Why are I.T people so unreliable ?
October 7, 2006 8:11 AM   Subscribe

How come I.T people tend to be so unreliable ?

Of all the professions I have to deal with in my job - I find I.T people ( Network support, technicians etc) the most unreliable. They always seem to break their promises and always deliver late. They fail to communicate with clients and seem untouched by the concept of customer service.

I was speaking to colleagues about this issue and I believe - I am not alone.

So why are I.T people so dam unreliabe ? Is it because of the high rate of job dissatifaction ? Or do people just have unrealistic expectations of what this profession can really achieve ?
posted by jacobean to Work & Money (41 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as someone who works in IT (but has also worked on the business side):

They always seem to break their promises and always deliver late.

That's because, much of the time, they don't really know how long it's going to take to accomplish or fix something. That's the nature of technology. Non-tech people get pushy and demand estimates, so estimates are given, and since giving them was an exercise in futility to begin with, they tend to be wrong.

They fail to communicate with clients and seem untouched by the concept of customer service.

Many tech people are not greatly interested in refining their communication skills, much less customer service. They're technicians.

Or do people just have unrealistic expectations of what this profession can really achieve ?

In the context of your question, it's more that 'people' have a very shallow understanding of what IT people do, and why they are motivated to do it.
posted by bingo at 8:19 AM on October 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

What you say isn't true of all IT people.

But some of what you say may stem from the fact that IT people have knowledge and resources at the organization that everyone needs and wants and only IT has.
posted by k8t at 8:20 AM on October 7, 2006

The complexity of what IT people do, combined with the poor engineering of most software leads to the unexpected happening on a daily - sometimes hourly - basis. In such an environment making accurate predictions as to availability or completion time is difficult in the best of situations.
posted by Ryvar at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2006

I think IT folks often overpromise and underdeliver because telling someone that their email will be inaccessible for over thirteen yoctoseconds results in tantrums and crying jags.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2006

I think it might be because IT involves, mostly, long projects. Builders, plumbers, carpenters, and the like, are also routinely over budget and late on jobs. Anything that involves long projects gets messy.
posted by wackybrit at 8:31 AM on October 7, 2006

Read the saga of the Bastard Operator From Hell and achieve enlightenment.
posted by meehawl at 8:41 AM on October 7, 2006

Speaking as someone who worked IT through a marketing conduit (i.e., marketing making the promises) I can say that when marketing is making unrealistic promises without first consulting IT, IT is going to look bad and later take the blame.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 8:45 AM on October 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

Many tech people are not greatly interested in refining their communication skills, much less customer service. They're technicians.
This sounds about right to me. My particular employment niche is to be the guy that sits between IT and the customer. I'm the least technical guy in the IT department, but way more technical than the average Joe; I liase. I am routinely amazed at how very bad the technical folks are at communicating. But, hey, it keeps me in a job.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:04 AM on October 7, 2006

In my own experience, I have made the observation that time management is directly antithetical to being a good techie. A good tech gets lost in a problem, just goes away, until the problem is fixed. If you're focused on being done in an hour, you're not focused on fixing it properly, just coming up with some slapdash solution to hold things together long enough to close the ticket.

You can find techs that are on time and perfectly reliable, but I've never met one with that skillset that was any good at hard problems.
posted by Malor at 9:05 AM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

IT is, unless it's a completely routine task, problem-solving. People (bosses, clients, and so forth) ask for a time. It is difficult to estimate how long it will take to solve a problem, or do something completely new. Things that looked hard can be easy, and vice versa. It's not like you're painting a wall. So, IT can either give a time, knowing that it will probably be wrong, or they can say, "I don't know," which tends to enrage bosses who previously supervised people who make hamburgers. Hamburgers (hopefully) don't come with a lot of surprises. Much of the job is just finding out what the real problem is, and stumbling across stuff you didn't expect.

Worse yet, other people make promises that IT is expected to keep. It's part of the whole "smart people are just genies in a bottle, and they will do whatever magic I command!" complex. If IT isn't present when the non-technical manager begins to talk to the client, they'll promise things that cannot be delivered in the time frame they exuberantly promise, or at all.

Communication is even worse. Give people details, they look at you blankly, or get annoyed, or feel like you're being condescending. How often my earnest attempts to explain what it is I'm doing so that people don't think I'm just screwing around are interpreted as "look at how smart I am." A lot of IT people become quiet or cagey as a result.

