The Misunderstanding of Information Technologists

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In many ways an employee in a business with any significant headcount has to deal with the same social constructs as any student in high school. Social groups, pressures and mores impact decisions and actions just as much as the organizational chart. Alas this also means that stereotypes and group labels can quickly impact how various teams and business organizations perceive themselves and others.

For IT Professionals this of course means retaining the label of "geek, nerd, dork and dweeb" along with an equivalent high school social hierarchy, low man on the totem-pole. Which means IT Professionals can end up in a lose-lose situation where an executive or manager might perceive an IT geek as antisocial, bullheaded and business-challenged.

But in an opinion piece last week for Computerworld Jeff Ello, an IT manager for the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, feels that at the heart of the matter, IT Professionals are simply just misunderstood.

That is, IT Professionals are analytical individuals that can empower those around them and that their behaviors and intentions are simply misread. What might look to one manager as an individual that can't accept the manager's decision on how something is to be done is really an individual who is fighting for something to be done in a logical and effective manner. "It's not about being right for the sake of being right but being right for the sake of saving a lot of time, effort, money and credibility."

His opinion puts one in mind of Mike Judge's movie Office Space in which programmers Peter, Michael and Samir1 are terrorized by Initech's demanding and perplexing management team, personified by the company's Vice President, Bill Lumbergh. But the appeal of a movie such as Office Space is that one doesn't have to be a programmer to have ever felt terrorized by an impersonal business executive. A customer service representative can feel equally marginalized.

Yes, of course Executives should look at IT department as they would any revenue generating organization in general and not as some group of misbehaving malcontents. Each organization and individual, taken at face value, is an important asset to the business, with specific skills that can benefit a company. For IT this means bringing strong creative and analytical abilities to the table, skills that can be brought to bear on just about any business problem.

In noting that within the analytical skill set, "at the most fundamental level" of IT's job is "to build, maintain and improve frameworks" Jeff Ello reminds us of what IT can do best, bring about significant strategic advantage for the business.

However, for whatever reason Jeff Ello seems interested more in trying to justify the specific social group and mores of IT Professionals than he seems in communicating how those misunderstood stereotypes can be overcome. For whatever grievance or special treatment he might wish to argue to the world's collection of Executives on behalf of IT Professionals, it should be noted that in the end, we all want the same thing, for whatever enterprise we find ourselves engaged in to succeed. For that is what differentiates business from high school.

In any case, it works both ways. If IT Professionals are going to gain the respect of those Executives and Managers in endeavors great and small, technical and non-technical alike, it also means that IT Professionals need to understand the rules of the game governing Executives and business. It is time for both groups to shed past stereotypes and move on to bigger and better things.

1 And of course Milton, can't forget about him. He can set fire to this place, you know?

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About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.


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