The Paradigm of IT

I finally realized that Netflix got season 2 of The IT Crowd added; now I can say that I’ve finally seen the series in its entirety.

Before I continue, watch this clip:

(In case it doesn’t load properly, here’s the link: http://youtu.be/YhPejfTQfEA)

That is the very first we see of Roy and Moss, the two geek protagonists from the series.  The key portion of that clip is the end where they describe the plight of IT: their help is demanded urgently, and the moment their skills are no longer needed they are shoved back into their dank basement.

Some of the real comedic gems are those that highlight situations that truly exist, albeit exaggerated to some degree.  The IT Crowd is a shining example of this.

I worked in the IT department of an accounting firm throughout the tax season one year; they brought me on during the busiest months to help reduce the demands on the sole administrator they normally had on staff.  I was amazed at how someone could be so respected and degraded at the same time…I didn’t think it was possible.  I was both an essential part of their operation and yet little more than a utility to them.  In essence the accountants saw me as little more than a skilled janitor.

Of course the clip you watched above highlighted something that I believe is a major part of the problem in these situations.  There is a severe communication barrier between those who require IT support and those who provide it, and it is fostered in large part by the ego of the geeks.  As a geek I will be first to say that I am an egotistical person, and it is compounded when it comes to the subject matter that I know best…which happens to be what these people are asking me about.  In an effort to show value and worth, we tend to do one of two things:

  1. Act like Roy and make light of the problem that was severe enough to this person who is (hopefully) an otherwise intelligent and capable professional that they needed to take the time to ask for help; doing something like mocking their ability to use a power switch.
  2. Talk in technical jargon that the other person will certainly not understand so that we appear to be far more knowledgeable than they are, thereby distancing that person from us socially.

Obviously these behaviors have become the stereotypes of the geek down in IT.  As with all stereotypes, they don’t apply to everyone….but they do apply to enough that it affects everyone to a degree.  It is exactly what is expected when someone calls for technical support.

Fortunately this kind of experience was rare when doing technical support over the phone.  The expectations there were rather different; generally when we answered people were relieved that I was a native English speaker and not a machine!  Granted, there certainly were situations in which people treated me simply as an automaton, expected to simply fix the problem so they could move on….and to be frank that was the letter of the job description.

The fact of the matter is, and what I wish that everyone on both sides of a support request can entirely understand, is that no two computer problems are exactly the same.  That’s the one thing I’ve learned in all the years spent fixing computers, building and maintaining office networks, taking support phone calls and chats for web sites, and programming enterprise-level hosting systems.  Even if the technical problem itself is identical to a previous one, there’s always another person on the other end of the line with a different question who needs it explained in a different way (or not at all!)  

One differing variable can alter the entire experience….and knowing how to deal with that type of situation while keeping the servers running; well, that’s what IT is all about!

Cody (17 Posts)