If you wish to understand, learn some small IT task. Then, have people tell you what to do. Often, they will tell you to do things that are simply bad ideas (mmm, Flash splash pages!), ask for unreasonable things, or, worse yet, tell you how to do your job, when you know better. Visit ClientCopia and spend half an hour reading.
posted by adipocere at 9:08 AM on October 7, 2006 [4 favorites]

I sit next to my company's IT department, and because of the desk system we have (open-air 'corrals'), I hear every damn thing that goes on there. So this is just my observation but -- I notice when people go to IT to ask for something, they take on a particularly bitchy tone of voice, or are patronizing. They get snide, and speak in ways they would never speak to me (I'm basically a software developer). When our cleaning lady is out, IT is asked to take out the garbage. They appear to be expected to perform miracles. ("Can you make three laptops appear out of thin air on our nonexistant budget? Thanks!")

Interestingly, I hang out with the IT dudes, drink with them, have a horrible crush on one of them so I'm always over there, listen to them bitch, and make polite requests. Watch me get the software I need before everyone else, whee! Watch me get help really fast, whee! Watch them fix my personal computer for free, hooray!

I'm not saying this happens everywhere, but it's something I've noticed - people expect IT to screw up, and they talk to them like that, so the guys get put in impossible places, and morale is pretty low. That, on top of what everyone else is saying, and I wouldn't be a very good worker either.
posted by kalimac at 9:21 AM on October 7, 2006

A lot of good answers here, and I'd like to highlight ryvar's point about bad software. I can't think of another field where your tools don't always work correctly. Imagine if plumbing components changed every 5 years (and it was never an option to use the old kind, because the brand new components are shiny), and 1/4 of them leaked. Medicine is the closest I can think of, but the technology there doesn't change quite as quickly, and think of the accredation you need to practice. Which brings me to my other point:

The technology boom of the past 15 or so years has created enormous demand for IT technicians, which is a skill that has a high barrier to entry (and, traditionally, commensurate pay). Many managers attempted to fill this demand by arbitrarily lowering the barrier (and pay) below where it needs to be, which resulted in a lot of unqualified techs filling the ranks.
posted by mkultra at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

What sized company do you work in?

IT is pretty much always treated as a cost center and there are never enough resources to provide snappy service and do all the new stuff they are expected to do.

In small companies what usually happens is that you have individual IT guys who are both trying to knuckle down long enough to make real progress on some new project, while at the same time trying to deal with the latest glitch, disaster or support request. This situtation doesn't foster reliable estimates.

Larger companies have the opportunity to have more division of labor in the IT organization, so that fewer people have to juggle conflicting priorities. Of course, they still don't typically have the resources to give everyone the service other people in the company might desire, but at least the IT guys have a bit better ability to focus and stay on track.

Finally, some companies actually bother to come up with estimates of what downtime and waiting on support cost the company and will invest in IT to the degree necessary to provide a more or less consistent and predictable level of service for support requests. Management may still decide it's Ok for you to spin your wheels for half a day, but at least they are able to know what to expect, and, theoretically, someone in your management chain agreed to that level of service.

Then there are all the factors that other people mention.
posted by Good Brain at 9:47 AM on October 7, 2006

I think you'd find the incompetance levels of other departments is similarly high, but with lower visibility.

IT failures have extremely high visibility, while their successes have virtually none.

Additionally, most people (yourself included) seem to start off expecting failure, and exhibiting confirmation bias any time failures occur. Similar to how you expect the cable guy to be late, even if he is on time 80% of the time.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:55 AM on October 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

IT people also deal with hardware failures, which are really nasty from a scheduling/priority view. Something critical can fail at any time for no apparent reason, and the only way to fix it is to get it repaired or replaced, which invariably requires dependence on someone else.

This then has a cascading effect, where the jobs that were promised to be done get put on the back burner and are late, and the critical issues are out of IT's control and will also probably be late.

Note that throwing money at the problem is a good way to avoid hardware issues, but usually IT isn't the one in control of that.
posted by smackfu at 9:56 AM on October 7, 2006

-I recently took over as the IT guy in the school I work at. The former guy was definitely a lot more knowledgeable in the subject than I am with all his certifications and years of experience in the field. However, he was lacking one things: People skills. Everyone agrees I am much more responsive and helpful, so it's like there's illusion that I know a lot more than our former IT person.

-Whenever somebody calls me for a problem, unless it needs to be done right now, I add it to my to-do list. However, I also warn then that I have a lot to do so it might take a lot to get to. Additionally, I also very disorganized and know I loose things occasionally. I tell people who call me that if I don't get to a job within a week, please call me and kindly remind me.

