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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Aug 24 2010

“There’s a guy outside…

Church was over and Tim came and got me and Rob.

“There’s a guy outside and he says he wants to talk to a ‘church leader.'”

Rob and I look at each other and go outside. The guy is tall and thick-built, middle-aged. He has a medium-sized brown and white dog.

“I drove out here from St. Louis looking for work….”

It’s a long story and haltingly told, he said, because he was so tired and lethargic. He said he had work lined up, he was just waiting for a callback. He had panhandled enough money for gas, but he had nothing to eat.

Our church doesn’t have a food pantry, but Rob and I said we would check the kitchen and see what we could find. We found some leftovers from breakfast the day before: biscuits, bacon, sausage, homemade apple spice cake, orange juice. We cut the biscuits and heated them up with the bacon and sausage, and put everything in a grocery bag with a tract and a couple of cold bottled waters, some napkins, jelly, and utensils. One of my students included some donuts he purchased that morning. Finally we poured him some hot coffee from our inter-service carafe. It wasn’t fine dining, but it was fresh and hot.

Mr. St. Louis didn’t seem very happy and quickly left. He refused the coffee so I enjoyed that myself. Within a couple of minutes Rob was back in the kitchen–with the bag of food. Apparently as he walked back to his van St. Louis had said bitterly:

“Thanks for the leftovers. Hope there’s no mold on them!”

He had left the whole bag on the sidewalk. He didn’t even take the non-leftover bottled waters.

Of course we had realized that he might have been expecting us to give him money, but, on the other hand, there have been people who passed through professing hunger who were only looking for something to eat–and who never asked for a dime.

Still, St. Louis’s unabashed rudeness was kind of a surprise. I mean, it’s one thing to try to grift a small church, but it’s another thing to act indignant when they don’t fall for your grift. Of course, if you are willing to grift a church, there’s probably a very short list of things that are beneath you (though, apparently, eating leftovers is on that list).

It would be easy to say that in the future we just tell people who show up at church for purposes other than worship to hit the road, but we’re not going to let the occasional thief keep us from giving to others in need.

The whole experience still kind of irked me even after we went home for lunch.

And ate leftovers.

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