Leadership

Slideshow: 10 dirty little secrets about working in IT

IT's dirty little secrets

If you are preparing for a career in IT or are new to IT, many of the "dirty little secrets" listed below may surprise you because we don't usually talk about them out loud. If you are an IT veteran, you've probably encountered most of these issues and have a few of your own to add -- and please, by all means, take a moment to add them to the discussion. Most of these secrets are aimed at network administrators, IT managers, and desktop support professionals. This list is not aimed at developers and programmers -- they have their own set of dirty little secrets -- but some of these will apply to them as well.

To view this slideshow as a list, see the companion article.

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/subjug

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

156 comments
pudula
pudula

guys can any1 pls help me find a job i have a diploma in pc engineering...ive been tryin mybest to get a job but i fail to break this ice cause im a college graduate not frm university...the funny thing is when some of all those people let me say da majority can't stand my qual;ity when it comes to pc trouble shooting or software...email me at rowlanddibyane@yahoo.com

leomobe
leomobe

You forgot to mention that the driver installed without testing was installed during the extra hours we always do so we don?t interrupt the system during the working hours (like our's weren't work) in the production machine because the CEO aproved not to implement a test bed because of savings and considering that you are the only administrator in a more than 200 servers farm, each one with a different operating system, database engine, role, etc. this happen because of savings too, we earn too much money for that simple and easy job ... thank you users.

soumadri
soumadri

Rightly said...these things are so true...especially the one related to the "Certifications". It is so idiotic way to pick candidate. Now a days the certification partners to Microsoft/Sun etc. started to cheat the process by providing questions/answers collections to the candidates.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000 moderator

IT Pro's don't use Jargon anywhere near as much as CEO's who try very hard to hide their Stuff Ups. Just this week I was listening to a Bank's CEO explain why the OCR wasn't a good enough way to track the cost of Money. Doesn't matter that his salary was measured in the Millions or that he insisted that because the bank that he ran contributed so much money to the Government in Tax that they should be allowed to do as they please. Apparently paying your Tax is supposed to give you [b]Special Privileges[/b] according to this guy. OH and BTW OCR = [b]Official Cash Rate.[/b] :^0 Col

chalicemedia
chalicemedia

The biggest challenges, and opportunities for failure to any IT organization are the copies of CIO and Computerworld that get left in the first-class sections of airplanes for the CEOs to find.

Sepius
Sepius

Yep, the Linux tech will implement the windows solution while kicking and screaming how it is a bad idea. The Windows admin NEVER implements a Linux/Unix solution because they have no idea on how to use it ... And if you say you did ... Your a Linux user! Yep, just like the old days with a bank of NT servers along side a bunch of Novel servers, and they are all doing the same thing, just every new tech would put in there own server reflecting there own experiences and skills. I was there for 4 months, and managed to squeeze in a Linux box before I left. Felt sorry for the next guy.

Clintabels
Clintabels

hehehhee classic. there is a saying: If you cant impress them with your intelligence, confuse them with your bullsh1t.

GDoC
GDoC

Out of Office technical support: I used to have a sign that I'd point to when asked to work a side job. It read: Rate to Repair your problem: $50/hr. If you tried to fix it yourself: $75/hr. If you watch: $100/hr. If you laugh: $200/hr. For Projects: I also had another sign: Fast, Cheap, Good. Pick any two. There is also a little saying that I use when Process/Product owners are trying to nickle and dime a project: "It's not the price, it's the cost you should be concerned with!" Obsolete Technologies/Resistance to Change: Although there are IT Veterans that are resistant to change, sometimes with good cause, it is typically more likely a lack of foresight by upper management. In a suite of 50 some odd supported applications there always seems to be at least 3 or so that won't run on anything later than XP or IE6, and don't even think about using a 64 bit OS...period, so the entire infrasturcture has to limp along with the vulnerabilities and limitations of a Software infrastructure that is at least 9 years out of date (well beyond the lifecycle), but then they crow about how they've increased the longevity of the systems beyond the norm!

symowallo
symowallo

...and I'm a bit sick of hearing it as an excuse too.

mattlieblong
mattlieblong

regarding #1, outages can be blamed on untested updates and patches, but when management refuses to provide such staging/testing environments, or even adequate equipment to run production systems on, you can't blame the techs for not testing everything perfectly. i.e.: I asked for years for virtual capability/equipment before I got it, had to wait until we nearly crashed.