-A big piece of slowing down the process is when the higher-ups make a request. Usually they'll move up in the priority lists. To counter-act this, make friends with your IT guys so they respond to you. The former person was notorious for having favorites and fixing one person's problem within the day while waiting to fix another person's with the same exact problem in 2 months.
posted by jmd82 at 9:56 AM on October 7, 2006

I agree with everything written here so far. I personally feel one of the biggest issues is the fact that it's a very technical job but the decision makers are usually non-technical. And the ultimate decision makers (CEOs, Presidents, Superindentents, ect.) know even less so they have no choice but to completely trust the Director of IT. If the Director doesn't want to do something, he justs says it can't be done or will be too expensive and that's the end of it.

Plus, most users are very unrealistic about what it takes to complete a task or project. I would compare IT to home repair. Does anything ever work out the way you planned when you do a major home project? Things come up and you need to adjust your deadline, staffing needs and budget mid-project. That's simply the way it is. If you force me to give you a timeline, I'll estimate (and very clearly tell you I'm only estimating) and then try my best.

Also, remember that your problem is only critical to you, not the entire organization. If an entire department needs a software upgrade, that's more important than installing iTunes on your PC because you invented a "legitimate" business reason to download podcasts at work. However, I do agree that we could do a better job of communicating that to the user who thinks we're ignoring him and gets more pissed as each day passes and he (the shock!! the horror!!) has to download his podcasts at home.

And, on a personal note, we just love to hear phrases like "my husband works in IT and he says you could have done this task in an hour". Oddly enough, that doesn't inspire us to drop everything and fix your problem (And I can tell you from experiance that when you give us your husband's resume next time we're hiring it will go right in the trash). Even though we assign a priority level to each ticket (and pretty much stick to it), you can still move up or down on the list if we like you or think you're an asshole.
posted by bda1972 at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2006

I also work in IT and I agree with most everything said here.

The other thing people need to realize is that we (at least at the company I work for) only have to back up / reinstall / fix supported software and things that have to do with your job...that doesn't necessarily include the photos, the 20 gigs of MP3s, and the game that your kids installed.

Of course, my group makes sure that your iTunes and what-have-you is migrated over so you can do your work more efficiently.
posted by Diskeater at 11:14 AM on October 7, 2006

When I think of all the time I don't need IT's help, all the days I don't have to call them, I realize that we have a great IT department. I have I don't know how many apps running just on my PC, and there are gazillions more running on everyone else's PC that could mess up with mine through various shared systems. We do tons of wired and wireless networking R&D with tons of different protocols on tons of experimental HW and SW right in our building. And still the place doesn't explode in a ball of electromagnetic fury.

Many people dislike IT because they deal with IT only when they are already frustrated and looking for someone to blame for lost data and late presentations and missed deadlines. Then they explain that something doesn't work ("I can't print," for example) and expect the solution to be as simple as the problem statement, while computer problems often are hard to diagnose and fix on the fly. I think a lot of people dislike cops and doctors and lawyers for similar reasons -- the problems can be large and baffling and painful, when all you want (expect, demand) is a fast, painless solution, and you hate it because you have no choice.
posted by pracowity at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

There's a few big issues with IT that makes it complex.

1) Programming and IT support is fussy, arcane, and detail-oriented. I don't know of another career where it simply won't work in new and unusual ways if you mess up some punctuation... i.e. editing a book is detail-oriented, but the book can still go to print with a semicolon missing. Most programs that we use every day are *longer* than most books, and are much, much dryer than "War & Peace". If you say '=' instead of '==', you get totally different behaviour. Try finding one instance of that in a book you've never read before.

2) IT is often under-funded, and when higher-ups DO fund, they want immediate gratification and don't want the project they funded to interfere with the other underfunded projects. Example: I have six large projects on my plate to do personally, and I'm managing a team of Graduate Assistants to complete another. But our webserver suddenly got hit with a lot of traffic, consistently, every weekend ... and I support the webserver. I've spent the last two months propping up the old webserver and designing, speccing, getting quotes for, and ordering a new server cluster to handle the load. This has put my other SIX freaking projects behind. Everyone else is bitching because a) the current webserver still can't handle the load, b) the new cluster is not in place yet even though it was well known that it would take a month to approve and issue purchase orders and actually get the hardware in, plus a few weeks to configure and install it, c) all of the other projects I'm working on are behind because someone's calling me every five minutes to tell me that the webserver is inaccessible. NO SHIT, SHERLOCK! ... and you wonder why IT people get angry and drink a lot.

