The worst IT worker in the world

I promised an equal time post to my recent “worst boss in the world” rant and here it is. A brief summary of the things you can do to totally reinforce the stereotype of IT workers being aloof, spoiled, uncommunicative and arrogant. Although it may sound like I have intimate knowledge of the following workplace sins, this shouldn’t be taken as an admission of guilt on my part. My lawyer advised me not to admit anything.

Talk in jargon There are times when technical language is necessary to accurately describe things. By and large, that’s when you’re talking to other techies. It’s rarely appropriate (or useful) to use technical jargon when talking to customers/business users. If you simply can’t explain something to a non-IT person in a way they understand, that’s what your project manager and/or business analyst are for. If you’re a PM or BA and you can’t talk without using jargon then there’s a problem.

Treat anyone who doesn’t understand your work as if they’re stupid I’m not going to argue whether or not the person in question is actually stupid, but it’s wrong to treat them as if they’re stupid. Some people just have skills in different areas. Your work probably requires quite a bit of intelligence. The inability to do or understand your work is not by definition stupid. Don’t try to be clever about it either. Too often I’ve seen IT people who think nobody is picking up on their sarcasm when they’re laying it on with a trowel.

Focus solely on technology Most IT workers love technology for its own sake, or at least they have a strong affinity for technology. As admirable as it is to love your work, the technology itself is only half the picture when you work in IT. The other half (most often the half that controls what happens) is the business, whatever that means in your case. No matter how good a technology is objectively, the results it delivers to the business are what counts the most. By and large, the business side couldn’t care less about the relative merits of operating systems, hardware or software. If you can’t sell a technology in terms of the results it will deliver for the business then you’re in for an uphill battle.

Refuse to acknowledge when there’s an issue  There’s nothing that drives a user crazy like telling them they aren’t experiencing a problem.  And yes, often the biggest problem is the user themselves but reflexively assuming that the user is at fault is not going to win you any friends.  I’ve seen this in multiple workplaces and read it on multiple online forums; someone says system X or site Y isn’t working for them and the response is along the lines of “well, I have a machine configured like this and I never have any problems.”  Here’s a tip: someone who’s having a problem isn’t really interested in hearing about how swell everything’s going for you.  Right or wrong, users want a solution, they don’t want to be told that they are the problem.

Tell the boss’s brother his idea is stupid  OK, I did this one.  I thought it made me a good worker – pointing out a moron former model was an incompetent prat who only got to be head of a business unit because he was dropped out of the same vagina as the boss.  This was apparently not a universally held view and I didn’t last much longer at that job.

React aggressively to any perceived criticism  Go ahead.  Start with the comments for this post.

33 Comments

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33 responses to “The worst IT worker in the world

  1. Dammit! You pre-empted my one sided tirade about how it really was users who are wrong and stupid.

    I have found myself saying “well, I have a machine configured like this and I never have any problems.” for the good reason that people will never admit they’ve changed something, and saying that is a non-blame way of saying. “Look, it works like it should as long as you leave all the settings along. Now what have you changed?”

    Plus, it doesn’t rebound as badly if they say “I’ve got it set up like that too.”

    And the correct response to a bad idea is, “that sounds good – where would the budget be coming from to do that; we’re stretched as it is at the moment.” followed by quietly burying the bad idea and keeping the budget.

    Or have I be reading Dilbert too much?

  2. I can think of one worse. Someone who thinks that all of what you wrote is acceptable.

  3. mini

    [This is more a comment to the last comment rather than to the post itself]. I wouldn’t say that users are stupid (neither to their face or in my own thoughts…) but they are lazy and often do stupid things. If they have configured something incorrectly then it’s typically because they were too lazy to read any documentation and have made some guesses and don’t understand that the guesses they are making are leading them to do something stupid. The challenge for UI and system designers is to protect lazy user from doing stupid things while enabling knowledgeable users to gain access to configuration features that might actually serve a useful purpose to those that understand what they do.

  4. tom

    we recently had a bug-report controversy, where the test person insisted that truncating instant messages after a handful of characters was a bug, but the developer insisted it was not. after a back and forth of them opening and closing and opening and closing the bug report several times, the designer finally wrote, in all caps, WHAT DESIGN SCHOOL DID YOU GO TO?

    the developer soon took his prodigious talents elsewhere …

  5. I try to do all before 12pm, every day.🙂

  6. re: users are wrong because they are lazy and do stupid things like not read documentation.

