Disillusioned With IT? No, just the bullshit parts.

Slashdot | Disillusioned With IT?

I usually keep a dichotomy between my work life and my blogging life, primarily out of self-defense. Blogging about the latest that's going on at work, generally speaking, is a fast-track ride to not having a job at all. However, this article on Slashdot not only spoke to me, but it reinforced something that's been bugging me for the past few years of my working career.

I've noticed in the IT departments I've enjoyed working in that there's a certain sense of "maverick chutzpah" in them. The mantra is to get things done, and get them done effectively and quickly. The management helps by smoothing out the political bullshit that lurks throughout the corporation, and by keeping the team focused on what the end goal is. They may not be coders themselves, but they know that shielding their employees from the machinations of the other departments makes for a better work environment. They wrestle special privileges out of other departments that would normally make working difficult, such as root access, database administrator access, or faster development machines. They even go so far as to tacitly allow machines that aren't IT standards if only for the short term. (Nobody wants a mission-critical desktop machine. :) ) They make sure their coders can do their work.

Conversely, the IT departments I haven't enjoyed are those where the development staff has to know the intricate details of how other departments work in order to do their job. Nothing gets accomplished without management or senior management approval, and tasks that should take seconds with the right privileges take days or worse. Access to production environments is kept away from the developers. Code promotions and testing is all done with laborious manual processes because the coders aren't trusted.

IT departments are ultimately a creation of the groups of people working in them. IT departments that work well are those who are engaged with the technology they work with, and see it as a resource. IT departments that don't work are those who begrudgingly give access to those who aren't part of their cliques. They view the users of those technologies as ultimately hostile to the whole enterprise, and view their co-workers with suspicion. These environments are a byproduct of being burned one too many times by being trusting and open with people. They are paranoid, and unproductive places to work. There is no trust.

Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.
(Dee Hock, quoted in Getting Things Done by David Allen)

There's a notion in IT departments called Shadow IT. Shadow IT is generally regarded as a pox or blight in the organization. These Shadow IT organizations usually consist of folks who are not happy with their current service level in the IT organization, so they pool their resources together to create new systems. In healthy IT departments, Shadow IT can be a disruptive force, and should be regarded much the same way that rapid pockets of rogue growth are regarded in healthy bodies. But if the IT department is unhealthy, and if the IT organization is diseased with regulation and bureaucracy, are these rogue Shadow IT departments to be regarded as freedom fighters? Are we talking about rebellion in the Star wars sense, where the rebels were the good guys?

It's easy to get discouraged with how IT operates. Lord knows the last few years of my life have been fraught with this malaise that the author of the Slashdot article refers. Rather than give up on IT, though, I think it's better to reflect on why it was you got into computers in the first place. It's easy to get wrapped up in the bureaucracy of the organization you're in, but it's harder to step back and see that these machines and users aren't the core of the problem. Maybe it's time for IT departments to start embracing some of the ideals that start up Shadow IT in the first place. Maybe it's time for some of these IT departments to release their control on the machines. Maybe it's time management realizes what their employees are capable of, and allows them to have the freedom to be creative.

Maybe it's time the bullshit stopped.