3) IT guys seem to get special priviledges, which makes office drones resent us. What other department at many companies has no dress code, no set hours, and always has shiny, new equipment? What you don't see is that we're coming in at 10 am because we were in the office until 3 am troubleshooting something so that you could work today, and we're taking Friday off because it's Thursday and we've already put 60 hours in this week. And we have shiny new equipment because we use every erg of it and often can't do our job with less. (I regularly max out the processors on my backend servers running data batch jobs. That's why they have Core Duos in them and you're still on a P4 2.8ghz. Stop installing malware on your box and it'll run faster.) And making snide remarks about why I have a Core Duo mac on my desk and you have a nice fast p4 on your desk won't help, either, because my Mac isn't suppported by the IT department. I maintain it. And no, I'm not maintaining yours... I was up till 3 am last night, and you can go away now.

4) We're expected to pull miracles out of our ass on a regular basis. If you say "I need this NOW"... we'll do our best to get it to you, even if we can't gratify you immediately. But keep in mind that this also means we cut corners. So when there's unhandled exceptions, or you can't get the reports you need out of it without asking me, please don't complain. And please also understand that I'm going to get grouchy when you call me every week and ask me for ten *different* reports each week, because you're taking away the time that I would spend writing a report generator so that you could generate all of them yourself instead of calling me.

Wow, I'm getting jaded, aren't I? Excuse me, I'm gonna go spend some time cuddling with my puppy.
posted by SpecialK at 11:26 AM on October 7, 2006 [4 favorites]

On the human side of things, it's hard to do IT for very long without getting very jaded about your customers. No matter how valid the question, you can only be asked it so many times before you start to think of the questioners as low grade idiots.

And much like police officers, the vast majority of your time is spent dealing with the most unpleasant members of the community. Even when you do talk to someone reasonably sane, they're probably in a bad mood.

It's a tough job to stay emotionally sane, and happy, and at the top of your game at.
posted by tkolar at 11:57 AM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I work in IT. I think the reason IT employees are so unreliable can be attributed to these factors:

They're overworked.
They're understaffed.
They're lazy.
They have a sense of entitlement.

Otherwise, it's because you're the asshole.
posted by cellphone at 12:06 PM on October 7, 2006 [4 favorites]

Yeah, a lot of people expect the IT department to do the impossible on an hourly basis. For instance, someone e-mailed my help desk just before 10 this morning and sent an "URGENT" e-mail about how her cell phone was broken, and requested that someone come to her dorm today because she needs to be able to use her cell phone. (I read these things to avoid doing homework. Yes, I know—it's sad.) That's nice, except for the fact that a) turnaround time on e-mail is supposed to be one business day, b) it's Saturday and we're closed, and c) we don't fix cell phones.

There's also the issue of people (usually students) having their computers malfunction in a way that adversely affects the network, and getting blocked rather quickly. Once they get their computer fixed, they can be unblocked, but many people tend to get mad that they're not unblocked as quickly as they were blocked, because the network admins happen to be doing their job—maintaining the integrity of the network, not immediately unblocking people who've been disrupting it.

In general, though, people expect IT employees to be able to make the computers and the infrastructure do what they (the non-IT people) want, and immediately. We had to register a computer on the network for someone who was physically on campus, but wasn't affiliated with the university, and while we were determining how to do that (since nothing similar been done in five years), we got at least four quasi-verbally-abusive calls a day from this person, asking when this would be done, and generally yelling at us and accusing us of being incompetent. This persisted until one of our higher-ups called them and told them to knock it off.

So, to answer the question, most of the issues arise because people demand unrealistic things from IT, and demand estimates when they can't be given, or depend on when outside vendors get back to us, which is entirely out of our control.
posted by oaf at 12:24 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh jesus fucking christ. Let me spell it out for you.

If you are an IT guy at a non-IT company, it is just a matter of fact that nobody loves you. Maybe your immediate boss loves you, because he understands what a great job you're doing and remembers what a crappy job your predecessor did. Doesn't change the fact that everybody else hates you.

Why do they hate you? Typically, it's because they don't understand anything about your job. Here is a brief list of things that people don't understand about IT :

1) In order to fix/build/design something, you must first find out *how* to fix/build/design it. This makes it very hard to estimate how long it will take to complete a task, since every task has a significant research component. And, as we all know, nothing is more time consuming or unpredictable then pure research.

