Apr 7 2013

First two rules of I.T.

Note: if you don’t work in I.T., this post might be a little too cynical for you. In that case, you will just want to move on to the next post.

For the rest of us, however….


Every profession has its own list of rules for succeeding, and I.T. is no different. Unfortunately, our rules are a bit more cynical than others:

  1. Don’t trust the user
  2. Cover yourself

1. Don’t trust the user. The reasons you don’t trust the user are:

a) the user is probably incorrect and/or

b) the user is lying.

1a. The User Is Incorrect. Why might I surmise that the users are incorrect? Sometimes it’s simply because they are ignorant, and that is fine. It is OK to be ignorant, but you still may be wrong. Sometimes it is because they’re dumb and they don’t want to change. Changing from being dumb involves effort, and once you know how to do something you are responsible to do it. So some users stay dumb, so that everything can be I.T.’s fault. We frequently hear this from users:

“I’m just not very good with these computers.”

The first personal computer came out in 1976. One year before Star Wars. If personal computers were people they would already be middle-aged, on their second mortgage, and worrying about life insurance and their kids’ braces. Thirty freaking six years personal computers have been available. Thanks to the internet, widely available for at least 15 years, there are more free resources to help you use these newfangled contraptions than ever before in human history.

Another reason is pride. On a consistent basis we ask people to see if something is plugged in or not. Sometimes they get huffy about it. “Of course it’s plugged in! I’m not stupid!”

We in I.T. love this sentence. One, it conveys that the user hates us. But we don’t hate them–until now. Two, it conveys that the user is in fact stupid. The key differences between simple ignorance and actual stupidity is that ignorance is not in and of itself bad, and ignorant people can learn and be less ignorant. Stupid people cannot learn–because they refuse to. Third, we love this sentence because we work in a profession where we plug and unplug things to and from other things ALL DAY LONG.

Guess what? Sometimes we do it wrong. Sometimes we assume something is plugged in and it isn’t. Sometimes it really, really looked like it was plugged in–and it wasn’t. We ask ‘is it plugged in’ because we have learned the hard way from experience that sometimes stuff isn’t plugged in–no matter how much you would have sworn on your child’s life that it was.

1b. The User Is Lying. Why might I surmise that they are lying? Because they are still breathing and I can see their mouth moving. Nah, I’m just joshing ya. Sadly, however, part of my job involves having people ring my phone and lie to me. All. Day. Long. I surmise that a user is lying because a lot of users lie. Yes, I know this is stereotyping, but if you are going to cover yourself (see point 2) this is something you should assume.

2. Why should you cover yourself? See 1b.


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Feb 8 2012

Quotable: two from Theodore Roosevelt

“Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.”

“Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.”

It is difficult to cull from Theodore Roosevelt’s vast store of brilliant quotes. I was barely aware of him outside of Looney Toons caricatures until I read James Chace’s 1912, about the 1912 election between Woodrow Wilson, Eugene Debs, William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt. It was clear from the book who the author’s favorite was.

Later I read Candice Millard’s  River of Doubt, about TR’s ‘vacation’ float up an undiscovered tributary of the Amazon river. When I was telling my pa-in-law about these, he told me that in his grandfather’s eyes, Theodore Roosevelt ranked right behind Jesus. He later gave me Christmas gift of Edmund Morris’s Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which chronicles TR’s life from birth to the end of the vice presidency.

All three books were excellent. However, no matter how cynical you think you might be regarding American politics, you will find you probably aren’t jaded enough.

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