Disaster Recovery

10 things I've learned from working in IT

When you've been in IT for awhile, you pick up all sorts of random knowledge. Jack Wallen shares a few highlights from almost 20 years in the field.

I've been a part of the IT industry (in one capacity or another) for nearly 20 years now. During those years, I've seen all sorts of trends, thoughts, and events come and go like the wind. I've experienced people with a vast range of skills and interests, and I've seen and heard dog and pony shows from more companies than I care to remember.

While I've held my post(s) within the IT industry, I've learned a few random things about the industry itself that I wanted to share with all the good readers of TechRepublic. So hold onto your seat, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

1: Companies always promise more than they can deliver

This is almost across the board. A company will promise you the moon, telling you that their product will solve every problem your company has. But sales pitches should never be believed. If you want to know the truth about a product, you find forums (like TechRepublic) where end users and other IT pros chat about products. The company I work for recently had a new backup solution vendor promise that its product would not have all the failings our current product had. And it did solve some of the issues -- but it had plenty of its own. Remember, if it's too good to be true, most likely it's not true.

2: If you add third-party software to a Windows machine, all bets are off

In a perfect world, you could add any software, from any vendor, and everything would simply work. We don't live in that perfect world. I have found over the years that when you add non-Microsoft software to a machine, to differing degrees, you compromise the stability and reliability of the platform. If you really want the most stable Windows platform you can get, install only software from Microsoft.

3: It's not a matter of "if" but "when" your desktop or server will be compromised

Whether you use a desktop or a server, if you're using Windows, you will be compromised. This does not necessarily mean a hacker or something catastrophic. But you will wind up with a virus, malware, or more. No matter what antivirus software you use, you will eventually find yourself having to rid a machine of something malicious.

4: Most people don't really understand RAID

I can't tell you how many people I've dealt with who look at RAID as little more than a backup. If you need a backup, use a backup. If you need redundancy, use RAID. But even more important -- RAID disks fail! If you don't pay attention to those failures (and replace disks as needed), you will wind up with a dead machine that will take hours (or days) to bring back to life. Understand RAID before you use it.

5: Backups are always forgotten... until they're needed

Most people don't even back up. And those who do usually assume it's "set it and forget it." I've been focusing on backups (for multiple clients) for a while now, and if there's one thing I've learned it's that backups can't be trusted. You must monitor them; you must babysit them. If you don't, one of these days you are going to need that backup and it won't be there.

6: The cloud will never replace the desktop

Just a few short years ago, rumors spread about this ubiquitous technology called "the cloud," and everyone pretty much thought it would take over the desktop. Some of us had visions of old thin clients making a comeback. The truth is, the cloud wound up being something used by the desktop. It will never actually replace the desktop. We need that desktop OS; otherwise, failure and lost data will become rampant. But no matter what the early expectations were, the cloud has turned out to be a nice addition to what we already had.

7: The Linux platform is still hindered by FUD

That's right: Fear, uncertainty, and doubt still plague the open source flagship platform. Most of those who rail against Linux do so out of either ignorance or fear. Linux fits in perfectly alongside both Windows and OS X on the server AND the desktop. And Linux will continue to gain traction in both personal and business usage. Although the biggest perpetrators of the Linux FUD have pulled back drastically, others still feed the machine daily. I can't imagine this will go away any time soon.

8: There's a huge disconnect between pundits and the real world

Most pundits live in this glorious cloud in the sky where reality has little to no bearing. Reality is that most businesses can't afford to upgrade every year, that people still desperately cling to old technology because it works and because they fear change, and that the newest and shiniest isn't always the best.

9: IT will give you gray hair

I've seen it countless times. People come into the business with nice jet black hair and after only a year or so, the gray hair starts sprouting. Why? IT is stressful. You have people's business in your hand. Your ability to fix problems is critical to end users getting their jobs done. Or worse -- you're working with a company's QuickBooks data file and you have a business breathing down your neck to make sure it can continue. It's a rough business that will chew you up and spit you out. Thin skinned need not apply.

10: The second you think you understand something, you don't

Technology changes faster than the speed of thought. The second you've wrapped your brain around something, it completely changes and you have to start from scratch. Never sit still, never give up learning, and always know the second you close your eyes you will be behind the curve and someone else will steal your business.

Other lessons?

We've all learned something in this business. For me, the learning never stops. Every day, a new particle worth my interest worms its way into my brain and is cached for later use. Over the years, some of those bits and pieces have become worthless junk, but others have proven valuable. What lessons have you learned during your years as an IT pro that have stuck with you? Share them with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

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 getjackd.net.