2) There are other demands on your time. It never ceases to amaze me how greedy people are with IT time. In reality, what they're really doing is competing with their co-workers over who gets a slice of your time. They would never go up to one of their coworkers and say, "Your project isn't important enough." However, for whatever reason, they have no qualms about going up to a programmer and acting as if their pet project is infinitely more important than anyone else's.

3) It takes time to do quality work, and systems need to be maintained. There's the easy way to do something, and the right way. As a programmer, it is important to do things the right way, so as to eliminate possible problems down the road. Likewise, all systems require regular maintenance, so as to avoid inefficiency and certain catastrophe. All of these things take time, and non-IT people often don't understand their importance. Thus, they think that the time you spend re-factoring your code or upgrading the server is "wasted time," since they can't see any immediate benefit from it.

It would be bad enough if people simply hated their IT department. However, they also have to make their hatred known. Here are some ways in which their hatred becomes manifest :

1) They get snarky with you when you won't indulge them and do little favors for them. Never mind that you would have to then do favors for EVREYBODY.
2) They try to sidetrack you from whatever project you're working on. It's not like they're the ones who have to suffer when your project misses its deadline.
3) They complain endlessly about how many features your software doesn't have. Never mind the fact that your software represents a carefully-balanced set of tradeoffs that were decided on (often by management) in the face of finite budgets and deadlines.
4) They raise the spectre of outsourcing. How better to make you feel like a worthless piece of crap? "We would get rid of you if we could... Oh, if only we could..."
5) They make invalid comparisons. "X site was able to create this software in less than a week." "Everybody else has Y feature, why don't we?" "Z person outside the company told me this should only take an hour or two." Well, guess what? "X site" has a completely different code base, "everybody else" doesn't have to deal with the specific set of challenges that we have, and "Z person outside the company" knows nothing about us, our software, our codebase, or our environment.

And lest you think that I'm placing all the blame on the non-IT folk, I will admit that lots of IT people are lousy at communicating. This is something that we, as an industry, need to work on. However, I also don't think it would hurt if non-IT people tried to place themselves in our shoes and at least try to understand what we're up against.
posted by kenoshakid at 12:47 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another answer from an IT manager.

Much of what's done in IT has to do with diagnosing and creating solutions to problems that the IT person -- and often, a negligible number of folks in the IT community -- have experienced before.

Liken the IT worker solving a problem to a doctor. If there's established diagnostic criteria and treatment for a particular series of symptoms, it's easy for any given doctor to be reasonably reliable. If someone has the symptoms of scurvy, for example, any modern doctor will know to give that individual doses of Vitamin C, since scurvy is a disease with hundreds of years of diagnosis and treatment.

On the other hand, the symptoms of scurvy have been known since the 13th century -- and it took hundreds of years for the medical professions to find a cure, with a standard treatment of citrus fruits being established sometime in the 17th century. For hundreds of years, doctors were unable to find the correct treatment for something that was killing people.

The same doctor who can reliably treat someone with scurvy is likely to grab at straws if a patient presents a series of symptoms that aren't well-known to the medical profession, or for which a reliable course of treatment isn't known. Someone with diabetes can find reliable help from almost any doctor, while someone with AIDS may not (and certainly did not, for example, in the early 80's). Troubleshooting these sorts of things requires both the intelligence for problem-solving skills and a certain amount of time for research, which often involves the time-consuming trial-and-error process.

IT work is much the same -- a lot of time is spent diagnosing strange symptoms that can present themselves in uncommon ways due to the number of strange interactions that can occur between computing systems. Even with as amazing a base of knowledge that the Internet provides, computer systems change drastically on a year-to-year basis, which means that the causes of problems on computing systems and symptoms are rarely well known unless you're working with somewhat out of date hardware and software. Just as a doctor can make no promises that they can cure AIDS in the near future, an IT worker can make no promise that they themselves can solve any given problem expediently.

Now, there's the issue of communications. This is a problem in almost any technical or diagnostic field, because people who are good problem solvers often spend a lot of time "in their head", focused on solving issues. Just like many good doctors have a poor or cold "bedside manner," many techs who spend time with technology spend less time with people, and may have less empathy or social graces. It's really hard to find people who are both a good troubleshooter and a personable kind of person, just because the two tasks don't complement each other in any way.

