Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Truth about IT

I'm going to let you in on a secret...

If you're in IT nothing you do really matters.  At least not in the sense  of doing anything the world cares about.  I've said it before, IT exists to service people who actually create something.  It's a classic service industry job no matter what your title and that puts you right up there with the plumbers and auto mechanics. 

Plumbers don't get their names on monuments.  Neither do cab drivers, doormen or IT pros.  The world becomes more inconvenient without them but in the end they only exist to make someone else's life easier. 

I suppose that's why there's so many certifications for the profession now, assuming you could call it a profession.  It's not good enough to just be competent, now we need a governing authority to validate us.  A governing authority that's built a multi-billion dollar business out of our own insecurities.  As though we needed another reason to doubt our own abilities.

Even worse, validation from these governing authorities is suspect.  They exist less for the advancement of knowledge than their own revenue.  Why for instance would I need to not only carry a certification for Network knowledge but also specific product knowledge?

If I've been building networks for 20 years who cares if I have a Network + , A+ or ITIL anyway?  Those are supposed to be vendor neutral.  Surprise! network + was primarily developed by Cisco and A+ was written by hardware manufactures like HP, Dell and IBM.

 ITIL was written by masochists.

I've actually been disqualified for entry level tech jobs with (at the time) a decade of experience because I didn't have the right certification.  Never mind that on top of the experience  I had an electronics engineering degree, actually know what to do with a logic probe and was trained to troubleshoot PC's at board level. 

Because I refuse to spend $110 on an exam to see if I know which pin of a Molex connector is ground I can be denied a job I could do in my sleep because somebody thinks managing IT is all about the right certification.   If I've been working with networking  and computer equipment for most of my career why is it important what brand names were on the faceplates?

I know why and so do you, the people you're talking to don't have a clue about the department they're managing or worse don't really care. 

What's really sad is that your choice to work in the field means you have an 8 in 10 chance for having to work for them.

Here's a newsflash for the uninitiated, In the IT space everybody has to play by the same rules or nothing works. 

Do you really believe that the whole world runs exclusively on Cisco, Juniper, HP or 3Com equipment? 
Then it might surprise you to know that two brand agnostic organizations (IEEE, IETF) make the  Internet and networking in general possible.  They could care less whose brand is on your router so long as it plays by the rules they make. 

It's a perfect example of how useless vendor certifications are and an equally perfect indicator of a broken IT organization should it subscribe to another useless certification, the ITIL.

If you see a job description that demands a specific brand certification or worse the dreaded "familiar with ITIL methodology" you're likely dealing with a hiring manager that doesn't understand their own department.  A hallmark of an ITIL organization shows itself when ability is defined only by plug and play solutions no matter how ineffective.  They're not looking for ability, they're looking for the status quo even if it's dysfunctional.

I'm not against education or training, I'm just against the commoditization of it.  I'm also against lazy management practices based on buzzwords and fads.  Effective IT managers know at least something about the nuts and bolts of their department and can lead from experience.   

Ineffective IT managers are just waiting around till the next seminar on their way to their next job.  They rule by edicts lifted straight out of the framework of the dogma they've embraced and then slam the door on your way out. 

Good managers lead from experience not seminars.  You have to know what's right to know when things have really gone wrong.  You also have to give a damn or you're useless. 

That can be a tall order considering how neutered the IT function has become in the last decade.  IT budgets are strictly administered (usually by someone other than IT) and organizations don't have the latitude they once did.

If you're unlucky enough to be working in an organization that's fully embraced the ITIL construct you can expect to be constantly swimming upstream.  ITIL demands that technology and technical concerns take a back seat to the every whim of the user base.  

Yes, IT is a service profession but constant pandering leads to sloppy IT organizations and eventually to another tenet of ITIL, workarounds.  In other words, band-aids and bailing wire take precedence over actually fixing the problem.

Everyone demands zero downtime but refuses to do what it takes to achieve it.  IT professionals are expected to be on-call 24/7 for a wage that doesn't compensate them for that commitment.   Lest we forget the hardware to make it happen.

You're a fool if you accept that but most fools in IT do. 

If you care about what you do you then you don't mind the crazy hours but I can count on one hand the number of people I've met who were doing more than going through the motions.  Here's another newsflash, they weren't working 9 to 5.