locum
locum

#10 "That's just part of the job..." It's like you guys were sitting right here with me from 11AM Saturday to 6AM Sunday on Thanksgiving weekend. #8 "You will go from goat to hero..." You're only as good as your last solution. You have winning streaks where everything you touch is gold. Then suddenly, a losing streak that can last weeks where everything is a complete cluster F***. #6 "...co-workers will use you as personal tech support for their home PCs." Hell yeah. What makes it worth it? I could have been an unemployed TIG welder.

geoffala
geoffala

The biggest frustration as one of my company's network admins is dealing with the number 3 IT pro. I came to this company about 6 months ago specifically to help them catch up with the times as most of our hardware here is 10+ years old, but every time I suggest a new plan I'm constantly shot down with the "Why fix it if it ain't broke" argument. How have any of you dealt with these "veterans?"

wlburnettejr
wlburnettejr

Users think that we think they're stupid. We do. Because they are.

andrew.roewe
andrew.roewe

I work for a Big 12 University and most of these do not hold true, mainly the "$$$" one, and the one about certs leading to higher pay. This hasn't stopped me from earning certifications, but as it stand, when I get a new cert, it doesn't increase my pay. But, when I get a new degree that is an auto 3k pay raise.

settle.g
settle.g

Hey! You forgot to mention "The Weasel." He's the guy or gal that will promise everything to management and is not capable of delivering on same. Sometime "The Weasel" is a wanna-be-techie VP that soils everything you say to management behind your back. Come to think of it, ALL VPs are evil and deserve their own slide in this show! In any case "The Weasel" will run out on you and lie about what was said. Sometimes "The Weasel" is your supervisor who through pride, arrogance or stupidity promises everything with no real clue as to what's going on. There are only two kinds of IT workers in the world - those that have had to deal with "The Weasel" and those that will...

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

I got rid of IT HR and IT procurement folks at two different companies because they relied on IT certifications exclusively and made vendor decisions solely because of certifications. I became painfully aware of this IT industry "dirty secret" when a person HR would not hire because she was not certified in a particular area saved my bacon as an executive when I hired her as a consultant, over procurement's threats, to solve a massive vendor problem that was being blamed on users and the IT department. Those firings were the most effective decision I have ever made as a senior manager that gave shareholder significant value. I was stunned at how much HR has become dependent on certifications and not doing the groundwork of interviewing for which it gets top dollar in salaries. My IT salary costs dropped immediately, morale improved and more work got done with less but happier human assets. My acquisition budget dropped significantly once vendors realized they couldn't hold me hostage because of certifications...(hear that Cisco, IBM and Microsoft?). Certifications are an HR crutch and a vendor control tool designed to suck out undeserved profits from your company. They also tend to make vendor problems fester because certified personnel tend to not challenge the vendor that they are certified with when there is a problem or a better way to solve a business need. Certifications have a limited place for formally describing an individual's skill status in a narrowly focused technological area, but they cannot be allowed to dominate the hiring, pay and acquisition process. Industry certifications such as PMP, PE, etc. that are not influenced or controlled by vendors are a whole other story, but you can't just rely on the certification.

fadhil
fadhil

If you can't convince, then confuse them :)

Tony_Scarpelli
Tony_Scarpelli

I remember when after 3 hellish months of supporting Win95, the win rep called and told us to reboot Win95 after it crashes and run a scandisk. They included that auto scandisk in the service pack but we spent untold hours chasing gosts.

JCitizen
JCitizen

it sure doesn't pay to bitch does it! :)

rpoole77
rpoole77

Proof of concept works every time, as well do cost benefit analysis. But at the same time your vet has a good point...why fix what is not broken? if what you propose does not save money by being more efficient, cutting costs in some area or bring in new money there is no reason to upgrade just to "get with the times" At my compnay I am given almost zero money. Therefore I do things for free. I do proofs of concept. I show how my ideas saved, or made money. Then I get money. Best way to handle it is to show someone rather than just tell them.