That's compounded by the fact that doing reports while in the midst of troubleshooting is innately difficult, because reporting takes time away from the troubleshooting, meaning that it will extend the amount of time the problem exists -- it's difficult to strike the right balance between keeping in touch and just getting things fixed.

Honestly, I doubt that IT folks are less reliable on average than in any other diagnostic field.

Of course, troubleshooting is only one part of the equation. Building new systems is often contentious, and as many people above have mentioned, the very same issues occur with various types of engineers and construction crews. Public works projects, development of new (non-technical) products, and home improvement work all regularly miss deadlines.

Similar to issues with diagnosing uncommon symptoms, IT folks are often asked to build solutions for which there aren't already established solutions. Mass manufacturing ensures that a consistent product of a consistent quality gets made at consistent times, but there is much in IT that isn't "out of the box," and custom or innovative projects are innately difficult to estimate. In addition, IT is often asked to provide a cheap solution to a problem that only expensive solutions are available for; cutting costs and getting things to work, well, you probably already know about the perils of that one. There's the old adage of "fast, cheap, good -- pick two," in that customers will always want all three, but for custom work, that's almost impossible to coordinate (and not just in IT).

So, we've established that an excellent IT person needs to be good at problem solving, research, and communications skills. But as above, that person also needs to be good at budgeting, both monetarily and with their time. Honestly, there are few fields where all of those issues need to be seriously considered by an individual employee on a daily basis. If an IT person is bad at time or monetary budgeting, they fail to create the right estimates for new projects, and break their promises. If they're poor at communication, they can't express how much time a project will take, how much a project will cost, or fail to draw out the requirements the customer has (often, with failed projects, both the customer and the IT person is poor at communicating what's necessary). If they're poor at research, they'll never be able to estimate things well enough to give a proper timeframe. And if they're an IT person who's poor at problem solving, god help you, for obvious reasons. If any one of those skills is missing, you end up with sub-par performance.

How many people do you know in other fields who are good researchers, problem solvers, good with their money and time and friendly and responsive, all at the same time? Yeah. There aren't many out there. If you're hiring from the Yellow Pages, you're probably not going to find one, either. The people who are friendly or good with time and money usually aren't interested in the field, when there's far more money to be had in sales or investment management. The people who are good at research and problem solving are often introverted, from spending lots of time doing those tasks instead of customer service -- and would often prefer a job as an engineer or software architect where they didn't have to worry so much about the social aspects of the job.

Even worse, a good IT manager not only needs to be all four of these things, but also needs to be good at finding other people who personify all of these things. And that's even harder. There are a lot of really bad IT people out there, both for the above reasons and the standard reasons people may be bad in any profession (IT people certainly see the same issues in other departments).

Unrealistic expectations about custom work do play a big part. In many ways, this is understandable -- unlike the medical profession, where it's an established field that's arguably been around since the dawn of man and where people often come in with some idea of what's expected from a doctor, given the relative newness of the field and the fact that the work and products change constantly, it's really hard to know what to expect in IT. As such, it's difficult to be a good customer, as it's easy to make a demand without extensive research that seems reasonable but is exasperating to the IT person.

Good luck.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2006 [5 favorites]

Much of what's done in IT has to do with diagnosing and creating solutions to problems that the IT person -- and often, a negligible number of folks in the IT community -- have experienced before.

Er, that was supposed to be haven't experienced before.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 2:04 PM on October 7, 2006

Or do people just have unrealistic expectations of what this profession can really achieve ?

This one.
Most people these days have some idea of how a computer works and what it takes to install software etc.
However, they don't have any idea how long it takes to acconplish the same tasks for a 1000 station buikding, or a 50,000 person enterprise.

The problem comes when people compare their own experiences (installing software on their brother's PC) to the experience of an I.T. department.
It's like a commuter comparing his driving experience with a Formula One driver. Sure, it's the same basic concept, but completely different scales.

The second problem is this:
A percentage (some might say most) of the people in a workplace(especially a big company) are basically incompetent. Most of the time, though, you never notice because you don't ever interact with them.
However, I.T. these days touches just about everything you do at a company, so your chances of running into one of the incompetents is much greater than your chances of running into, say, an incompetent janitor.
posted by madajb at 2:06 PM on October 7, 2006

Hey, that's funny. I've found nearly all the IT guys/gals I've worked with to be incredibly helpful. Might be because when I have an error, I write down what it is and the steps that lead me there instead of saying something like, "I dunno, I didn't touch it and then it said something about the memory I think, and I clicked ok."