191 comments
BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

Its interesting to see you mention #1 "Companies Promise.." because at no less then 2 previous employers, when I had mentioned something similiar (but instead of saying it in general I would mention specific companies) I was criticized for being "Negative". It didn't matter whether or not it was true only what the perception was. That too is a big issue with the bussiness world today. The focus is on perception and not actually quality of product/service.

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

I saw several entries for number eleven, and at least one for # 12, so I'll add the thirteenth thing that one learns from IT: Murphy's Law is the basic principle of the universe.

xingyu_liu
xingyu_liu

Yeah, all ideas you shown are perfectly true from my point of view. And I also think that working in IT for years really do harm for most people, as IT pros need to care messes of information and techs for this virtual world but fall behind in enjoying the real life.

leomobe
leomobe

According to the users you should know everything, i. e., if the user has a problem with an accounting application; you should be an expert not only in IT but in accounting. The same it’s true for financing, legal, and every other knowledge area. You have to be such an erudite!

Ole88
Ole88

I agree that backups should not be forgotten and it is true that they need [adult] supervision. One other practice that you should be engaged in on a regularly scheduled basis is to test your backups. Have a time set aside where you take a server offline and recover it from your backup on another box. If it doesn't work, adjust your backup/recovery settings and/or strategy until it does. It also doesn't hurt to virtualize - it can be a much quicker process to recover a virtual server vs a physical one.

viv.fletcher
viv.fletcher

99% of programs work 99% of the time. What goes around, comes around.

kvheerden
kvheerden

Just had to share this. As I read this article, specifically the part about backups having to be monitored otherwise it won't be there when you need it, I decided to just check out my daily backups, and sure enough, it hasn't been working for the last 20-odd days! Haha. Thanks for that heads-up!

STODDARM
STODDARM

Beware the "over friendly" User. Many a time I have had that 'particular' individual/ user start to become overly friendly. Before you know it, you have a regular stream of requests from this person , or the foreign (is a personal issue with their home PC) job thrown in for good measure. There is always that doubt arises that the "over friendly user" seems less and less willing to work out why they have wound up in a mess and their dependency on you increases. Most (not all) of these new friends , will , shortly after you have sweated blood to fix their problems, forget you ever existed. Dont fall into the trap this person sets for you, always ensure your requests are managed, and that if it is personal work undertaken they understand that a transaction is required.

tswartz
tswartz

Companies always, always, always discount the cost of integrating a new line of business application. Vendors do it, because they know that you won't buy their product if it seems too expensive, A favored ploy is to minimize requirements, as in "sure, your 5 yr old server meets our minimum specs. The other fav: minimize training requirements, or better yet, offer 2 days online training included, then charge $1500/day for onsite training when you are lost. I blame companies and vendors equally for this.

gotsparkly
gotsparkly

No plan survives first contact with the executives.

RW17
RW17

For example: 1) When you really realize how little you know about something like an ERP system / module, you are ready to become a consultant. 2) Being a consultant is far less about having a lot of knowledge about an area, and much more about knowing where to find knowledge for your use. 3) Project Managers for consulting implementation projects assign 125% of project plan tasks in any 8-hour "assgined" work period. They are paid to. You are paid to be behind in your work as a result. Actually, you are paid to be able to identify those tasks that you have been assigned that are garbage and disregard them... well, at least until the PM asks you for their status... ;-) 4) You, as an IT person, are half as important at your company as a sales person who spends each night on his expense account getting liquored. Wait, you're actually only one-quarter as important... no, that's wrong to... maybe one-eighth... if you're lucky and really good... Get used to this perspective! 5) The unspoken truth of an implementation project of a core system at a client... is that the work is never expected to end from the view of the consulting company. 6) One million articles exist that state that training your employees is the best way to reduce their stress and make them more productive (and, thus, retain them for far longer periods of tenure as they will enjoy their jobs more... which will rub off on others at the company... and help improve their work lives... and so on, and so on). Nevertheless, in IT, you will not get training because it cannot be directly traced back to improved profit (though, anyone with a mind for numbers can surely illustrate the cost-savings of retention of employees, and having fewer employees do more, better work... that will just be ignored, though). 7) If you are billed by the hour to clients (and are highly billable), you will have more success getting a wild tiger to adopt your newborn as her own than to get your consulting firm to train you in what you are supposed to be an expert on. Those who suck at the client site will get all of your training that you should have received. 8) Tech Republic talks a lot about "hot certifications"... that's what it is... "hot air". 9) If you are paying for consultants, some of them don't have a clue what they are supposed to be doing... and so many more... :-)

tonycopp
tonycopp

ways to earn a living than being blamed for everything digital not being perfect as the sales narrative demands, but it took me longer than 10 years, more like 15.