Tony_Scarpelli
Tony_Scarpelli

If his reluctance is making more work for himself you handle it one way; if his reluctance is not wanting to show is lack of knowledge in an area you handle it another way; if he is afraid of being shown up by a young wippersnamper that is another matter. If his reluctance is not wanting to loose control or having you look more knowledgable then him its another matter. First figure out why he is reluctant? Second, build a test network to showcase how it works and let him get used to the idea and encourage him to play with it, with you. Ask for his help to solve issues on the test network so he is forced to get envolved but also feels like he has something to add to your skills and the network. Familarity will bring him closer to a yes if it solves a current or future IT problem. Third as problems arise with old existing techonolgy point out how that might not happen with the new but not yet installed technology. Or where you spend much time rehashing old technology over and over again.....Help him feel the pain of not being proactive, or having moved to the otherwise established technology. Find out of competitors or other companies he respects is using the technology and let him know. If he sees it as falling behind he might find more motivation to take on the aggravation of upgrading. Being proactive is a fine line with trespassing the Bleeding edge, which we have all done and seek to avoid in the future. I myself avoid the bleeding edge until I have a client clammering for it and willing to pay for my familarization/support costs. IT staff are regularly fired for failed upgrades that run over cost or do not deliver what is promised. The perceived Safe bet is sometimes to do nothing.

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

The flip side of your argument usually comes from the CFO, who wants to extract value from any investment. The longer it stays, the more payback the CFO gets. It's rare, but this is a situation where the techie and the finance guys work off each others interests. First of all, we must always remember we are here for business and to make money for our shareholders or constituency (if in government), not to satisfy one's career needs and techie urges. Having the latest toy is nice, but is usually not good business. There are cases where IT equipment 10, 15 and even up to 50 years old still makes business sense. Look at the infrastructure as a business situation, and business continuity exposure is usually where the answer lies that cracks the puzzle. Is the vendor still around? Does the vendor support the equipment? Is the software still fixable? Are the programmers still around to make changes? Is the maintenance killing you? Who really owns the license nowadays? Are there proper auditable records to protect the CEO from SOX violations? Does the solution still work in the event of a disaster? Could the human assets supporting this solution better employed elsewhere? The answers here usually kill most aging solutions. Vendor refreshes or competitive replacement bids are also a good source. Above all, make your business case in business (line of business) terms and very conservative. Most CEOs aren't dummies and are always looking to improve a business, unless the corporate strategy is to suck the value out of the business, in which case it's time for you to find a career elsewhere.

robberme
robberme

I am guilty... of confusing users with jargon! I despise it when a user phones me for help, and they try to tell me how to do the job, or begs me to "Please Don't Break my Computer"! So, to get them quite, I would throw in a bunch of scary-sounding technie mumbo jumbo, and voila! Confused user = Quite user = Happy techie :-)

Tony_Scarpelli
Tony_Scarpelli

In most firms there are two class of IT staff. The non college educated, learned it on their own or transfered from another department and got OJT, and the college trained. Both classes can benefit by certifying their knowledge. Many firms will not hire non college trained IT staff, just like some HR departments won't consider non certificated or credencialed staff. If you are to thrive you need to move yourself from OJT experienced, College trained and Credencialed with certifications. Within that you must also be familar if not down right out proficent with most new technologies in the pipeline. If you are non college trained you are in the zombe class and companies may not invest in you as in others they see as permenant employees. Ask yourself if 75% of the IT got laid off, would I be one of the 25% survivors here? If not why? Then fix that problem.

ronfdunn
ronfdunn

At my school all personnel also get to take courses for a reduced cost or at times free (sometimes they want you to take a course to brush up on the latest devolpements). Then upon completion & graduation they give you a pay raise too. It gives its personnel an incentive to improve their work skills and saves the U money looking for people with advanced skill sets. Every business should be will to help its IT people in advancing by offering to help pay or off set the cost of any classes that improve their knowledge in their field.

ania_dublin
ania_dublin

"Human assets" you say? I wonder if those "human assets" really need you for anything. Certainly not for doing their job. The managerial assets are actually on the way to every productive work of human beings in any company.