Also, I happen to know that many of them work around the clock to get a timesensitive job done, and then come in again after only 5 hours sleep. Man, I wouldn't. Fuck that. And a good half the time, it's an expected thing, and they don't get overtime "it's in your salary, dude, you have to stay awake until the job is done."

I've also found that they've communicated clearly to me what I need to do, step by step to fix a problem. It's often a little complicated for me, so I actually listen and write down notes.

The only downside I've found is a untrained helpdesk people who don't listen when you say, "yes, I've rebooted." but I'd say that's only been about 10% of the time.

Disclaimer: I'm married to one. I know how stupid end-users can be. I also know that he has no sense of time - he might take up to 30 seconds to answer a yes/no question, not because he's thinking about the answer, but he's still thinking about whatever problem he was working on, and then he replays my question and responds and thinks it's in a nano-second time frame. He has never (to my knowledge) accurately estimated the amount of time to do a project, but will often drop everything to fix my mp3 player etc - I guess I'm one of his favourite customers.

While we're working with generalizations, can someone tell me why all salespeople are unethical?

posted by b33j at 4:42 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I used to be a help desk tech, and now I am a low-level manager.

A lot of this is perception, most IT problems are solved at the front-line by someone who answers a phone call - in most organizations this number is about 60%. Of the remaining 40% a lot of these are things like permission changes, software installs, or equipment loaner requests which are easy to resolve - but necessarily over-the-phone type requests. It is a small percentage of IT requests that are not handled same day.

Of that small percentage, there is a degree of unknown factors. Things at this level involve servers, multi-user databases etc (which cannot be taken down most times, because it affects a large number of people - and usually take say 15 minutes even to reboot), dealing with vendors when ordering parts or supplies, or figuring why something broke, is not working, or may cause problems - this is usually easy on one PC but much harder on 3000.

The workloads faced by individual IT workers are usually staggering. A level one help desk agent is probably handling between 30-70 tickets per 7 hour day over and above any reporting, timesheets etc. People usually imagine they are hanging out waiting for things to do... Tier Two and Three IT responders face fewer tickets but they often take more time, and at this level meetings and projects would also need to be carrried out.

Finally the level of abuse a typical Tier one help desk agent will endure is quite staggering, even on an internal Corporate Helpdesk. I've worked in a jail and as a telemarketer, and found the tone, and content of many normal help desk communications from client support calls to be quite shocking - and management is usually somewhat complicit in maintaining that level of abuse. I suspect that a fair number of people would end up in serious disciplinary problems if their managers received recordings of their help desk calls - you would simply not believe it. I've never known a manager to ask for these recordings either, and it might be a good idea. People probably don't yell and openly threaten legal, accouting, hr, or management -- and most of the IT workers you deal with are similar level professionals.
posted by Deep Dish at 5:02 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

What an ignorant question assertion disguised as a question. There are reliable and unreliable employees in every profession. I see you've previously asked for information regarding small business operation. I also see that many of your posts contain spelling errors (this one included). Can I then infer that all small business owners are poor spellers?
posted by datacenter refugee at 5:53 PM on October 7, 2006

I believe you meant Why do IT people seem so unrealible. Of course you did.

First and foremost this perception is based on user expectations. When I first started in IT it wasnt a big deal for email to be down for the time it took to fix it. Today, there is zero tolerance for anything going wrong regardless of whose fault it may be or how long it takes to fix it. Users just assume "IT is lazy and undependable" and enough people thinking like this leads to burnout, stress, and turnaround thus weakening your IT department with new hires, younger worse paid, etc.

Secondly, a great deal of support time is wasted on issues that user really should know how to solve himself. Training is rarely provided for nor asked for. The accessibility of the GUI gives a false sense of 'ease of use.' I'm sometimes shocked how people are ignorant of even the most basic help functions in the tools they use in their professions. When I was also doing HR I would laugh at how someone "proficient in windows and office" has literally never heard of clicking on Start > All Programs > Microsoft Office > Word to start Word. These people make 2 to 3x what I make with my mostly honest resume.

Thirdly, the amount of outsourcing to consultants, outside firms, outside developers is a nice cost saving measure but in the long run means there are no on-site experts and waiting on outside vendors to do things leads to some of the conclusions you might have come up with for your IT department.