Mindtickler
Mindtickler

I have learned that the first thing you ask a user after finding out the description of the problem is to ask the user, "what is the last thing you did before it started exhibiting this behavior?"

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

All are so true. Regrettably, #6 is the newest one and its truth is not yet recognized. We just need a few very high profile "cloud crashes" to bring people back to Earth. A major bank crash would be a wonderful illustrative example, especially when one can't use their ATM and/or credit card because the "cloud" is down.

cmartin_39
cmartin_39

Hi All This article is so true about IT job.I s very hard to catch up with technologies and business needs is this days. A co-worker use to said "we always working with the impossible". Over the years I learn the if we keep a balance with people skills and Technology we can do it better. but never enough for some company they always want more and more and more. The gray hair is so true ....LOL

BigDixter
BigDixter

11) Everything you learn has a half life of about 18 months. Probably the flipside of Moore's law. How to compile a cobol programme? Gone long ago. The ongoing importance of testing backups and every other thing you rely upon. Still with us! 12) Users and buyers can do the sloppiest job around but will always blame the vendor or the sales guy! Maybe they were badly deceived but maybe they didn't do a very good job! It's easy isn't it? We get paid on it so we must be lying. Get real guys! Remember Caveat Emptor? Test the vendor, ask questions, run trials. I love it when a prospect behaves like a sceptical, polite grown up, it makes my life easy. It's when they behave like a sullen uncommunicative teenager it becomes difficult. From the supplier's side we see IT managers who have no idea of the reality (Yea we've got all that, yea we'll assign folk to test and validate etc etc.- No one and nothing is the actuality) but when you get in the trenches or hit problems it's all forgotten. It becomes a pin the blame on the vendor game. Some folk behave as if having bought something from us they own us and our time for evermore. They can demand stuff they didn't bother foreseeing because we should have guessed it! Are you all admitting that you can't be bothered investing your IT dollars carefully and so you just believe half baked assurances. Are you admitting that you can't be bothered to manage risk, that you can't test stuff? To be fair some can't because they are too busy sorting out various other poorly selected and managed systems. Of course there is dishonesty, ignorance, marketing and cheating in every part of the supply chain from Vendor to end user. It is made up of humans. And because there are humans, that also means that there are plenty of great enthusiastic, clever people ready willing and able to deliver a good job and go the extra mile or seven. In the end it's a people job and a technology job and both of them can delight and surprise or anger and disappoint.

RocRizzo
RocRizzo

11a: The part that has the most defects in a computer is the nut between the keyboard and the chair 11b: You can't fix stupid.

asanchez.jimenez
asanchez.jimenez

The customer go to change the requeriments all time, you never will have a final version until you finish the project.

purplewelshy
purplewelshy

Only 20 years, a mere baby. wait until it is 40 years like me, and I don't use Windoze.

fsfernandes
fsfernandes

After working for around 23 years in the IT that is plus 3 years extra than the writer of the article I have an additional point to make here, users, managers, owners think that IT can do anything and everything under the sun without any logic. IT should be like a God to solve any and every problem which comes accross.

SpatsTriptiphan
SpatsTriptiphan

This is the most realistic article that has been written in a long time - with the exception of only installing Microsoft products - it is describing the common sense of the industry.

nate.irvin
nate.irvin

#3 is just false. I have used Windows for a decade and never been compromised. I'm accept the argument that it is far, far more likely that you'll be compromised by using Windows vs. something else, but please don't make patently false blanket statements.

vashiyusuf
vashiyusuf

people change their work styles and attitude to methods of work at a rate much slower than the information and collaboration technology surrounding them

esherman37
esherman37

Regarding #9, either give you gray hair or make you lose your hair...

Tom275
Tom275

My favorite line: Nobody cares about the backups. They will only care about the restore. Do you really go around and say "The Backups were successful last night. yea!"

Stan.Williams
Stan.Williams

Been in the business >20 years and one thing I've learned is that technology moves in cycles. I cut my teeth on an interpreted language. Wasn't long before I had to deal with a compiled language. Later on back to interpreted then back to compiled. Some of these changes have to do with the capability of the platform. Whatever the case you'll likely do a bit of tail chasing if you stay in the business more than five years.

kroos
kroos

Yes, 'pundits' do live in the 'cloud' a cloud of disconnect. Technology is a tool for productivity and quality, not the end goal itself.

