Leadership

Tales of an IT ninja

As an IT pro, you may neither wear black nor throw deadly weapons on the job, but you may have more in common with a ninja than you ever thought. Bill Elmore explores the stealthy underworld of the IT pro.

According to Wikipedia, the word "ninja" loosely translates to "one skilled in the art of stealth." Judging by many of the assignments and installations completed by IT pros, the analogy can be made that we are IT ninjas serving the corporate cause; covertly resolving issues and upgrading systems unbeknownst to most end users. A problem is discovered, gets corrected behind the scenes, and the user never knows who fixed it or how. In some cases, they never even knew there was a problem. And this is just the way most in IT prefer the scenario to unfold.  We don't typically want the glare of the company spotlight on us. We are content to just manage our Active Directory environment and solve problems as they arise.

"How did you do that?" asks the woman on the other end of the phone.
"You know I can't tell you my secrets," says the IT ninja. "Your PC is fine now. You can go back to your work."

Our department participated in an interesting exercise last year—a Myers-Briggs personality type test. While the results weren't particularly surprising for me, I was surprised to discover that all but one of our twenty-person team scored as an Introverted iNtuitive. It wasn't a shock to hear that many of us were introverts, but it was surprising to find out that the entire department was so socially reserved.  Sure, it doesn't fit for every person in IT; there are plenty of outgoing people working in this field. Let me think, there is Tony…no.  Well, there's Jeff…no, he's not really either. Let's move on.

Paul scans his ID and pushes on the door to the second floor. "It's no good. The door won't open."
"Did you try pulling?" asks Steve.
Paul doesn't appear amused.
Click. Tap. Tap. Tap.
"Try it now," says Steve.
The door swings open.

Introverted is fine. It fits with the whole "silent" and "stealthy" theme I'm trying to establish. This brings me to the topic of working hours. At what time of the day are we performing our most important work? Of course, the answer is, when it's least disruptive to the end users. This usually means many after-hours and weekend work to perform an upgrade, apply updates, or replace hardware. It's expected. IT is typically a support department that is non-revenue generating. It makes sense that we have to remain unseen as much as possible while also maintaining the technology infrastructure.

A business that operates around the clock can be particularly disruptive to an IT pro's social life. The question goes from what time is everyone out of the system to what time is the least number of users accessing the system. An upgrade at 5 p.m. can quickly change to an upgrade at 2 a.m. if the users request it. What's important is that when most users leave to go home and then come back the next day, they find a new or upgraded system. It doesn't happen totally behind the scenes, but the brunt of the work is not visible to the end users.

A man puts his cell phone away as he walks into the room.
"I just received a call from HR. They say we should take out user 'jsterns.'"
Click. Click.
"It's complete. User 'jsterns' has been disabled."

Most IT pros don't dress in all-black attire and attack users with shuriken (throwing stars), although CDs do make fine Frisbees. We also don't throw smoke bombs as we enter a room, fix a user's problem, and then leave before the smoke clears. What we do have though is our distinct set of tools and skills that we bring to the table when attacking a problem. We can remotely take over a PC or server by using Remote Desktop Connection or VNC. We can write scripts to perform administrative tasks or use Group Policy to push software updates. We can even take a screenshot of a user's Windows desktop, make it the background, and then move the real icons around the screen to confuse the user. But I would never ever do that…

Laughter is heard from the other side of a cubicle wall.
"Hey, Lee, check this out," says a voice.
Lee, unsuspecting, walks over.
FOOM! FOOM!
A weapon from a USB Missile Launcher hits Lee in the chest.
"Oh, man," says Lee. "You need to get out more."
"I know," says the voice. "Yes, I do."

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