I have noticed an interesting phenomenon among my co-workers. As the IT Manager, it is my job to maintain the servers, the computers and the network. I am responsible for security and for the continual availability of the data on our servers to all those who need it. I think I do a pretty good job of that. In fact, it’s hard not to. Once technology is put into place and is tuned properly, it just runs and it just works. The secret is in choosing good and reliable technology.

So here’s the phenomenon: I practice what is called MBWA – Management by Wandering Around. I learned it from a wise CFO I once worked for. It never ceases to amaze me the number of times I will meander by someone’s desk and have them call out to me to get my attention. “Hey Tim,” they almost shout, “What’s up with Vista? We’re having all kinds of trouble with it. Can you help us go back to XP?”

Now, get this. I have not yet implemented Vista in our offices. In fact, there is only one Vista computer in the entire enterprise. So I ask the employee on which computer he is having problems. “Oh, it’s my daughter’s new laptop that she got for Christmas.” I’ve heard this complaint a lot lately. It seems that Microsoft has done a great job of selling Vista primarily in only one place – in the retail and mail order stores aimed squarely at the consumer.

“Sure, I would be happy to help you,” I say. Under my breath I mutter, “Why didn’t you ask my advice before you bought it?” It has been over a year since Microsoft rolled out Vista. I have written about it several times on my personal blog but am still of the opinion that there is really no need for Vista. It doesn’t offer much advantage over XP and in fact, requires an investment in beefier hardware that simply doesn’t justify the cost. In other words, it’s just not worth it.

This post isn’t about Vista. That just happens to be the example I used. The point of this entry is the phenomenon where people seem to feel this innate tendency and need to complain about something when they see the IT Manager even though things are otherwise going extremely well. There’s nothing wrong with this employee’s work computer. Email is flowing, servers are serving, clients are talking, the Internet is there for anyone to use and abuse all day.

So why do they feel that they just have to share some technological deficiency in their life when I happen to come into the room? Are they just trying to make polite conversation? I can do without the complaints about Vista, but if it’s not Vista then it will be about their home wireless network or about their printer at home that is no longer printing. In other words, I get dumped on a lot with stuff that has nothing to do with our computer equipment at work.

I guess I don’t mind working on an employee’s personal computer problems, as long as the boss knows about it and especially if it is the boss that has asked me to take care of it. But for the most part, it gets a little annoying to be asked every day about computer issues that have nothing to do with work. It’s like I’m expected to provide free computer consulting to every co-worker as if it’s part of my job description. I guess that’s to be expected if you’re the expert.

Sometimes the co-worker will listen to my advice and sometimes they won’t. I almost always recommend a course of action that they need to take to remedy or further diagnose their problem. Once they ascertain that I’m putting the burden back on them, they quickly turn the conversation to something else. I guess they feel better that they have talked it over with their IT Manager. I sometimes feel like a psychiatrist to all the employees.

What do you think? Is it OK for co-workers to use the IT Manager as a resource for their personal computer problems?