Tech & Work

10 things I learned about people while working in IT

If you've spent any time in IT, you know that human interaction is a big part of the job. And while you're interacting with those people, you'll learn a thing or two. Or 10.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/Samo Trebizan

Anyone who has worked in IT, even for a short period of time, can attest that it is a challenging and rewarding pursuit. Not only are you enabling businesses to function, you are helping bring people together and ensure that their days go smoothly. As you do that, you run into people from nearly every walk of life. That interaction can easily serve as a springboard to help you to understand and navigate the human equation. Or it can simply serve as an interesting backdrop to your daily grind.

Either way, there's a lot to be learned about people while you serve your IT department. Let's take a look at 10 things I learned about people during my stint in IT. You may have already shared a similar experience. If not, here are some of the things you can look forward to.

1: People just want to get their work done

This is pretty obvious, but every IT pro needs to fully understand it. Just like you, all those end users really just want to get their job done with as little hassle as possible. You see, every time end users go against a stumbling block, they can't do their job. When they can't do their job, management looks down upon them and wonders "Why?" To some end users, this is a no-brainer to get around. To others, however, the idea of not being able to get their job done instills a certain level of panic. When you understand that, it becomes much easier to help those end users through their daily IT issues.

2: People respect you more than you think

We all have our skills. As you're working to get that accountant's PC back online, you might see that man or woman as inferior just because they don't know the command to renew their DHCP lease. At the same time, you might not have the slightest idea what accounts payable and accounts receivable really mean. In the end, however, those end users actually do hold IT in high regard. You're that which stands between them and their work (see #1). But also, the average person does respect those with tremendous amounts of knowledge in the IT field. We are the "makers of magic" to them.

SEE: 10 things you shouldn't do when dealing with end users

3: People don't truly understand how technology works

Many IT pros just don't get this one. But remember how you don't understand various topics within the realm of accounting? Most people not in the IT field really don't understand how technology works. In fact, some even fear it. This is why you find users who default to pushing random buttons when things go awry. No, that's not the proper method of resolving an issue, but when you have such a profound lack of understanding of technology, it's how you react. Because of this, it is always in your best interests to help educate the technophobes in your company.

4: People want the "easy fix"

This holds true beyond technology. Yes, when an end user or manager calls upon your services, they want you in and out in seconds. That attitude isn't just limited to technology. I saw this, day in and day out. People prefer to expend the minimum amount of effort for the maximum amount of payoff. It didn't really take my being in the IT sector to learn this lesson, but it was seriously hit home during my years in the industry.

5: People genuinely want to be nice

This may seem a bit counter to what the ebb and flow of current culture would indicate, but in general, most people want to be kind, generous, and honest. This really comes out when you initiate the transaction. You treat people with courtesy and they will return it. Of course there are curmudgeonly exceptions to the rule. But for the most part, when I extended a friendly hand, an equally friendly hand was returned.

SEE: How IT can use unexpected upgrades to please users

6: People give you signs of inner turmoil

This is something I believe we all need to better understand. As an IT pro, you will interact with others on a daily basis. Sometimes these interactions can consume a considerable chunk of the workday. During those interactions, some people will give you signs of their inner turmoil. Depression and anxiety can come out in everyday conversation. Not that you are trained to help people on this level, but as a fellow human being, it might behoove you not to ignore these signs. Extend a kindness to those people or at least make sure they know they matter and, even on a superficial level, that their IT issues are important to you. You're not a therapist, so you're not capable of solving their emotional issues, but you can pay attention to end users who might be giving you subtle signs of their distress.

7: People need their privacy

This is a tough one for companies that refuse to allow employees even a modicum of privacy in their lives. Instead, they place workers in cubicle farms, monitor their network traffic, and generally refuse to acknowledge trust. From the management perspective, it is assumed that employees harbor secrets they don't want the company to know about—that they are doing something they shouldn't on company time. This attitude really only serves to heighten the stress in an already stressful environment. People need their privacy, need to know they are trusted. Entering a contract with a large company already carries with it the idea that the company will be monitoring everything the employee does. That company needs to at least try to offer a sliver of privacy to their employees.

SEE: End user data backup policy (Tech Pro Research)

8: People need to interact

Many companies block the likes of Facebook and Twitter on the network and even look down upon employees visiting with one another. They assume their employees will spend hours on the social networking sites or stand around the water cooler and shirk their duties. Thing is, humans need to interact with one another. Without that interaction, people start to feel like little more than cogs in a machine. People can tolerate that feeling for only so long before they want to escape the cause.

9: People enjoy a good laugh

The trick to getting someone on your good side? Make 'em laugh. If you want to enjoy a long-standing, solid relationship with your end users, make sure that humor is a part of your interaction. I've seen two IT pros, both with equal amounts of skill, attempt to develop positive relationships with users. In the end, the IT pro with a sense of humor won out and enjoys a much easier road in dealing with the users.

10: People have really good ideas

During my time as an IT pro, I heard some of the greatest ideas while working on an end user's PC. These aren't ideas being taken to management or CEOs,—it's just people talking about how "they would fix things 'round here." Some of those ideas are really, really good (and could very well "fix things 'round there"). A couple of times, I overheard an idea and encouraged the employee to take it to management. Days later, the idea was put into place. What I got out of that was always making sure I listen to people when they have a suggestion. Even a technophobe might inspire a fix for a problem you hadn't thought of. Crazier things have happened.

There's always more

The more time you spend in IT, the more you'll learn about technology, yourself, and people. It's a great way to see the best and worst of human nature. Try to keep your eyes open for the best—and you'll most likely see it in action on a daily basis.

Your thoughts

Have you learned a bit about human nature through your work as an IT pro? Share your observations with fellow TechRepublic members.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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