    Users having to read documentation is the first design problem. If the user experience is complex beyond the point where you can stumble around the interface and figure it out to the point where you have to read documentation then there is a design problem.

    It’s about striking a balance where you provide lots of functionality with few choices. Every time you give the user another choice they don’t need you’ve made the system sufficiently more complicated for an outsider to understand.

    I have a blog post about a stupid windows feature that’s gotten some 100+ comments. Are all the users stupid for having screwed up their computers with that feature?

    No.

    It’s the feature that’s the problem.

  7. Massif: you may well read a lot of Dilbert but your ideas are sound.

    DrMike: Yeah, hopefull people understand irony – this wasn’t intended as a how-to guide

    mini: you won’t get any argument from me regarding some users doing stupid things – this post was more an “equal time” balancer rather than suggesting IT workers are always at fault.

    Tom: sounds like fun and games

    engtech: I never read manuals myself until I want to get into some really complicated functions. i seriously think there’s a bad design flaw if I can’t run an application without reading a manual.

    abu: thanks.

  8. I am such a l-user that when something is wrong is say Baaaaaaaaaastard jr. come here! I love having an IT in my house.😀

  9. Sounds like some of the people I have to work with!

  10. Engtech: Good post, I don’t think we’ll ever fully resolve the simplicity/complexity issue.

    Sandra: I was going to say “you know what Bastsrd Jnr is saying behind your back” but I’m sure he actually says it to your face.

    roaf: it’s an accurate description of far too mnay people I’ve worked with.

  11. Anon

    Even if a user with an IQ that would embarass a rock uses that rock to beat the computer til it’s shards of metal and plastic while you’re watching and then denies it, it still doesn’t help to call them an idiot, or treat them that way, even if it’s technically true.

    You may be *right* but you’re not being *effective* at solving the user’s problem in a way that will persuade them to keep giving you cash.

    And sometimes you need that cash, in order to drown your sorrows at having to deal with idiots all day. 😉

    Also, many users have domain knowledge but not computer knowledge, which means they may do things that seem stupid, because they’re operating in a different world. If you’re selling to a business and the employees lack the basic skills required to understand their own job, then you’re screwed – but, again, telling the idiots how stupid they are won’t make your life any easier.

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  13. This post is so stupid. Grrrrr! I am angry really bad! Grrr.

    OK. So now what? That was fun. And I feel a lot better, now. I feel like some chocolate.

    Or maybe I will watch my favorite http://www.peoplegeek.tv post.

  14. “Tell the boss’s brother his idea is stupid”

    I once started at a new place, full of enthusiasm and energy, and after a few weeks there I rewrote (in my own time!) their nasty web application ‘framework’ to be modular, templated, and standards-compliant, all things which it wasn’t when I turned up. I also commented on how incredibly crap the original one was. Possibly at some length.

    I subsequently found out that it was written by my direct manager’s wife. Who was also his manager’s sister. And the MD’s daughter.

    I didn’t really enjoy the rest of my time there.

  15. prabhagovind

    Ayy u missed the empty headed talking boxes!

  16. @anon: Joel had a good post on customer service in that vein:
    http://joelonsoftware.com/articles/customerservice.html

  17. “Talk in jargon” So true! So unbelievably true!

    I must admit, I am guilty of this every now and again. Still… if someone says “what the heck does that mean?” I realize my error and explain it to them in a way they can understand more easily. (Of course it helps that I’m an educator, not an IT person.) It bothers me to no end the IT people that when you ask them what that means they just sit and stare at you like you ate an entire large pizza all by yourself and didn’t share.

  18. Users being too stupid to read “the manual”. Have you read “the manual”? Not for nothing, but if you’re not entirely technical, reading “the manual” is usually about as helpful as talking to an IT person who thinks you’re an idiot for not reading, well, “the manual”.

    Techies are interesting, curious, and generally great people. That said, not always the best at communicating – nobody’s perfect, not even IT folks. Just a thought.

  19. Awesome post. For the most part the folks who are deep in technology don’t even realize they are alienating the people who are the reason they have a job in the first place – their internal and external clients.