Lastly, what everyone else said. Its a tough job usually not under the greatest circumstances. If your IT department is faltering you more than likely have a problem with higher-up management. They probably know your complaints, what issues remain unresolved, how long issues take to get resolved, and probably don't care.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:05 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

(for such a flamebait question, this thread has remained surprisingly nice) I've gotta go with b33j here, since I've found most IT people quite helpful and competent. At every company I've worked, the IT guy either fixed my problem quickly or gave a reasonable explanation why he couldn't get to it right away. Then again, I fixed most of my own dumbass mistakes, I didn't shriek about how important MY crisis was, and I didn't expect instant miracles.

I have a friend who briefly worked at an IT helpdesk, and he said one of their most frequently used job writeup/problem summaries was PICNIC: Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.
posted by Quietgal at 6:32 PM on October 7, 2006

Not that I have too much to add here, since others have articulated well the task of being an I.T. person, but here goes anyway.

I've worked in I.T. for 16 years. People have generally treated me like crap. In no other position would it be acceptable for people to tell someone they are doing a lousy job and are stupid nearly every day, in front of other staff. Occasionally being praised as a superhero does not make up for the abuse that I.T. often takes.

Further, when you say "my email isn't working", it's about the same as saying "my car isn't working". The mechanic will ask for descriptions of what you mean when you say 'doesn't work' and you'll say that the car is making whirrr-click noises. IT staff don't have the luxury of this, and instead when they ask such a question the response is "I don't know, it doesn't work, I don't understand computers, fix it you nerd".

And then we show them where the 'Send' button is.

To put it bluntly, people want great IT staff, who have spent most of their own time learning about computers as well as 8 hours a day, and then complain that they aren't as personable as the sales people. They want IT to be able to push a button or flick a switch and solve the whole problem, when the problem usually is that the complainant doesn't know basic computer skills in their heavily computer-dependent job. Then they want them to work overtime to get vital things done because they won't allow their own work time to be interrupted.

And now people wonder why I'm pushing to start a business instead of continuing to help people with their computer problems.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:31 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Minority report: all my contacts with IT people have been fruitful and productive. Thank you to all the geeks and nerds who went to the touble of learning how to fix the problems we non-nerds can make.
posted by Cranberry at 11:26 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

As someone who has worked in a software development company, I can say that I've never been anything but appreciative of the work that IT does. I 've never asked how long something is going to take, because I could always safely assume that it's going to be done as quickly as their other priorities allow it to be done. This might have something to do with being in a software shop though. I'll generalize and suggest that geeks tend to have respect for knowledge, and if you're going to them with your problem then clearly they know something you don't.
posted by juv3nal at 1:22 AM on October 8, 2006

There are a lot of stupid people in IT, to be sure. There are also a lot of stupid clients. Not a good mix.

Doing IT work is far more complicated then anything you're likely to ever encounter on a day to day basis, so obviously it's not going to go very smoothly.
posted by delmoi at 4:01 AM on October 8, 2006

Some companies get screwed for IT. Maybe they start out with no one who's got good contacts and can bring in good people to seed the department. Maybe they treat the department like a machine, and use headhunters to find hourly slaves who don't get to stay on long. Maybe someone made stupid technology decisions for bad reasons a while ago and now no one in their right mind wants to sit there bailing water from the boat for a living. Maybe the employees of the company have a bad attitude toward IT and treat it like a technological valet service, with absolutely no understanding that IT has work of its own, projects of its own to do, and that IT folks aren't, in fact, in the office to be on call for people's desktop complaints the ENTIRE day. Maybe the IT department has a streak of frat boy beer chugging in it, or a contagious disregard for keeping regular hours and meeting deadlines. Maybe your entire industry is a lousy one for IT people.

For many reasons, your perspective may be skewed by your local situation. And even the numbskulls you do know personally are in some kind of context.
posted by scarabic at 10:05 AM on October 8, 2006

Someone just Meta'd this.
posted by mediareport at 11:06 AM on October 8, 2006

So, jacobean, let's get this sorted out. What exactly was it that you expected to happen, what happened instead, and what was the last thing you did before that?
posted by flabdablet at 5:01 PM on October 8, 2006

Confirmation Bias.
posted by oxford blue at 5:02 PM on October 8, 2006

Often, results from a purchase are less than desired when buying the cheapest one on the shelf. I have a shirt like that. It is a nice looking shirt and comfortable, but every time I wash it, it comes out wrinkled. It has to be ironed *every* time. Why can't it come out of the drier without wrinkles? Why does it take twice as long to make it usable as other shirts?

It cost $9.99. You get what you pay for. Don't complain about quality when you choose the lowest bidder.
posted by kc0dxh at 8:09 AM on October 10, 2006

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