Why are IT professionals perceived so poorly by some? I am not going to try to prove or disprove the merits of the reasons listed below. Suffice it to say, the bad rap IT gets is justified if the client believes it to be true.
1: We're considered too well paid
It is common knowledge that IT professionals make good money. In fact, in the United States, they earn more than all other professions except the management and legal professions. Somehow, that just isn't right to those earning less. That geek with the pocket protector and accompanying host of mechanical pencils and Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pens makes more than they do with their master's degree. In a society where we often base our value on our wages, this is a blow to the ego of other professionals.
2: We can't respond to every problem instantly
When the shop floor system or a secretary's computer goes down, they need it fixed ASAP. Like the air conditioner repairman on a hot summer day, requests for service often come in bunches requiring the customers to wait in queue. No response time is fast enough for businesses that experience more than a few minutes of critical systems downtime.
3: We try to do the impossible
A doctor wouldn't try to diagnose a patient over the phone and yet this is exactly what IT support personnel are expected to do every day. We're expected to diagnose and fix problems remotely over the phone with customers who know little or nothing about the problem. My dad, as an example, has spent more than four hours on the phone with a support person to fix one problem. This type of support is at best frustrating for all involved and at worst impossible without direct access to the customer's hardware — no matter how admirable the persistence and dedication of the person offering the help. If you have ever spent more than an hour on the phone trying to fix a problem, you can understand why technical support staff are often cursed. And it will continue to be that way until IT learns how to more easily gather all of the pertinent facts before trying to diagnose and fix problems.
4: We have to do the impossible
I've mentioned before the "missions impossible" I have been asked to do while at Computer Sciences Corporation. CSC has a wide variety of customers, some with archaic and arcane systems. There just aren't many minds on the planet with the knowledge to fix these types of systems. As an example, because I had installed OS/2 several times, I was considered the resident OS/2 expert and "asked" to help with a client's OS/2 problems. I did help install some network printers and hardware. But perhaps my most successful accomplishment was convincing the onsite CSC supervisor to ban the client's outsourced IT personnel from the server room. Regardless of my best efforts, I could imagine the client telling my manager, "Next time send someone who knows what he's doing."
5: We offer technical support and not personal service
While IT professionals typically possess a high degree of technical competence, our bedside manner often leaves much to be desired. The technical gap between the customer and IT is wide and grows wider every day. It is becoming ever more challenging to communicate to customers in simple and personal terms what we need to do to fix their problem. It will be ever more challenging to narrow this communication gap to provide true customer service above and beyond the required fix.
6: We have a bad image
So often in a world of sound bites, image is everything. The image portrayed of IT is one of the aloof geek practicing and protecting his secret craft from the clueless public. People have a love/hate relationship with the geek stereotype. They can't relate- - but they do enjoy watching geeks and their bizarre behavior. Chloe and Edgar, Maurice and Roy, Sheldon and Leonard, and Abigail and Timothy come to mind. Viewers love them — as long as long as they stay on the other side of their favorite entertainment delivery device. Mention that you work in IT, though, and you are immediately classified as a geek and at best you are tolerated. True geeks may embrace this term but to the general public it is not a term of endearment, especially when they have to interact with the real-life version.
7: We're seen as a threat to the average worker's job
Nothing brings fear to the heart of a person quicker than the possible loss of his or her job. Threatening to take the food out of the mouths of a family can immediately label the IT professional as the bad guy. Actually, it is the technology that is replacing a worker's labor, but the "victim" doesn't see it that way. The IT pro becomes the enemy and gets the blame for making it happen.
8: We suffer from the "golden boy" syndrome
For years, IT has been able get almost anything it asked for. Any project that made the company more efficient was funded and opportunities abounded. Yes, IT has grown up and has lost some of its "can't do anything wrong" luster, but the golden boy image lingers. Managers who have watched their budgets dwindle while IT's budgets grew resent IT to this day.
9: We are indispensable
Those in charge have become reliant upon IT technology and the people who keep it running. Complex systems need database maintenance, technical support, and software upgrades and maintenance. Non-IT professionals just don't like being dependent on others, technical types or otherwise. They prefer to remain beholden to no one rather than take another dose of humble pie when they have to call someone because their system is down. And they fear that gives us too much power.
10: We are too big and intrusive
No government activity, profession, or corporate function is safe from the invasion of the geeks. During the 90s, personal computers began popping up on employees' desks like mushrooms after a summer rain. Human resources, accounting, manufacturing, and legal — they have all been infiltrated by the innocuous PC. Those PCs collect and send information to servers owned by the geek squadron. This level of information access is unprecedented. Information is power, and IT controls that information.
How big can IT get? A group of highly influential programmers and hackers could band together to head up The New World Coders in an attempt to control the world. Okay, that probably won't happen. But non-IT managers everywhere must be concerned about how much of their business they have to trust to IT.
The bottom line
One day you're minding your own business, building that office tower out of sand when... wham! Life smacks you upside the head. Your nemesis, baby brother, has arrived. You didn't know it then but your whole world was about to be turned upside down. And that is just what happened when baby IT was born not all that many years ago. Mother said that a baby brother would be wonderful addition to the family. What she didn't tell you was that IT would get all the attention and you wouldn't be as important as you used to be. Why does IT get a bad rap? Mystery solved. It is because the "normal people" resent us.
However, one mystery remains: Why do geeks always come in pairs when they are portrayed on TV?
Do you have a different take on why so many people harbor bad feelings toward IT pros? Share your thoughts with fellow TechRepublic members.
Alan Norton began using PCs in 1981, when they were called microcomputers. He has worked at companies like Hughes Aircraft and CSC, where he developed client/server-based applications. Alan is currently semi-retired and starting a new career as a writer for TechRepublic.