Leadership

Make sure you are getting some support

User support is about giving of oneself. One's time, one's knowledge, one's patience. Without a way of renewing those resources, techs will find themselves headed toward burn out. What saved me? A supportive community of professionals.

User support is about giving of oneself. One's time, one's knowledge, one's patience. Without a way of renewing those resources, techs will find themselves headed toward burn out. What saved me? A supportive community of professionals.

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Supporting others requires a lot of us. For most of my career, I have been the sole IT pro providing support for small organizations. While I’ve had the chance to work with some great people in some wonderful enterprises, I’ve come to realize that something has been missing from my professional life. My new job has given me the chance to be a part of a team again, and I love it.

Okay, sure. Hooray for teamwork, and blah blah blah. Maybe I’ll be accused of sounding like a motivational poster with this stance, but I’ll take that risk. It’s easy to be cynical when you are used to being surrounded by other IT pros, but try and put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Until recently, it has been literally years since there was anyone in my organization who I could consider a technical colleague. The people I’ve worked with (and for) have been wonderful souls, but it is isolating to be the only person in your company doing what you do. I had no idea how isolating, until I started working with other techs as part of a large support team.

I had actually become quite depressed, and I hadn’t even realized it. Not because my previous jobs have been so horrible, but because exposure to other professionals from your field is a great way to grow. I had forgotten the excitement of collaborating with another to solve a problem, and how quickly I can learn new things when I’m surrounded by other experienced techs. Since becoming part of this new team, I actually look forward to going to work, and supporting clients feels easier than it did before. I attribute both of these developments to the fact that I feel like I have competent people around me to lean on.

So, moral of the story, make sure that you have a professional community of your own. Hopefully, you’ve found a little of that fellowship here at TechRepublic. Wherever it comes from, though, you need to have a way to replenish your energy and excitement. I am better now at my job than I have been in years, simply because I find my working environment more sustaining. Being on my own for too long, part of my professional self had atrophied. I implore you not to let the same thing happen to you.

18 comments
jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

As the sole IT person in the organization that does what I do, I feel so isolated and overwhelmed at times. Being the Sys Admin, Network Engineer, Help Desk and PC Tech has it's benefits, but the drawbacks are tremendous. If it weren't for Tech Republic and my other user communities, I would have burned out already. I'm on the verge of that right now. This past Saturday, I slept from 5pm to 7am the next morning. That's how absolutely exhausting my job is. I'm about to take a week vacation just to seperate myself from technology (not totally but all work-related stuff) and just focus on myself and my family. However, when I get back, the stress will return. No one else can do my job and so help desk tickets will just pile up for a week and I'll have to contend with that. My company is too cheap and cash strapped to hire a dedicated Help Desk tech. On top of that they pay me as if I'm just a PC Tech. Needless to say I've been interviewing at places with IT teams. I've heard horror stories about super-competitive, back-stabbing IT pros all vying for the next promotion, but I envy the folks that work in a team. I never had an older IT guru to teach me the ropes, snap at me for doing something stupid and recognize me for when I do something amazing. Being the "go-to" guy was great for all of one year and then as the computers were added, the infrastructure became more complex and my role included strategic aspects, cleaning spyware off of computers and manning the help desk became an annoyance. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to figure out why all the LUNS on my new SAN disappeared and then have users spam my inbox with relatively trivial crap like "My computer is slow" and "My monitor keeps going to sleep." I'm spread way too thin and I have many job descriptions and my salary is based on the least of them. I'm a broken PC or two away from a nervous breakdown. I either need some help or I need to move on. I'm not even asking for a raise because I know that will probably obligate me to stay on board.

williamjones
williamjones

Sorry to hear about your situation, Arsynic. I always found it really hard to stick with looking for another position, because I would come home feeling exhausted from the position where I was spread too thin. I wanted to protect my off-hours, but that only drew out a situation that was unsustainable. Sounds like you're trying to keep some time protected for personal needs, and that's good, but life is too short to keep doing anything so draining for much longer. But you seem to know that. And in my experience you're right; a little more money can't salvage a hopeless situation. Best of luck. Thanks for sharing your story.