    It reminds me of something I say quite a bit (but don’t remember where I got it) – “Those that know the most about a particular subject are usually the worst teachers.” The reason is because they forget what it’s like to not know.

    And that reminds me of a story…

    Waaaaay back when I was working support in a hospital setting I took a call from a doctor who told me her program was broken. She only saw half of it and it worked just fine earlier in the morning. I had a hard time getting a visual as to what was going on over the phone so I took a trip to her office when I got an opportunity.

    The problem – the window for the application had been moved all the way to the right so that half of it was off screen. I saw it and said “Oh, this is an easy fix…” and showed her how to move it back by clicking on the the title bar and dragging it back.

    She was amazed. She didn’t know she could do it.

    I was amazed that she didn’t know she could do that….but I didn’t let it show. Here was someone who saves lives daily. She was incredibly bright and well published. I got a sense that she felt a bit sheepish at the simplicity of the solution and an appreciation that I didn’t make a big deal out of it.

    Bottom Line: make an effort to put yourself in the shoes of the other person and tackle the problem from their perspective.

  20. Anon: I agree, often they aren’t actually idiots but it’s pretty much never a good idea to call them one.

    Heather: chocolate and bideos are both good ideas

    Denny: awesome work😀

    prabh: no idea what you’re talking about

    engtech: I read that too, a good post

    w8agt: some sort of translator is often required

    recruiter: I never read manuals

    Ben: Thanks. I’m often in your position, dealing with users face to face. It’s a good skill to not give away your shock when they don’t know something that seems obvious.

    Brent: lucky you!

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  22. Nice list of rules to follow..😀

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  24. What Anon and Ben Craigo said.

    >> re: users are wrong because they are lazy and do stupid things like not read documentation.

    Why should they? It really does not help if the documentation is written in a way which is completely incomprehensible to the users. Ok, a sweeping statement, and here’s another.

    Most documentation written by IT people is completely crap. That is why technical authors exist, and a lot of what they write is crap too.

    I’m spending a huge amount of my time right now writing material for the business, and – guess what – most of that is completely crap the first time. And the second time. I get business people to rip it to shreds and by the third time it’s reasonable, It only gets good at its job – communicating quickly and accurrately a one read-through with no need for re-reads – when I am editing it for the fourth time. I don’t know if this shows I am a good communicator or a bad one, but it does show that writing good documentation is hard.

    I spent all of yesterday re-writing a user-guide for the peeps in the business who are responsible, poor fools, for making sure that the role profiles are kept up to date. It was so bad that I didn’t understand parts of the previous version.

    In the end the only thing to do was take off and nuke the whole site from orbit. (Thanks Sigourney ;-)) So I listed the headings in the order that users would want to read them, and started from there. And then I tested it out on users. I’m still awaiting the results on that one.

    The problem, as has been said elsewhere, is that users and IT folk inhabit parallel universes. When I asked a user to read the previous role profiling document she thought I was talking about benchmarking peoples’ jobs and wondered why I was suddenly helping out HR.

    Users are a guest in your country. Treat them with respect. They pay your bills.

    Aphra.
    *breathing deeply*
    *breathing calmly*

  25. Excellent rant Aphra, no arguments from me!

  26. I do feel better for it, thank you.

  27. Pingback: Aphra Behn - danger of eclectic shock Happy bloggiversary «

  28. I’m wondering if there is an acid test for being a horrible I.T. person. I recently left a position where my boss, the leader of a roughly 12-person design firm, had indicated to me on many occasions that he wished to remain ignorant of all I.T. matters, and that he was just interested in things “being pretty”, with mantras like “how good it looks over how well it works”…

    At what point do I call them stupid? At what point do I call them ignorant? At what point do I get to berate them because I really have gone to the lowest common denominator of information transfer and they have the “DoY!” face going on?

    I agree that sometimes I am guilty of one or two of the things you mention in your list, specifically the explanation of things technical. But really…

    After being blamed for technical tragedies which were only “my fault” because they couldn’t understand the nature of the problems, I told them where they could stuff their job… which was sad because that’s the only time i’ve ever had to do that. Blah.

    Great column by the way… speaks volumes!

  29. david: the evils of management are far worse than the evils of us little drones

  30. simon23

    check out http://chroniclesofgeorge.nanc.com/ for a look at the worst it worker in the world😛

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