RaySirois
RaySirois

Does Redmond write your paycheck? Really? MORE stable? You've been in IT for 20 years? From MY 20 years of experience, nothing guarantees the instability of a computer MORE than installing Microsoft products. Other publishers at least try to appear as if they are observant of memory and storage constraints. Microsoft figures if your machine isn't big enough to run thier bloatware, then it's YOUR fault and you should just buy more RAM and a bigger drive. How many times have you seen a system unable to boot because of pooched patches and updates from Microsoft? I've seen it more times than I should have. Show me a computer running only Microsoft apps for productivity and collaboration, and I'll show you a system running slower than one that runs mixed party software, and one that needs more Helpdesk attention as well.

btd
btd

Often seen that if a project is successful you're thanked for assisting in the process that aided the admin to make the project successful. If there's a problem... any problem... the mob with torches and pitch forks are waiting for you and they have a long memory.

ganesharena
ganesharena

Totally agree with it, so I am/have with just 5 years in a french company. And what I have learned too, You'll never get a "promotion", always staying on the same professional status forever.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

I've been reading "Life Code" by Dr. Phil replete with "The Evil Eight" and he points out that the world has changed. I think he's sugar coated it and it's even more evil than he paints it, but he points out that particularly in the last 10 years the old standards of working hard, being honest and all the factors of integrity have passed from the scene and we all need a new strategy to be a success. It's been even more than that, if you consider that "Moral Mazes" by Robert Jackall was written in the 1980s. The posts I see here on ZDnet do not inspire any sort of hope that management will ever become objective, honest and have a measure of integrity again. The really bad thing about all this is that many of us in IT have been swept up into the "end justifies the means" ethic of "jist gitter dun" mentality with no real commitment to quality, reducing excellence to trashy commodities which may be fast and cheap but aren't particularly good. So the experience is one which now, you probably aren't going to prosper -- particularly if you have any sort of what is moral, ethical, legal and proper -- you are going to have to settle for survival at best. I'm not sure I can recommend "Life Code" for a solution, but if you haven't gotten and read often, "Snakes in Suits" by Dr. Paul Babiak and Dr. Robert Hare, "Without Conscience" by Dr. Robert Hare (what I wouldn't give for an encephalegram of managers), "The Management Trap" by Dr. Chris Argyris and the DSM-IV, you probably are at a gross disadvantage. You need to know your enemy thoroughly and have a strategy to deal with it. And for those of you who will join me in exiting the realm of insanity -- in my case retirement, but some of you a significant career change, say to landscaping, for example -- I heartily recommend for your recovery, "Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships" by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias, because you'll need it. Sure, 30 years ago, life was good and for some in niche environments, it still is, but the world has changed and not in a very good direction when it comes to honesty, integrity, quality of relationships and trust -- particularly from and with those who hold any kind of power, and particularly those who have allowed themselves the luxury of sinking into evil by adopting the dark side of the force.

thomsonk
thomsonk

Does it ever! (Raising kids at the same time doesn't help either)

scottchapm
scottchapm

I have learnt that in the same way a policeman will never pull you over to tell you you are driving really well that its very difficult to get thanks in this industry until something goes wrong and you a) are prepared for it 100% and fix it quickly b) play a blinder and work a great solution at speed. Even then, that can be short lived :) thats why it can be soooo tempting to just keep the lights on and not introduce change. . . but you have to because you need to be one step ahead. OH! and I have learnt and I also hate when an outsider makes a project sound really easy by simply summising how straight forward something should be without the first clue about your network or business. .

maj37
maj37

#5 No backups aren't always forgotten until they are needed. Maybe with inexperienced and untrained Windows users and small companies that rely solely on Windows that is true. However in the world of IBM Mainframes and similar mid range and large scale systems, we learned a long time ago not to forget the backups. Then we passed that information on to the newbies that came into our organizations. #1 No Duh, That one isn't hard to learn which I guess is why you listed it first. #8 No Duh here either, Pundit.

mike
mike

The best customer is the one that knows you're fallible but trusts you to do your best (you are doing your best aren't you?).

