

We subscribe to a content filtering service through our hardware firewall. It is set to only block a website if it is pornographic, hateful, or containing questionable content in regards to viruses/malware. However, I will occasionally get an email or phone call from a user asking why the web page they want to download wallpapers from or view motorcycles for sale is blocked. I tell them that despite the fact they think the website is harmless to them our firewall has detected viruses or malware and won't render the site. I then have to reinforce the fact that viruses and malware don't lurk in 'dark' places on the internet anymore. (As an aside, I'm always amazed that people still think viruses can only be found on pornographic web pages. Viruses are everywhere people… you have got to be careful where you're clicking).

I do have colleagues that believe the opposite approach is the best; which is to restrict all internet traffic except that deemed acceptable by themselves or a higher authority. I understand why this is necessary for certain environments but mostly feel this inhibits creativity, is a case of someone desiring too much control, or that a company doesn't trust its users.

The thing about my job is that I work only with adults. Think about that; everyone I work with is responsible for their own actions. I (and my company) allow mostly uninhibited access to the positive things the internet has to offer. If they abuse this privilege, they are held accountable by their superior.

I don't feel it's up to me to control the productivity of a user. That is their supervisor's job. I am responsible for keeping the integrity of our network and computer systems operational. And if that means you can't look up kitty-cat wallpapers then so be it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why we're a bunch of jerks

It's not uncommon for me to fix the same problem several times in a given time frame. For example, I might have several engineers install a software patch that requires a video driver update before it will work properly. Or I might be asked to fix the computers of several family members that all received the same virus through their email.

It's easy to see that my job can be repetitive by nature and I don't enjoy repeating myself if I don't have to. So when one of my users asks me a question that I've answered before, or submits an issue to me that I've already fixed I can get frustrated. I know what you're thinking… 'well maybe THEY have never had that problem before; you shouldn't be upset with them.'  I'll give you that one but it's not uncommon for a user to come to me with the same problem several times. Sometimes they cause the problem and they seem to forget how to prevent it. Sometimes I tell them how to fix the problem when it arises but they will often can't remember what I told them.  One of the most frustrating situations is when I take the time to explain an issue and how to fix it in an email and send it out but the users don't read the email. One such example happened to me after a system upgrade…

I upgraded a system one Friday evening so I wouldn't disrupt everyone during normal working hours. I documented in an email the details of how the users need to access the system (the email was a bulleted list of what needed to be done). Monday morning, an engineer calls me with an issue… you know, the one I emailed everyone about and told them how to fix. When I asked him if he read my email he told me "Two things… One, email isn't an effective form of communication. Two, I rarely read your emails anyway. Why would I take the time to read them when I can just call you?"

That is why we are a bunch of jerks.

We often forget that we are providing a service and we should do so with patience and a smile. But you also need to realize that we deal with a lot of things on a daily basis. When we take the time to 'teach you how to fish' it's frustrating when you keep asking us for food. But IT guys should always remember to' teach people how to fish' with a smile.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm not a magician but perhaps I can be of service

I truly wish I knew the answer to every question asked of me by my users. The truth is that there's a good chance I've never heard of your issue and don't know how to fix it. But there's also a good chance that I can figure out how to solve the problem.

There's nothing magical about what I do. However, it does take some logical thinking, some experience, and a lot of patience. Google is every IT guy's best friend (or Bing if you’re a Microsoft fan). Although the possibility of me running across something I've never seen before is good, chances are that someone out there has not only seen my issue but has written about how they solved it. When I receive a call about somebody's problem I attempt to gather all of the details about it as possible. I walk through a checklist in my mind and attempt to iron out anything the user could've done differently to achieve the desired result. If this doesn't resolve the issue, I look at what's happening on the computer itself. Are there any rogue processes? Do I need to find an update? Is it a virus or malware? Are there any software conflicts occurring? All of this happens in just the first few moments of a call. I then turn to Google.

I search for the problem; I reword my search. I use synonyms and I rewrite the search with antonyms. I search for error messages, I search for issues with versions of software. I look for Microsoft Updates and I look for other software updates as well. I look for updated drivers, software patches, even software downgrades. I click on links that spark new subjects to search for and the cycle starts all over again. I check forums, wikis, I use search modifiers, change the search parameters… then that EURKEA moment inevitably finds me. This process might take a few minutes, it might take a few weeks.

Occasionally, Google won't have the answer I'm looking for.  I then turn to the software developers and make them aware of the issue. You know what those guys do?  The SAME THING that I just did!!! Granted, they have a few more tools as it relates to their product, but the process is the same. The gather information and do a whole lot of searching. If they come up short then they get with their programming team and write code to fix the problem.

People at work give me a hard time because all I do is 'sit and Google all day'. To which I respond 'that means you'll Google your own problem next time and leave me out of it, right?' You see, although the process is relatively simple, few people have the experience or the patience to struggle through it and find the solution.

I am more than happy to teach someone to fish if it will reduce my workload as I have plenty of other things I can focus my energies on than your printer not working. But often my job is to fish for people and just hand over the goods. Which I really don't mind since I get paid to surf Google all day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What's with the IT guy?

Did he sit on a pinecone? Is he unmotivated or just lazy? Why does he drone on and on about details that no one cares about? Why hasn't he fixed my computer yet? Why doesn't he get out more? I wish he wouldn't talk down to me.

When someone gripes about the 'IT Guy', everyone can relate. We are a quirky bunch who often like power and control. We are often stubborn and unwilling, crass and sarcastic. We often know what's best for you and are unafraid to let you know. We often have the latest toys and love to tell you why yours is inferior.

Psychologists would say that we are 'type A personalities'.  Our colleagues often say that we are douche bags. Is this stereotype accurate? Is it fair to put all IT guys in the same category? I would like to say emphatically that the answer is no but what examples are there to prove otherwise? Why is the 'nice' IT guy so elusive?

Ben Parker was right when he said "With great power comes great responsibility" but I don't feel that the average IT guy takes that phrase to heart. Our breed is often taught from early childhood that we are weird and inferior to most people. We had few friends in school because we were different. We didn't relate to 'normal people'. Social situations and interactions made little sense to us because we were forced to look for subjective clues which we didn't understand. We didn't like abstract or subjective details; give us the facts, tell us what happened then go away.

This is why we are drawn to technology. Technology is easy for us to understand. We can harness it and make it work for us. We inevitably discover that those who used to call us weird are interested in our newfound skills. They need our help. What comes easy to us doesn't come easy to everyone else. They need us. We learn that we can hold this over you; have power over you. What we once found solace in has now made us drunk with power. We can control it, we can control you.

A little bit of resentment and a little bit of skill can do a lot to a budding IT guy. Many of us also lack formal education or lack the drive to learn what we deem unnecessary. Because technology comes easy to us, we can latch onto it with little effort. If this goes unchecked and we work for a company where knowledge of technology is sparse, it's easy to see why the IT guy is the way he is. But just because it's understandable doesn't mean it's right.

There are a few in this industry that give the rest of us a bad rap (just as there is in any population). I hope that my musings might at least get you to think twice about us. And to you IT guys out there, I hope my musings can get YOU to think twice about 'them'.