We've come full circle.  The cold hard reality is that IT is a service profession and doesn't lend itself to rigid schedules and the meaningless busywork. 

So what can you look forward to if you happen to land that "dream?" IT job.  Maybe you're the new System Admin or IT manager.  Good for you.  Now that the pleasantries are over it's time to figure out if you'll be around long enough to wear out your office chair.

Let's play a little point/counterpoint framed in the context of questions asked in the average IT interview...

Why do you want to work in IT?
I love technology and I want to help people make the best use of it.
Technology makes the world go round and it's better than flipping burgers for a living.  But not by much.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully in a management position so I can help further business goals using IT.
Probably in management because the last 2 IT managers quit and I managed to not get fired.  However, I know I'll be burned out because nobody is willing to do what it takes so I'll just bide my time.  I'll probably attend a lot of seminars looking for a way to make my life easier and do the bare minimum.  I'll hire lots of people with letters behind their names to make the department look good till I move on to my next job.

What is IT's function?
To further the organization's goals with the services I provide.
To keep the executive suite from complaining too much and maintaining the status quo because nobody really gives a damn what I do so long as they get their email and can play Farmville on their IPAD.

What's the value of IT certification?
It shows a commitment to continuous improvement and allows me to keep up to date with the latest technology.
Nobody cares about my MBA so I better have some more letters behind my name if I want to keep my job. 

What's more important, Technology or customer service?
IT is a service industry, our users, customers or whatever the label, come first.  They need to feel confident in the resources we provide
IT IS a service industry and you shouldn't be in it unless you understand that.  However, if you don't have the resources to do your job properly and decisions are made based on price instead of value (there's a difference) then you're never going to achieve customer satisfaction.  That is unless they're satisfied with you constantly saying "I'm sorry"

Ok, so the counterpoint looks like someone you wouldn't want within 100 miles of an IT department.  Here's the rub, the Point column is largely BS and everyone in the field knows it.  It looks good on glossy brochures but you can't get blood from a stone. 

Most IT departments are lucky to get new patch cables let alone the resources they need to meet user  demands.  The "Counterpoint" side is sadly closer to reality than anyone wants to admit to.  It's why I personally prefer contract work because I'd rather not waste time spinning my wheels and going nowhere while the rest of the department struggles for legitimacy that the field just can't provide.

IT can be rewarding but not when it's treated like the accounting department.  Truth be told if technology was forced to evolve in an average IT department, we'd still be using Motorola Dynatacs and dialing up to AOL for email on 28.8K modems.

The problem with corporate IT management methodologies is that you have a lot of people sitting around just waiting for something to happen.  When you are busy it's generally because one of the band-aids fell off the server and the CEO is screaming about how he can't get to EBay because of it.

Lets' face it, we're the plumbers, electricians and architects of technology.  We know what to do and how to do it (Hopefully?)  The best measure of success is that things work when they need to and that's the only goal that matters.

 We do what we do because we care about our life's work. (Well, at least first before we get jaded.)  Thing is,  that much ambition doesn't get you too far in most corporate IT departments.  Too much passion scares corporate types which means you either get shown the door or you just trudge on and abandon your soul.

Where a real tradesman is looked upon as the authority in their profession, IT is frequently seen as a necessary evil.  It's hard if not impossible to meet the demands of an organization when your hands are tied by corporate dogma. 

It's not that I'd advocate IT having no oversight but when you have to pass every decision through the  corporate litmus test, the result is going to be mediocre at best. 

Thus we have the "standard of mediocrity" ultimately resulting in IT pros clutching at straws to appear relevant.  That feeds my earlier assertion of how IT certifications prey on your own insecurities.  If you really care about the field and really want to effect change then you have to be brave enough to not just suffer in silence or load your resume up with worthless certifications.

The best known figures in technology didn't hide behind their cubicles hoping for someday.  Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs  of Apple would have never survived in the average IT department.  Hell, they couldn't even stand college where at least there was beer and girls!

So why do we expect people who thrive on technology to function like accountants?  Would it be reasonable to expect an auto mechanic to fix your car in your bathroom? 

Well, I'm sorry to tell you, that's the reality of IT more often than not.  Unless you can make a go of it with the feast or famine cycle of consulting (as in independent not Robert Half) you're stuck with it. 

Of course, If you're more into the management track or the cubicle lifestyle I suppose it can work for you but I can guarantee I won't at least not as your employee.