When San Francisco network administrator Terry Childs was jailed and set $5 million bail in June the blogosphere erupted. It was as if the very public expose of Childs’ anger and frustration with his managers, which had allegedly caused him to hold captive San Francisco’s omnipresent data network, was resonating with tech workers everywhere, igniting deep-seated passions as it ripped a scab off a deeply festering wound.
Everyone seemed to have a view, and among tech workers themselves, many of those viewpoints were negative. Frustration and a deep-seated sense of insecurity were clearly endemic. The bad news, if you will forgive Strategic Advantage director and CEO Clive Bailey his pun, is that while Australian tech workers may be, on the whole, slightly more content and somewhat less vulnerable to the effects of a flagging economy than their US counterparts, the nation is every bit as exposed to “Childs-like” behaviour as the US.
“Whilst Childs’ response was extreme, I have seen a lot of passive-aggressive behaviour from techies over the years in IT,” Bailey says.
“This has ranged from an aggrieved techie pulling the plug on his manager’s network connection or system access on a random basis and then taking ages to ‘fix’ this ‘complex’ problem, to one incident where a developer encrypted the access to some key business software and then walked out.”
Bailey blames tech workers’ simmering levels of anger on poor management and the often extreme pressure brought to bear on IT departments by companies trying to cut costs (but not services!) in tough economic times. When IT departments are unable to demonstrate their true value to their business colleagues, those colleagues are much more inclined to see IT as a cost burden and hence an early target for budget reductions in challenging times.
“Will we see more Childs-like behaviour? Possibly, but I think the ongoing ‘subversive’ behaviour of techies is more likely to be the norm, and I have to wonder how much it costs organisations because I would bet that most companies have no idea that it is even going on,” Bailey says.
While the cases that typically reach the media are extreme examples, an unhealthy mix of paranoia and distemper is common in many IT workplaces. Budgetary and personnel concerns, a perceived lack of respect from the business, and long or inconvenient hours to maintain service level commitments frequently create an atmosphere where irrational decisions or reactions can have significant negative impact.And that doesn’t even take into account the nature of the work itself.
Independent contractor Steve Jenkin began his career in professional computing in 1974 and has been working with Unix since 1977. During that time, he says, he has met no happy admins.
“It’s a thankless task, done invisibly, reporting to ‘decision makers’ who are completely non-technical in small orgs or, in larger places, could have once been technical, but are very far removed from current state of practice.”
In fact, Jenkin says in smaller sites the situation is particularly dire. Managers simply fail to appreciate the degree of skill and level of effort — physical, mental and emotional — that it takes to keep a site “calm”.
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