IT Pro: Missing Pieces in the Human Element

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Internet is all about the articles on Information Technologies, the most regarded ones are the how-tos and breaking tech news for the system administrators. Then comes the product announcements, support forums, downloadable tools, career pages. But what about the IT pro?

Throughout my life in IT, whether as an IT pro, IT user or as an enthusiast I have seen stereotypical people in IT: people who are inclined to say “this will be like this because this is the way it is” or people who write sloppy e-mails because they are “too busy to care about the writing” or better, people who cuts the conversation with an authoritative, non-descriptive answer. Can these be perceived as charismatic? I doubt so. We are humans and we need to analyze and upgrade ourselves. The first step is realizing the human element.

Realizing the Human Element

No matter what you say, we are humans and we are working for humans. You are deploying this server because some other humans will continue to work, not because you are a hardware enthusiast. You are patching that Exchange server because other humans can receive e-mails on their mobile phones, not because you want to satisfy yourself that you have the latest patches available. You are installing that integration applications because you want to ease the work on humans, not to take geekery pleasure from the two applications running in harmony.

Conversations

It is very easy to isolate each other, especially in the corporate environment. By introducing the human element more in ourselves we can turn isolation to a more pleasant human experience.

In everything we, IT pros do, we need to consider the human side: be it a server, a project or any thing that we are doing. We are enabling people to do their work, if we fail to understand the human element, we fail to understand our very existence. If this accounting guy is not able to fire up this Excel because the terminal server is experiencing problems, and if you say that “the server performance is in acceptable limits” without questioning what’s wrong, then there is something seriously wrong with you. You are there because the accounting guy has to record the transactions. Forget the human element today and then be forgotten tomorrow.

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Listen and Speak, Read and Write

As we accept the human side of everything that we do as an IT pro, we have to show our human side as well. We cannot just say “that is the way it is” or cut the conversation because we are highly analytical. It is simply not human. First of all we need to listen to understand what is wrong. Not because the other person is frustrated, angry, emotional but because there is something that needs to be fixed. We need to understand why on earth the other side has left her work and showing her emotions. Except a sociopath, nobody comes to work to leave her work aside and hit at people. Therefore we have listen first.

Second, we need to be able to read and write. We have to read this e-mail because someone else has taken her time to explain something to us, not because she has found some free time to talk about IT stuff – and believe me, users are not a single bit interested in IT stuff, they just need to get things done. And we need to write. We cannot reply to someone’s e-mail saying that “FYI: Issue is fixed.” At the very least, we need to call the person, explain what is wrong in simple terms – something like “we had a misbehaving application on the terminal server, which was giving you and us the headache” – and explain simply that you worked on it and sort it out. Personally, I go off the limits and I explain them precisely what is wrong: company policies, application incompatibility, backward compatibility issues, why we cannot update or upgrade or even that we, the IT Pros, as the other humans, are sometimes helpless too. And once you explain them, you can send them an e-mail like this: “Dear Ms. Brown, As I explained you on the phone, we have been able to fix this issue. Thank you very much for your patience and assistance.” And without a sloppy language. All e-mail clients offer some kind a spell checking. Use it dammit! Nobody, including you wants to receive an e-mail with a sloppy writing!

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Openness

This is making everyone know how you work, what you do and what do you experience. I am not talking about visiting every desk and telling them your story. What I am telling is not to hide yourself, not to hide what you are doing and not to cover things up. One of the deadliest mistakes that you can do is to think that the more you reveal, the more you will be questioned. It is always just the opposite. The less you conceal, the less you are questioned. Since people know what you are doing, that you are explaining things to them and that they can receive answers when they ask, the less they are curious and they are much more respectful to your job and to yourself. If you are self confident you provide visibility, if not you conceal. It is as simple as that.

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Collaboration

Although you may argue that this should go without saying, I believe it worths mentioning. Yes, as IT pros we collaborate with each other; just look at the wealth of information on the Internet and compare it to any other profession. But we fail to collaborate with our users. Thinking that they are the ones experiencing issues and isolating them from the problem or the solution will not work: from a different point of view, it is isolating yourself. Letting the users working on the solution, providing information, discussing ways to solve problems will make them part of the problem. More, it will change their views on your job and think about you as a colleague, not an isolated person who is paid to fix stuff. When we solve the problems, we have to get in contact and tell them what we have gone through. At the end we become people that are working together, not isolated units pushing each other.

Everything is for the humans: bridges, railways, hospitals, natural wonders and information technologies. Thinking about this in every part of our job and putting in the humanity will make work easier and more enjoyable for everyone, including ourselves. And for the ultimate selfish in yourself, think that the person you are not speaking to may become the CIO in the future.

What do you think? What is the missing human element in the IT pros in your organization? What would you prefer they did? Hit the comments below.

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