PCCathy
PCCathy

I went from working in a large IT department to working in a 4 person department where each person is highly specialized. I am technical support. While this is better than being a 1 person department, I feel your pain. I have found that in addition to the Tech Republic community that being involved with technical communities like HDI, and finding former IT co-workers on Facebook help me stay fresh and give me people to bounce ideas off of. Also spending time on a regular basis staying up to date on new technologies is key. I read technical newsletters and blogs and even listen to tech oriented podcasts so that I have some knowledge of what is cutting edge even if I am not implementing it.

brian.richter
brian.richter

Wow - what a well written article. I couldn't agree more with you Mr. Jones; I have been the the single IT person / Network Administrator for an 85-person Accounting firm for the past 4 years and have felt the exact same way for a while! The people here are incredible, but it's EXTREMELY difficult to be on your own island with nobody to work WITH on problems, projects, etc. I'm currently seeking new opportunities, and hope to be a part of an IT team to work with fellow IT professionals again. :)

MrKP
MrKP

Perhaps a bit too late or too soon, depends on the angle you look. For me, I have been working two jobs for quite sometime. One I work as a team of pro. The other I am on my own with new things to learn, ie. server maintenance, AD, and exchange. Not too long ago, I had to quit from the one I work in team. Now, here I am and all alone. What a coincident regarding your blog! :D

service
service

I can certainly empathsize with Joe... My situation is a little different. I own/operate a small one man operation which means that virtually the only inteaction I have is with my customers most of whom are consumers...and not usually not all that technically savvy. That situation is a far cry from working for a major computer company until they were swallowed up by a competitor 6 or 7 years ago when there was at least a thousand other technicians to talk with in the same building. (I was a customer relations/techical supervisor in a call centre). Now most of my interaction with other technicians is here (thank you fellow members of Tech Republic!) and with my brother who at least knows the difference between IDE and SATA or what a printer driver is. Keep smilin!

harris95662
harris95662

I work as a consultant for a very small IT services company and in spite of all this job has going for it (good pay and flexible hours) I miss working with a team. Aside from the owner, who spends most of his time being an owner, I have no technical peers. I came from a company that featured a technical department of 10 people and in spite of the better pay I really miss it sometimes. As we all know, no job is perfect but the value of teamwork and a shared purpose is sometimes overlooked.

engineering
engineering

I totally understand what you are saying. I worked for a large company for 10 years before I was laid off. Afterwards I was fortunate to find a very good job with a small company. I am the only person responsible for all things technical. At times this can be very frustrating because I am constantly being pulled in different directions. I truly miss being around others that are my equal technically.

dankasnitzel
dankasnitzel

I feel your pain. I have been the sole individual responsible for all thing IT (and some that aren't) for eight years now. While the competing for the job thing isn't a problem, I do feel like a cast-away on an island watching all the ships sailing by. When I run into fellow professionals, I feel extremely slow and outdated. Especially when I speak with techies that specialize in one or two fields. Instead of being a master of a few disciplines, I am an apprentice to all of them. This becomes a painful experience when you are suddenly asked to perform work on projects that require an expert instead of a handyman.

ssampier
ssampier

Sooo true. I feel lucky to have a job in this economy. However... being a sole techie is tough. Everything needs to be done now. Priorities and time management are for other people. Further no one really understands you. I took several classes in businesses so I know I should speak in dollars. When I try to bring convert lingo into bingo (money), I get accused of being too "negative." Say, when do the Skipper, Giligan, and Ginger get here?

brian.richter
brian.richter

I completely agree to your stance of feeling alone on an island watching the ships pass by. Being overwhelmed with day to day functions as the sole IT person for a non IT firm, I find the only time available to learn and advance my knowledge is outside work hours. Very frustrating when trying to maintain a balance between a professional and personal lifestyle.

