Linux

User friendly work style – good for your career?


I was flipping through the tech ads in the Sunday paper this morning when I came across Windows Home Server. It was advertised as having the following features:

  • Your family's digital memories and media organized in one central hub
  • Home PCs backed up daily, automatically
  • Simple recovery of lost files or even entire PCs
  • Complete access from networked PCs to all your Windows Home Server files
  • A personalized Web address for sharing your photos and home videos
  • Easy and quick setup
  • Expandable storage space for future use
  • Innovative third-party applications

Being a Linux fan, my first thought was "another lost opportunity for Linux." My second thought was "I'm not surprised." Why? Because Microsoft gets marketing and more importantly, ease of use. They may not have the "best" of anything on the market but they know how to push what they have and they know how to make what they have "easy" for the typical user. Is there anything on the list above that a standard Linux build can't do? Yet who is setting the standard here? Microsoft - because they get it.

People can be similar to products in regards to how "easy to use" they are and how "user friendly" they can be. Stop and think about people you work with - there are some that you love to work with, there are those that you don't, and some you don't really have an opinion on. What makes people fall into those categories? Before we go any further - rate yourself - would you define yourself as having a "user friendly" work style? Whether you did or didn't rate yourself as user friendly - what did you use as your criterion? When I think of a "user friendly" employee I think of one that is:

  • Approachable - The person does not appear to be threatening, seems to welcome if not discourage your approach, seems "safe."
  • Knowledgeable - The person has a reputation for knowing, or knowing how to get the answer/results you need.
  • Ready/willing to help - It doesn't seem to matter where or when you catch them, they are willing to help and may actually drop what they are doing to do so.
  • Effective - going to them is not a waste of time. They get done what they say they will get done and the product is "good" or better.
  • Efficient communicator - says enough to understand what is needed, but doesn't trap you in unnecessary conversation.

Put these traits together and you have a "user friendly" employee. Now raise your hand if you want this person to work for you. Of course you do! Not only do you want them to work for you, but you want them to work with you and you want to work for them. Notice that I didn't say they were the "best" at what they did or that they didn't make mistakes. They are average to above average. What they excel at is their approach to work. They come to work to work and they appear to enjoy their work. They get the promotions - or maybe not. I think that to a certain degree they do and although I lack any empirical evidence to back myself up on this I'm willing to wager that they plateau. Why? Because these folks are the foundations of our workplaces. They are the glue that hold the extreme employees together to actually form an organization - these my friends are the long time employees in positions we count on, where they may have risen one or two levels, but are satisfied to be right where they are.

Most importantly - they aren't marketing themselves. Because if they were - they would be promoted - and they aren't particularly interested in being promoted - they are interested in doing what they like to do - or at least being comfortable in what they are doing. To get promoted you have to at some point decide to become self interested enough to market yourself as the "better" employee. It is at that point that the "eccentricities" of hiring come into play and while having a user friendly work style won't necessarily hurt you - it won't guarantee a promotion either.

So in the long run, being user friendly helps to get you to a certain level, but at some point stops becoming a factor in promotions. After that, marketing/politics/pure dumb luck play a more important role.

7 comments
NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Oh, yeah! I love my work. I might move up to lead from senior tech, but that's about as far as I want to go. I've been in management and it wasn't for me. There's no better justification for doing a good job than the thanks I get from my customers. You don't get that in management. Edit: yes

bap
bap

We go to the trouble of hiring good techs and put them on the helpdesk where they constantly get battered by everyone's problems. One of the few good things that my manager did when I was on the helpdesk was to send me out with the sales guys to meet satisfied customers. Now I make a point of commenting when I get good service.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

As you said, I got battered by everyone's problems. What I hated most was always hearing from the same learning-disabled or willfully-ignorant people wanting help with the same self-inflicted problems. One day I finally snapped helping one of the regulars re-enable his taskbar volume control for the umpteenth time (the guy kept turning it off!). "Grasp the device called a mouse in your right hand. Now find the arrow called a cursor on the TV screen called a monitor. "Move the device called a mouse until the tip of the arrow called a cursor is over the word Start at the bottom of the screen. Use your finger to press the left mouse button until it clicks. "When the menu appears, move the device called a mouse so the arrow called a cursor points at the word Settings. Use your finger to press the left mouse button until it clicks. "Now move the device called a mouse so the arrow called a cursor points at the words Control Panel. Use your finger to press the left mouse button until it clicks. "When the window called the Control Panel appears, move the device called a mouse so the arrow called a cursor points at the image titled Sounds and Audio Devices. Use your finger to press the left mouse button until it clicks. Do this twice in rapid succession. "When the display called a properties window opens, move the device called the mouse until the arrow called a cursor points to the square white area called a checkbox next to the line reading Place volume icon in the taskbar. Use your finger to press the left mouse button until it clicks. A checkmark will appear in the square white area called a checkbox. "Move the device called a mouse until the arrow called a cursor is over the word OK. Use your finger to press the left mouse button until it clicks. The display called a properties window will disappear and your volume control should now be available at the right end of the bar at the bottom of the screen called the task bar." His response was "You don't have to treat me like an idiot!" I lost it. "You have called me twice a week for the past three months to perform this exact procedure. During each of these calls, I have used the terms mouse, cursor, monitor, click, checkbox, and window, and each time you have asked what I mean. This time I wanted to make sure there was no confusion!" I have a great deal of respect for anybody who is [b]good[/b] at help desk. They are equipped both with the patience of Job and the ability to treat the willfully ignorant as the next Einstein and are better people than I am. Edit to clarify

tags
tags

I LOVE working with people like this. In some cases people like this are not promoted, though. They even get bad reviews sometimes because they have not tooted their horns and others are tooting theirs. A user-friendly person should also be one that can toot their horn so that they stick around in the work environment and the boss knows what they are doing. When you help someone else out, sometimes your own work may be a little late and the boss needs to know why. Just like MicroSoft with their hourglass when you are downloading a file. It lets you know SOMETHING is happening!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

A user-friendly person in an office is, as you said, subject to being walked on because of their nature. But put one out where the customer can see him? I don't need to toot my horn, my customers do it for me.

bap
bap

I was once a user-friendly person and one day I might be again. Having someone like this around the place makes everyone else's job that little bit easier and makes everyone else more efficient. But at some point they (and their manager) need to recognise the difference between being able to do anything and being able to do everything. Taking everyone's problems on your shoulders is a sure-fire route to burnout. The good news is that there's another place in the corporation where these skills really do make a difference, and it's in the boardroom. So if you have one of these people keep a surreptitious eye on them, and be prepared to switch them to the fast-track management program.

mmoran
mmoran

Honestly, if I ever get the "Tell me why we should hire you" interview challenge, I'd just hand the interviewer a copy of this article. It describes my personal style to the proverbial "T." Including why my two brief forays into management in 35 years crashed and burned. The mantle of command authority necessary to succeed at management is a poor fit indeed with the "approachability" trait. Especially if you don't really care to be wearing it... ;>)