mgrier
mgrier

Dead-on accurate

windowsgolfer
windowsgolfer

In most cases those of us who are in a habit of backing up our C:Drive have no need to backup the entire drive which means including the OEM D:Drive which allows a fresh install of Windows. Most all Mfg's include a recovery partition. It's very important to create your Recovery Disks using the Mfg's software within the first few days of owning your computer. Just make the disks and store them in a safe place. Backing up with Windows 7 is easy and very efficient with it's own backup/restore utility. I happen to use 3rd party software to backup my C:Drive every day but feel confident with the Backup/Restore Utility that comes with Windows 7 (all versions). I backup my C:Drive every day because I am in the business of remote support for Windows users around the world (home PC owners). But regardless of how you use your computer making a C:Drive backup (system image) is the most important task you will ever perform on your choice of computer. To be quite frank, it is amazing to me that after 10 years of Personal Computers being a "household applicance" that still less than 1% of home computer users do a system backup on a regular basis. When you've done it once it's as easy as creating and sending an email. There will always be a need to backup one's HDD or SDD C: Partion. Though we will be interacting with the Cloud in many ways it's a long way off before there is "no operatying system" in a PC or even a Mac. Something has to be local to interact with the Cloud. So! If you are not in a habit of backing up your HDD or SDD start today! You WILL save yourself from sheer agony should your drive get a nasty infection or crashes. Note: To reinstall everything and customize your email client, toolbars, taskbar, notification area, reinstall all your programs, remove the crapware included by the Mfg, and get all your Favorites and Bookmarks back takes hours. A recovery from a System Image may take only 30 minutes or maybe 2 hours depending on how much information is on your C:Drive.

fgjohnson
fgjohnson

Agree with Charles... There are many great open source and third party tools, for a plethora of services and functions that work great without payin' Micro$oft. Knowing the good tools is the trick - opening the door for users to download apps discovered via a google search, or by inadvertent drive-by "plug-ins", is negligent. It's like anything - soft control and education go a long way. Remember... support people!

logos200
logos200

1) These days, where does the IT department start and end? The line has been blurred. For example, departments such as Marketing, HR, and Finance have their own tools (ie. SAS, OBIEE, Business Objects) and even their own servers to run Oracle/SQL Server databases. Similarly, for any office job, it is implied that an applicant needs to be experienced with MS Office. 2) Process improvement (ie. Six Sigma) has made working in Corporate America more challenging than ever. Everyone expects you to do more with less while working on multiple projects simultaneously and being able to deliver on time. At the same time, a typical day at the office includes multiple meetings, phone calls, putting out fires, random cube stops, conference calls, e-mails, IMs, and voice mails, encumbering your day to such a point that it's past 12noon and you have not accomplished a thing! 3) Related to point #2, the situations created in the office environment can be immeasurably stressful. It is not unusual to work 10-20 extra unpaid hours per week (as a salaried employee) to meet deadlines. You can let this slide a few times, but when it happens on a regular basis, it begins to eat away at you when you realize that you are not being paid for your time. 4) In my observations, today's office culture is extremely competitive and full of liars, backstabbers, cut-throats, and connivers. You need to make sure you CC all the necessary individuals and save/archive every single e-mail you send out as potential evidence in a s/he said s/he said situation. 5) Related to #2, you are forced to fill out self-reviews and complete documentation to evaluate yourself and your performance, which determines your bonus (if your company offers it). So even if you know you've invested every last fiber of your being into producing high-quality deliverables and your manager does not agree with you, your bonus and/or potential salary raise and/or imagine in the department/company can be negatively affected. Basically, there is a lot of cronyism and subjectivity in today's office workplace, giving rise to point #3.

gorman.mi
gorman.mi

After about 20 years also I concur with my learned colleague's points. I would add that as an IT person every problem that arises is your personal fault because you represent all of "IT" to the user, you are the designer and architect of all IT systems to them. The industry is probably one of the most dynamic areas around, you have to learn every day, never regard yourself as a "Guru", there are no Gurus, only people with a little more specialized insight and skills. IT people are often guilty of looking down on users, and not understanding their specific areas of work.

savatovic
savatovic

... you must have a horse. I've seen it many times that people would like to achieve something without proper resources. Either they don't have hardware, or they go with minimal/cheapest offer. Or they say "We don't need all the planning now, just do it, we'll sort documentation at the end".

rajgopalhg
rajgopalhg

One more challenge in IT is that we need to be efficient 24/7. Whenever my phone rings in holidays, I wish it should not be an emergency call. I have abruptly ended my personal work for emergency breakdown calls most of the times in my career. Now I am used to it.

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

Twenty-some-odd years in IT have taught me that Murphy's Law is the basis of the universe. Maybe the fact that my name is Murphy has something to do with this viewpoint.

texznet
texznet

After being in both academics and IT I think another excellent point is if you want to find out how well you know something, try to teach it accurately.

fsfernandes
fsfernandes

I like it, the nut between keyboard and the chair, and sometimes a really hard nut to crack

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've attended plenty of college classes with professors who know their stuff backwards and sideways but don't know how to teach. I can't teach worth a fried motherboard myself.

fsfernandes
fsfernandes

I liked it so much it is true "without any money" you completed my sentence, thank you

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

texznet has a point. Trying to teach, even if you're not a good teacher, will really expose any gaps in your knowledge. You should try to teach a rank beginner, especially if you're very experienced; it's a humbling experience.

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