The Myth of the IT Workmodel

I read a challenging article on techrepublic that spoke to “IT being the right field” for a person ( I found some problems with it, interested to see if others responded the same way.

#1 – Patience

No question about it, any work with computers (hardware / software) requires patience. But patience itself is not enough; it is persistence that makes the difference between failure and success. The stereotype of the obsessive computer expert working non-stop until a problem is understood and solved is one that must ring true with you.

However, I counter that the above is true in any field requiring either human interaction or any type of integration. It does not matter if you are an auto mechanic, or a tax preparer, or an attorney, or a VP of sales: if you lack patience and persistence you will find yourself hamstrung before you begin.

#2 – Continue Your Education

No argument here either. It boils down to relevance. As an information / technology engineer, the one thing you bring to the table is your knowledge. I typically put in between 12 and 14 hours a day, and I require that at least 90 minutes of that time *every day* must be in research and learning. I use my commute to do this learning so I am fortunate, but even if you drive you can listen to technical podcasts. Certs are good ways to approach education assuming you already have an MS in a tech field. Otherwise, get back to class and get that masters!

#3 – Work outside 9-5

This is an area where Mr. Wallen is correct, but has a logical fallacy. It is absolutely true that technology does fail at any given time (typically a bad time), and it is equally true that the network Must Be Operational. Scheduled upgrades after hours and on weekends are the norm in IT and – in even a minimally-planned environment – can be performed with little or no stress to the sysadmin.

Oftentimes, however, the reason for working outside 9-5 is simply because the company relies upon a suspect and underpowered infrastructure. It is not uncommon for the management chain to count on simple job fear to avoid making necessary hardware / software upgrades to improve reliability. After all, the sysadmin will come running into work at any hour of the day or night, even when it turns out that a problem had nothing to do with the network (such as a faulty web site upgrade).

The solution to this is: let go of the fear. Note hardware / software / power failures and make sure that the checkwriters understand the risk. If you truly are in a position where you must work on equipment which is so bad and / or processes so sloppy that you end up having to cover on-call shifts regularly, it is time to look for a different employer.

#4 – Need to Like People

This is true in IT, but in reality it is true in so many fields. A failure to like people isn’t so much an indicator of being an effective IT professional as it is of being a well-rounded human being. Plus – people-liking is definitely a talent that can be learned. Just because you are an introvert and like to work alone does not mean you are in the wrong field. It simply means you start with a great advantage (concentration, focus, “the zone”) and that you need to get a new skill: the training on how to interact well with others.

#5 – Give Up Quickly

See #1 – Patience which implies Persistence. Which is what you need to have not only in IT but in any field where you want to excel.

#6 – Easily Frustrated

See #5 – Persistence which indicates that you can handle frustration.

#7 – Multitasking

Ah – finally a point where I can disagree. Mr. Wallen confuses task prioritization and time management with multitasking. The difference? Multitasking Does Not Work. It Never Does. Let’s look at some research, shall we?

  • Forbes, August 2012 -
  • “The Myth of Multitasking” -
  • “The Cognitive Costs of Multitasking” -

Simply put – the “multitasking” concept is a fear-based management technique whereby the actor is given equal-prioritized, and sometimes mutually-exclusive, directives and told to execute…or else.

Instead, treat the multitasking phenomenon as what it is: a set of tasks that must be prioritized and executed upon. In a word: Serialization. Yes, one must do A before B, and both before C. However, that is not a liability; far from it, it is simply the ability execute. The secret here is the same as it always has been: Apply time management skills and the “80/20” (or “good-is-good-enough”) rule so that a particular task does not eat up more time than you have allocated to it. Especially in a crisis situation, you as an IT administrator will shine by keeping your cool, understanding the business needs, and delivering on a reliable recovery / damage control approach rather than making the situation worse by being reactive and ineffective.

#8 – Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Mr. Wallen is correct in saying that IT is – in general – a flat organization. That is a good thing! IT actually rewards those who embrace the technology, education, and the work ethic. It is similar to a sign on the wall in algorithms class I took in grad school: “No Bozos”. Translation: If you can’t do the work, don’t enter the (classroom / server room / [your word here]). That does not mean you cannot be successful, well-known, and wealthy; it simply means that (to an extent) a great sysadmin lives outside the corporate ruleset. I have found that most sysadmins embrace this view.

#9 – Embrace Technology

Mr. Wallen says those who hate technology make bad IT experts. That depends on what one means by “hate technology”. It is possible to embrace technology while still casting a wary and jaundiced eye on how that technology is applied. The need to support BYOD provides a great example: The non-compliant software installed on so many user-controlled devices has a definite cost – and that cost is one that the checkwriters may not even want to think about ( as an example).

Good IT pros understand that the Hype Cycle around any new technology translates into significant pressure to implement untested and possibly unmanageable solutions. As a very wise sysadmin once said – “We fear change”. That does not mean we hate it. That means we realize that reactive decisions (translation: uncontrolled changes) lead to poor technology infrastructures and unhappy users.

#10 – You Turn Off Your Phone

This comes back to the 9-5, and Mr. Wallen has a great line about your beeper / phone “waiting to pull you away from the birth of your first child”. Please understand, I have spent 27 years in technology in every job function: helpdesk; software developer; network engineer; team lead / manager; even C-level posts. I understand thoroughly that extraordinary problem situations within the business require extraordinary efforts from everyone. I understand thoroughly that a network outage can take down a business unbelievably quickly. Case in point: If Google ain’t working, I’m going over to Bing without even a second thought.

However, it’s Mr. Wallen’s specific example I find troubling. I do a lot of work with the military. Even in a deployed situation extraordinary events are given special consideration. Not that every Soldier will get to see the birth of a first child (and many do not) but the Commander clearly understands the value of maintaining morale and granting leave under extraordinary circumstances whenever possible. Denying that fact of life is a fundamental failure in command.

So why is IT different? Why is it that *no personal event* is ever at the same priority as one’s worklife?

My opinion: fear-based work environments. Sysadmins are constantly reminded how expendable they are. Thus, being on-call 24/7 with *no backup* is often simply the way that sysadmins live. That doesn’t make such a decision necessary or even reasonable; it simply means that the management chain either does not know or does not care about the impact on the line individual.

In short – certain personal events are just as critical as maintaining the Network. I submit that an organization which would put the birth of one’s first child as secondary to work is one that is – let me choose my wording carefully – insane. To work for such an organization is – once again, a careful wording choice – insanity.

Summed Up: Keep your sense of wonder and curiosity; develop the habit of lifelong learning; enjoy your role as someone outside the corporate mainstream; relish the challenges that come with technology and innovation; look on your coworkers and customers with a gentle and supportive eye; remember that the one who keeps calm in crisis is the one who commands the situation. Most importantly, leave your fear behind and claim your own power and knowledge.

Team-oriented systems mentor with deep knowledge of numerous software methodologies, technologies, languages, and operating systems. Excited about turning emerging technology into working production-ready systems. Focused on moving software teams to a higher level of world-class application development. Specialties:Software analysis and development...Product management through the entire lifecycle...Discrete product integration specialist!

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