Laban M
Laban M

I feel my career is in jeopardy as I am not getting the experience i need! My salary is also lacking, the "higher ups" don't realize the importance if the IT department and therefore don't think I am worth the money! I am currently seeking reemployment!

williamjones
williamjones

While money isn't everything, being a one-person tech department is like being in a bell jar when it comes to advancement. It becomes hard to develop new skills take on new responsibilities if the the organization is only interested in getting by with their current technologies. This is worth considering for techs. While working in a small shop can be very casual and rewarding, it doesn't put you on a fast career track. Thanks for your thoughts...

Laban M
Laban M

I agree completely! I started working for a small wholesale company 1.5 years ago as the sole IT Support/Administrative person after graduating college. It is hard to explain problems to the higher ups when problems arise as they are completely illiterate to anything technical. I get very frustrated and depressed at times when I have any major problems. I think i would do better in a group/team environment.

swdswan
swdswan

The key for me in your post was having a technical colleague to talk to. After 2 1/2 years in my current position, I discovered my CEO (among others) did not understand the implications of my reports - and refused to admit it. To the other executives it was "technical stuff" so "Dave will take care of it". When I discovered I had failed to communicate, it was depressing, humiliating and very very frustrating. The turn around came when an IT literate Business Manger was hired. Shortly after that we hired a senior programmer. Company executives could see they were both very excited about a project and started to ask WHY? Only then did I discover the communications failure - and at the same time got an opportunity to fix things. I do not know how to fix the communications issue. I worked hard at learning the processes and dialect of the executives in my company. I tried to show budget and operations impact of my recommendations. It may be necessary to have someone in the Boardroom and in the Executive Suite who is outside IT. That person needs to be able to say: Hey this is important, we need to understand it. Without a 'champion' outside the IT Department, Senior IT Managers can be in for a very tough ride. IT Management can be depressing and very stressful. Money might not be a good enough reward. David Swan

brian.richter
brian.richter

David, Great point; most executives in businesses do not understand how IT works with the business, and how the business benefits. It's pretty difficult to translate to the business side when there are so many aspects involved in IT. Having the capability of translating this to execs is extremely important - but having an executive or 'champion' outside the IT department that understands the complications and aspects of technology is a HUGE help, and in my opinion a necessity.

maclovin
maclovin

I have to say that I understand what you went through. I came in to a smaller company roughly two and a half years ago, and I have nobody else that really truly understands what I'm saying most of the time. In my opinion, many say they want you to explain things in simpler terms, but I really can't get simpler than hard drive, server, and IP address...know what I mean? Next thing you know they'll want everything on an atomic level :D. However, I have since basically started reporting directly to the CFO who's (while it's not great) understanding of what I'm saying is a little better than the rest. Most of the time, I don't have that many issues getting things approved. That main frustration is that someone above him will ask me what's going on, and I have to re-explain everything and then they leave just as confused as before, since they were left out of the loop up to this point. I guess what I'm saying is that, yes, it's good to have an advocate, but this can easily become a hindrance by having you report directly to that advocate and no higher, rather than using them as an ally in your efforts to make things function better for the entirety of your organization, and to help the CEO better understand WHY certain things happen. Let alone that IT is in general ignored until something bad happens. Enter the need for technically knowledgeable CIOs/IT Managers that directly report to the CEO/President, which implies a mass re-organization of how business works in general. I think that the role of CIO can almost be removed completely...it's just another medium for words to become mixed up and misunderstandings to occur.

swdswan
swdswan

Your point is well made. Unfortunately organizations are driven by the personalities in them. There is no template for success here. Actually the opposite is probably true: 1. If you are the CIO or CTO of an organization with no peers or no technically literate people, expect to constantly have to 'sell' IT, IT products and services. This is a high risk environment. 2. IF you are dependent on a 'champion' or 'advocate' outside the IT department for explanations to senior staff, be prepared to defend the IT departments position and reporting inside the company. Remember you will be protected only as long as the advocate perceives that the advocate sees you as furthering their needs. Either of these can burn out the manager AND the department. Both are arguably high-risk high-stress environments.

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