TonyKl
TonyKl

HR relies on certs because they can't afford in-house hiring expertise in complicated fields.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

And I'm MS certified. Of course, they're the ones who duped me into believing certs were more important than a degree. I'm now working on getting my CIT degree thru Purdue's School of Engineering and Technology.

jonrosen
jonrosen

MCSE... Must Consult Someone Experienced (or Else). The problem I have with certs.. is that they're often great at getting me hired.. Then I NEVER get to use them.. literally. I got most of an MCSE, got certified as Unix/Linux admin (Ages ago), even got CCNA.. each time within weeks of finishing the cert.. I got hired... And practically never got to use ANY of the knowledge I shelled out my own money for. Certs in the IT field are the most dichotomous things. They can be the most useful things in the world... and simply not worth the paper they're printed on, all at the same time.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Eaton had a cure for this, when HR snagged someone, the shop forman would come to meet the technician. He would take him to a lab, and ask him, "what is this" and show him a piece of equipment known to any basic tech. Then ask some other general questions that any newbie that is trained and has certs, should know. This is how they weeded out the ridiculous candidates that the HR people always pick. It worked famously well! I imagine, even a proficiently experienced person with no certifications, or degrees could pass the test. Some of our guys were highly proficient and had no schooling, or had received experiences in the military. We all did good work!

dcavanaugh
dcavanaugh

I never understood the benefit of HR or IT procurement. The choices they make seem to be WORSE than what others would have chosen in the absence of a dedicated "procurement" function. The people who work solely in procurement have no vested interest in the performance of the people or vendors they choose. I see very little accountability in the procurement function. Upper levels of IT management need to take charge of hiring and vendor selection. It can be a tedious task, but if we don't manage the input there should be no surprise about the end result.

Tony_Scarpelli
Tony_Scarpelli

Hiring a A+ tech from a local tech shool I have found on most occations that they take about 4 times the normal amount of time to do a pc repair then the non certified guys we train in house.

tbmay
tbmay

But I fear the mountain is too tall.

fdsudds
fdsudds

I wish there were move Executives and managers like you.

settle.g
settle.g

HR people are the VD of the business world. Canned 'em? Bully for you!

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

Be careful. Many trip up in their use of fancy words and obscure technological concepts. One old friend of mine told me funny story about a consultant that kept trying to sell him on a product and concept. He kept saying to him "you just don't understand the technology. If you would just read this article it might help you understand!" My friend answered...."Sure I will. Since I wrote it, maybe I forgot something I wrote!". The stunned salesman looked at the front page of the article and just walked away, never to come back!

JCitizen
JCitizen

showing the benefits, sure doesn't hurt either. :) I had a good boss at a field station that did this all the time. This station was full union and not popular with head office management. He showed how this station was making the company big money, and saving huge costs in down time and efficiencies, like almost no overtime labor costs. He finally got tired of those pencil necks at went to another better company. Many of the employees went with him(me included). After that - that location was hit with a HUGE accident that cost the company over 2.3 million dollars! Not our fault - we were long gone! I'd lay odds that didn't even faze the idiots. If shareholders knew what went on in corporate America, there would be a revolt!

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

From the vendors, consultants and co-workers eager to screw you.

tbmay
tbmay

These guys are competitors. Old guy (I can say that as I am one) is protecting himself and his interest and he wants new guy to go eat cake. New guy is trying to make a name for himself by showing he's "smarter" than old guy. That is the nature of the workplace. And it could well be old guy's superiors are playing a game to get rid of him, rather than showing any form of courage and leadership, they prefer to take the typical coward's way of "squeezing" the employee. Otherwise they might have to man up and coach, counsel, discipline...etc. Heaven forbid. That requires some guts and that's something in short supply in the corporate world. I'd love to hear a real leader talk about how to get teamwork in that dynamic.

JCitizen
JCitizen

but if you become proficient in sponsoring power points to show how much money the company will be ahead, by taking your suggestions, they will listen to you next time. I was fairly successful at this; for example: The Allis Chalmers induction heater built in 1936 was going to cost $10,000 dollars for a factory rep to even fly down and look at. The repair job may be anywhere from another $10,000 to 30,000 to fix(not including parts). Meanwhile a new miniature TOCCO water-cooled induction heater rated for the same work would only cost them $10,000 brand new. After the [b]unsuccessful[/b] repair attempt by the factory rep ensued; they really learned their lesson! I did warn them! ]:)

raym444
raym444

Dude, what planet are you from. Name one piece of 50 y.o. technology that's even in use today, much less making business sense. Also, EVERY IT person's main goal (or any employee's for that matter) is to satisfy their career needs, NOT to make more money for the company. (unless it's their company) Someone needs to pull their head out of the sand.

