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At work, I often joke with my colleagues about the “IT curse”: when there’s a really bizarre problem with something technological, and as soon as an IT guy comes to check it out, the problem vanishes, like a ghost. Unfortunately for the common IT guy, this is far from what I would call the IT curse.
Think for a second of all the people whose help you could seek with a computer problem (or any other subject, really). Everyone has some level of understanding of technology (necessarily because there’s no solid line between common day to day items and technology): on one end of the spectrum may be your grandma, while on the other end is a the guy who wrote the machine code your processor uses to perform any function on your computer.
For example, a grandmother I know and love once called me with a technological question: her TV, for some reason, wouldn’t turn on. A long drive, a few Dove chocolate bars, and a thirty second inspection of her television set revealed that the power cord somehow became disconnected. And a contrasting example is a friend who took less than a minute to solve a problem with my Apache installation that plagued me for three solid days.
Being a good IT guy is remarkably easy. You really just need to know your shit and be good at managing your time. But being an <i>efficient</i> IT guy is something different altogether — you need to be good at judging where, on this spectrum, people fall.
As a nerd, I know all too well what it feels like when someone treats me like I have no idea what I’m talking about. Like calling the cable company because your internet is broken, and having them explain to you what an Ethernet cable is, doubting that you’ve actually rebooted the router, and so forth:
As a result, when I am the customer, I quickly stop taking the support representative seriously, and almost immediately assume the problem is my own to resolve. Within minutes, I just try to get off the phone politely.
After being at this job for almost four years now, I’ve started to keep a mental list of those who are mostly computer savvy. If, for example, I need something to be corrected at a sales office of six people, I know whom to contact first. But this and treating someone like they have no idea are equally dangerous — the false confidence they projected to get you to consider them tech savvy may just as well lead them to skip parts they believe aren’t important, press buttons without mentioning it, or just smile and nod, then ignore the problem until it goes away.
A programmer I work with asked me recently to write a report, at the request of one of our purchasing managers. The goal was to see how many bookings we have for given items in a given period of time. This is a remarkably simple report, but from my past experiences, knew well to review it in complete detail before even touching my keyboard. The report is simple — consider the amount of new sales orders in a given week — so it was easy to explain. They agreed and I created the report. Shocked and horrified, the two of them came back only minutes after I completed the report, panicked because of a few negative numbers. I explained why the numbers were negative (if someone created an order for 10 pieces last week, but changed it to 3 this week, the booking for this week is -7), but they wouldn’t have it. After further investigation, I learned they wanted simply to see how much inventory leaves the factory in a given week. I foolishly assumed they knew what they wanted when they originally asked.
And thus, we are left with only our ability to judge. If we bring it down to a low level and the customer is offended, enter damage control. If we assume the customer knows what s/he is talking about, we accept the risk that s/he will be alienated or do something completely wrong.
I struggle with this every day, and every day am reminded of just how much some people don’t understand technology, while others really do. And this, my fellow nerds, is the real IT curse.