SofaBlog #3: The IT Department

The I.T. Department

It Exists for a Reason

    Mankind has created a world of specialists. Nearly every person on the planet Earth grows to become specialized in at least one subject. In fact most people become specialized in several areas of study. Be that smashing atoms together at CERN or in the lucrative business of dirt farming, all these people have become specialized in their respective industries. This is a very good thing. I have no idea how to operate a power plant, but I definitely enjoy using the power it generates. Even within a single company individual departments are created based on specialty skills those employees possess. The idea here is that each specialized unit works towards supporting the greater entity as a whole, be that a Fortune 500 company or an entire country. This is an accepted, effective, social structure and it’s freaking awesome. However, there exists one group of specialists that everyone appears to think they can pretend to be a member of, the Information Technologies Department.
    Fifty years ago, I image most people would consider the I.T. department to be some sort of secret area containing what can only be called “it”. Today most people know the I.T. department as the den of the “computer nerds.” Actually you probably could still call it a department containing what could only be described as “it”. As an employee of such an IT department I can say with a level of certainty that the way people act about computers defies conventional logic. What we consider a computer, or Information Technologies, didn’t really start to be widely used until about the 1980’s. Given that widespread, modern, computer use is barely 30 years old it becomes a little clearer why they are treated like alien devices from another galaxy. Even with the concession of how young the modern computer industry is, it still doesn’t explain how people lose nearly every ounce of common sense when using computers.
Many of the functions of a computer are very similar to those of their analog counterparts. Most importantly, the way an average person interacts with a computer is remarkably similar to how they would interact with a car or their own health. A computer is not a magic device (well in some ways it’s magic, we’ll cover that later) that defies the rules of the world around it. It is a tool. This tool, like all others, is used to accomplish a specific task of the user’s choosing. Just like a car is a tool to move you from location to location. When your car is having troubles or breaks down you take it to a mechanic, a specialist in car repair. If you are short of breath or experiencing pain you go to a doctor, a specialist in human repair. It makes perfect sense, and you don’t have to tell someone to do this, well most people. You have a problem with something you really don’t fully understand, so you take it to someone with extensive training and experience in that field. Knowing this is why I have a spot on my desk labeled “bang head here”. I’d rather smash my brain cells away than try to comprehend why it is that a computer, which a person may know very little about, is something people feel they need to troubleshoot themselves.
To an extent I understand. For your average home computer you may not want to spend, or have, the money to have a trained professional look at your computer. The same is true for many people’s cars and health.  I am not talking about those people. I speak of the work environment, the group that works towards supporting the greater entity as a whole. These are not cases of “…we need to save the money.” The trained professionals are already on staff. They’re probably a 5 minute phone call away. They are paid thousands of dollars each month to perform the specific task of maintaining computer systems. Their salary is already part accounted for in the companies budget. They get paid the same regardless of how many help tickets they get. If you need to print a document and the printer is out of paper you don’t hack down the tree in front of the office, grind it down to pulp, and make your own paper. You ask your office manager for a new ream of paper. You go to the person tasked with managing office supplies and are given what you require at no extra cost and in much less time. Why is it that as soon as your computer is shutting down randomly or just slow you completely forego the entire department tasked with resolving those problems?
There are a number of different “types” of users that can be headaches for an IT department. The “i’ll just ignore this problem” user could be the most common. I’ve heard nearly every excuse for why a problem goes unreported. The classic excuse is typically along the lines of “I didn’t want to bother you,” What!? Sure I’m not jumping for joy each time I get a call to fix a problem, but that’s why I don’t do this job as a hobby. It is LITERALLY my job to fix your computer. If your paycheck is late do you skip calling payroll because you “don’t want to bother them”? Of course not, that’s why there are there, to ensure people are paid for the work they do. I am not getting paid to watch server lights blink; I am like a tool, here to be used to resolve your computer problems. This doesn’t even scratch the surface compared to the people that think they can fix complex problems themselves. This is a huge problem in young user, compounded by organizations like Geek Squad that exercise, and teach, little to no actual troubleshooting. Your computer has a problem and you don’t know what is causing it. You download 8000 utilities to “fix” your problem because all you know how to do is click the button that says “fix.” Now you have ten times as many problems. I don’t care that you read online that your motherboard is broken. I read online that a group of guys found a magic crowbar and now have super powers. You see the point I’m making? You don’t even know what purpose the motherboard serves yet because someone who hasn’t even touched your computer said so, you’re convinced your motherboard is broken. The same people are the ones that get a suspicious email, open the attachment, and then call IT to ask if you should have done that. If you feel pressure in your lower bowel and someone says you sprained your ankle do you just wait until you shit your pants to determine what the symptoms actually meant? Look I’m glad that you want to get be more involved with maintaining your computer, I’m even happy you can use the internet to lookup problems; but when you have an entire department who are experts in computer problems and know exactly how your computer is setup, use them!
There is also the opposite side of the spectrum, from people who wait to report problems. There are the people that call the helpdesk every time they think the computer might even remotely have a problem. In many cases these can be the larger headache. These people are often times the ones that assume that because it’s a computer there’s no way they stand any chance of ever being able to use it. This may be the computers true magic power. When the right person sits down at a computer they appear to forget how to read entirely. Do not call the helpdesk asking how to create a new folder in your Documents directory. Read the freaking screen! You see that button that says “New Folder” I’m willing to bet it’s not the erase hard drive button. I understand that your data is important to you and that you don’t want to lose it all; but I promise you that your computer isn’t trying to trick you into erasing your data. Also, don’t call asking me to try and trick Microsoft Word into making a Publisher document. I am not your secretary; I will not do your job for you. Microsoft Office programs can be very complex, in fact it’s almost like Microsoft knew this and put a robust help feature into all their programs. When you call asking about a mail merge guess what I’m going to do? I’m going into the help feature and looking up “mail merge”, which I will then proceed to email to you. If you took the time to read the text on the screen you would know all this already. Ironically these people are often the ones complaining about how impatient young people are, yet they are the ones that complain the most about their computer taking 5 nanoseconds longer than normal to open a 5000 page document. I know computers can make previously long arduous tasks short and fast, but understand it is taking inputs of, effectively, POWER ON and POWER OFF millions of times a second and turning it into what is on your screen; give a moment!

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that IT personnel complain about their users so much. IT professionals, historically, aren’t exactly super out-going. I would agree that I often would rather talk to a computer than people. With people constantly pretending they know how to do my job, getting in the way of letting me do my job, or using me as their personal encyclopedia it didn’t take very long for me to develop distaste for “users”. I have always lived in a world where there is a specific person specializing in a specific job. People specialize for a reason and should be used for those specializations. I go to a doctor when I feel ill and don’t ask him to hem my pants while I’m there. I’m left wondering it is simply a preference to work with computers over people or if it’s because everyone turns into a moron when it comes to handling a computer that is the cause of the anti-social behavior in IT professionals. Perhaps in another 70 years as the computer reaches the age of automobiles today people will be able to pull their heads out of their asses and treat computers like any other tools in their life.

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