These are five things IT executives should understand about IT but do not. Of course I am referring to the many IT executives who somehow come to reign over an IT department but who have only an MBA or similar and thus have no IT experience at all. This means they are completely incompetent and shouldn’t even be assistant dumpster manager, but they have an MBA so believe they know everything as that’s what those who dispensed their worthless degree have beaten into their heads.
1) When we give estimates that are vague, it is because there is no way to tell in advance how long a project will take.
It’s helpful to examine why this is. Often people in my field are attempting to do something that no one has done before, even if a very similar project has been done by many people or companies. And it only takes one problem or unexpected incident or failure for a project to go from taking two hours to two weeks. I’ve seen it happen many times, and it’s mostly unavoidable.
No configuration or setup is the same, and neither is the software or hidden “gotchas” behind it all. So when I say, “This might take a day or a month. I’ll know when I start,” I’m not being lazy or trying to make your life hard. If the environment is worse than I thought, or a vendor really screws something up, or a million other factors, very few of which can be foreseen in advance, it is just going to take longer. This isn’t stamping out widgets in Widget Factory, Inc.
Yes, it is possible to be better at estimating time. However, this just cannot be made exact as the tasks that we in IT do are complicated, unpredictable and require deep knowledge and are innately difficult. To make an analogy with the physical world what I do sometimes is akin to walking across a tightrope above the Grand Canyon while playing a violin and cooking a four-course meal. Yes, sometimes it really is that hard. And the hardest-to-estimate projects are tautologically nearly always that difficult and daunting. Try to give me any sort of meaningful estimate on that. Hint: You can’t.
2) Assigning me two major full-time projects at once doesn’t mean they get done faster, it just means that both get done poorly and more slowly.
Many times in my IT career I’ve been assigned two very-difficult project that run concurrently and step all over one another. Yes, I do raise it as an issue at the time and either I’m told to make it work or that there is no choice.
I speculate this is because IT people are seen as both wizardly and lazy, which is contradictory but is however what I have noticed.
The last time this happened to me was with two projects where I at one point was running between two different rooms trying to figure out what two different vendors were doing and how to assist them, and also trying to learn as much as I could about two extremely complicated products and how to administer them.
In the end, I ended up learning almost nothing and had to pick it all up myself later. The person who had assigned these two simultaneous projects to me was annoyed that I hadn’t learned all that I needed to support both properly, but as I explained to her it was because jogging back and forth between two rooms full of vendors ever five minutes for two weeks straight doesn’t lead to much learning.
3) The speed of light is immutable and there are no “tricks” to get around this.
This seems crazy, but it has some up so many times in my career that I have to include it.
When businesses interconnect offices, managers think that increasing the internet bandwidth of sites will make it appear that even offices 3,000 miles apart feel like the servers are in the same place. Unfortunately, the speed of light and routing in routers means that there will always be latency. (Actually, electrons through copper move at about 80% of the speed of light.)
Various techniques like caching and compression can mitigate some of this, but latency when accessing remote resources is absolutely unavoidable.
I once had a boss ask me like a three-year old over and over again, “But why? But why?” when I explained that no matter how large a pipe we bought, accessing resources 6,000 miles away would always be noticeably slower than accessing resources over the sub-millisecond gigabit link to a server right in the office.
4) Vendors will sell you the world, but deliver a micrometeorite.
MBAs and their ilk seem to believe and trust vendors and their sales staff inordinately. My conjecture is that this is perhaps because the salespeople from tech companies are more similar to the MBA types, and also more social, so they jell better than IT people and salespeople do.
One incident I am thinking of in particular – though it has happened many times – is when a salesperson was spouting absolute inane nonsense so much so that I laughed in his face in the sales meeting and said, “I don’t believe that at all.”
Post-meeting, I was chided for doing so, and informed that the MBA-type from my company in the room had liked that vendor by far the best and we would be choosing them and their product with no other options possible.
This no surprise turned out to be a complete and expensive failure and we abandoned the product soon thereafter, for the very reason that I laughed about during the meeting.
5) IT people are not “computer janitors.”
And that’s not to cast aspersions on janitors at all. The world would be much worse without them.
However, I and most people in IT have multiple certifications, frequently do this in our off time as well (I personally have been doing more than “consumer-level” IT tasks since I was around eight years old.), and spend many hours and much money learning more all the time.
Unlike with an MBA, if you stop learning in IT for a year, you are then very far behind your peers.
And frequently in IT to understand what we need to achieve on a project, we must learn the intimate details of business processes that the MBA doesn’t even understand.
Nothing like explaining how the business works in detail to an MBA who is supposed to be the “expert.” I have had to do this numerous times.
My point is that IT people are professionals who often know arcane details of both the business and the undergirding of what runs it far better than the dropped-in MBA does. We aren’t computer janitors who know nothing else. Most of us have done many other jobs in our lives (For instance, me: Photojournalist, US Army paratrooper, editor, proofreader, night shift production manager.)
I am sure that the MBAs who this is aimed at could write a similar article about IT, but having worked outside of IT and then in IT, I think that IT is far more misunderstood and mistrusted than other areas of business. I’m not completely sure why this is, but I believe it is because IT can’t easily be pigeonholed into “worthless peon” by MBAs.
This is because IT departments have a lot of power, do very complex tasks most MBAs can’t understand, are seen as an unaccountable cost center, and are a threat to MBA power that can’t be easily ignored or pushed aside.