The new IT guys

So when did we go from pimply computer guys to polished businessmen?

Here I am on the tail-end of my first large company talk ever.  Sure, I've addressed business units, small groups, etc in meetings, but never before have I ever been called on to give a presentation to 100+ people in a company.  And this brings up something I've been meaning to talk about  for quite some time.  The new age IT guy vs the old age IT guy.

Back when IT started being IT, server rooms were full of pimply nerds with high pants and pocket protectors.  These poor lads were at best anti-social and scurried when someone came in and turned on the lights.  And back then these guys knew what they were doing.  They knew computers inside and out and they were good solid techies.  But all this is what attracted them to IT to begin with.  They weren't good with people and computers did what you asked of them.  But back then an IT guy could concentrate on what he loved and throw himself into computers and not have to worry about too many people coming down to the dungeon.  And nobody was concerned with whether the business people understood how the technology worked.

All that's changed though.  These days IT guys are expected to be business people first.  We have to be polished, and good speakers, and wash our hair every day.  We have to be able to talk business with the business folks, accounting with the numbers folks, and IT with the IT folks.  And now we also have to be able to translate complex tech topics into perfect end user speak so that even the most inexperienced user can understand things it's taken us a decade to master.

And that makes perfect sense doesn't it?  I mean, business guys are always making sure the IT guys understand everything that they do to run the business, aren't they?  And the accountants always take the time to teach us accounting, right?  Of course not.  That would be ridiculous to even propose.  None of these guys care about explaining their jobs to us.  Yet we're expected to make sure everyone know how everything in IT works.  And even worse, we're expected to take the advice of people who don't know the first thing about IT.  I've been forced many times to implement a stupid solution insisted on by a business guy just because he heard the word somewhere.  I've worked for hospitals in the past and that's always a big thing with doctors.  They think that because they have a medical degree, that automatically makes them a PhD in everything so they insist on getting their hands in IT as well.  But I don't think any of them would take anything we had to say seriously.

So not only do we have to endure taking orders from amateurs, but we've also been thrown into the corporate business environment and are now expected to be able to be public speakers.  Doesn't that defeat the purpose of getting into IT to begin with?  I remember my first real IT job.  We had our own room, and we kept the lights out most of the time.  It was absolutely lovely.  And now many poor souls have to wear ties every day and put together presentations. 

But what does all this do for your IT skills?  Is it possible to be a master businessman and a master IT guy?  Yeah, it's possible, but improbable.  If you're spending so much of your time developing your people and business skills, then when do you have time to develop your website, or your database?  I've seen a drastic reduction in the quality of IT guys in the last few years.  It's really scary how little 10yr veterans know about computers.  I'm constantly interviewing DBAs with 10+ yrs experience who barely know the basics.  But they can give end users wrong information and explain it very well, so I guess that's all that's important huh?

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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