JCitizen
JCitizen

that have managers that view college trained staff as threats, because they themselves are not certified or have a degree. They immediately set about trying to discreadite any new hires with those kind of credentials. At Hein Werner my shop foreman was shocked to learn I had a degree in engineering; he acted absolutely terrified to find this out! I didn't specify it in my resume, because I felt I needed shop floor experience to gain practical knowledge first. Besides it was my first job out of college. When I was passed over for a promotion to the drafting department, I resigned. Apparently (according the them), I had learned CNC machining a little too well, and they could not spare me on the floor. HA!

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

Ania, I'll assume that you have some typographical errors or that Irish (Gaeilge), not the King's English is your primary language since you used Irish copular Munster construction in the sentence. I think you said: "The managerial assets are actually IN the way OF productive work of human beings in any company." It appears, unfortunately, that you've never had competent management leading you in your work, for which I am sorry. Your statement would be accurate with most traditional incompetent or lazy "retired on the job", "yes boss" IT management. On the other hand, if you are a leader in addition to a manager you must be able to perform, if not mentor and excel, in every task you assign to every one of the human assets that you manage. Management and leadership is about delegation, not abrogation. True leaders in management don't just tell people to do something. In an ideal situation, their people are telling her/him what must be done and he is using his skills and experience to achieve agreement as to the course to success. They must lead by example and with respect from the individuals working for them. Most people that have worked for me have told me they needed me. Not to perform their work, but to be there to help them whenever they needed help or guidance. I am a "what the employee needs" manager. Hands off for those who like it that way and hands on for those who want it or need it. One size or way doesn't fit all, unlike most HR wankers spout off. All human assets have a life cycle. Sometimes they even need to leave to expand their skills, and I understand that. The key to the relationship between manager and employee is partnership that is productive for the shareholder/owner, the manager AND the employee. If it's not that way, then it's a lost opportunity. People are assets, not resources. Good leaders never use the word "I". Look for "we" or "us". Caring managers may use "my team" or "my people", but never "me" or "I". The better the manager the less they want to be in the limelight and the more they spend time have their people in the spotlight. Good luck. Keep searching and don't be bitter. There are lots of good leaders out there, especially in Ireland, where I led a great hardware development contract team nine years ago.

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

In the old days of mainframes and big mid-range systems, any techie walking into any project I worked on got quickly asked to change the paper on the big chain printer (like the old IBM 1403). If they couldn't do it right the first time, they were taught how to do it nicely by yours truly then immediately sent home. If they refused to do it they were sent home as well for bad attitude. If they admitted they didn't know how, that was a good sign of a promising rookie who might be kept on the team as an intern. I guess with laser printers and ink jets one can ask them to change the toner or ink cartridges without getting the work area dirty.

rpoole77
rpoole77

Thats because people working hands on remember what they did wrong or right. Experience is a way better tool than learning theory or passing a test.

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

Ahhh....but if it ever goes flat then I'll have to find another line of work (which I have, kind of anyway).

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

That is still my nickname as a manager or management consultant. The Mongoose specializes in killing snakes, I specialized in killing the careers of MBA snakes, lazy IT managers and techies who felt they were owed a career and HR wonkers. I did however, fire incompetent IT people as well, specializing in Data Center operations managers. I have no patience for untidy, unclean and messy data centers under my management. I abhor messy wiring closets that aren't properly trimmed out and all according to TIA specifications. I also fire CCIE's by the handful when they refuse to document their work. No room for hidden code and special techniques. As a management consultant, I used to take pictures of data centers, closets and images of spaghetti code and take them to board meetings. Makes for an interesting discussion between the CFO, CEO and the CIO. The HR guys are usually canned by then so they aren't in the meeting!

Tony_Scarpelli
Tony_Scarpelli

My MBA is in Organizational Development. Getting the team to work together and getting the most out of the team requires lowering the risk perceived by each and taking the politics out of it or changing them to reward the guys who share knowledge and work together. Make competition between teams not between individuals. Even then have limits on the fun competitiveness. I.T. is a high risk area but even within IT risks can be lowered to allow the team to do their jobs collaboratively. Low risk doesn't mean allow wrecklessness.

tbmay
tbmay

But I digress. Yes. The agency problem abounds. People look after themselves...as they should.

JJFitz
JJFitz

You will know what they understand and if they can apply their knowledge to real life IT situations within 90 days of hire.

e.tamanisau
e.tamanisau

While experience is a better tool to learning theory or passing a test, everyone has to start somewhere. I do agree that certification should not be the only way to decide on who to hire as other factors determines who is the best candidate ..... but I suppose that is where the interview process comes in.