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mutual animosity
why you hate your it department, and why it hates you
by erik lars myers (@TopFermented)

Confession time: I'm a recovering IT Support Staff Person. I have been off the wagon for 1 year, 8 months, 22 days and 4 hours.

I think I cried with happiness the day that I stopped doing tech support.

I was great tech support. I'm not shy about it. I know that I was and I know why: Not only do I know my way around the guts of a computer, I can teach myself how to use pieces of software with relative ease, and on top of all that I have actual communication skills. I can speak to people about their computer without intimidating them. That makes me great tech support.

It also makes me the perfect person to bridge the tenuous gap in between two separate and disparate worlds. I know why you hate your IT Staff and why they hate you. What's worse? It's just about the same reason.

Here's the thing: the people who can best deal with computer problems are also the ones who are most likely to have absolutely no good way to tell you about it. Sad, but true. Blame probably goes back to middle school somewhere, but I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the fact that at some point somebody decided that the best thing to do would be to put these people into a customer support position. It seems like some sort of cruel joke.

I find that in order for the two sides (users vs. IT) to get along, it's really helpful to actually understand the position of the opposing faction. Let me see if I can break it down for you.

User perspective:

IT is a bunch of obnoxious jerks that constantly act like they don't have time for you.

When you have a real problem that needs to be dealt with immediately, they will put you off and talk to you like an idiot until they finally show up and mostly fix the problem without telling you what it is or how they're doing it.

They will constantly just ask you to reboot the computer instead of trying to actually address the problem and then not tell you why that should help.

Occasionally, they will show up and say cryptic things like, "I need to do something to your computer." with no regard to your schedule. Or worse, you will return from lunch to find your computer rebooted with a note from IT saying, "I had to do something to your computer."

They have no respect for the fact that they are there to support your work.

IT perspective:

Users are a bunch of obnoxious jerks that constantly act like you exist merely to serve them.

They will never open a phone call with "Hello" they will open with "Help" or "Something is broken."

Regardless of what you might be doing, they expect you to stop immediately and tend to their every whim.

They fail to execute even basic procedures no matter how many times they're asked to do it. They refuse to use the "Help" function in any application. The question "Have you rebooted?" will invariably be answered with "No" regardless of the fact that it has been demonstrated to them time and time again that it will resolve 90% of the problems they have.

In most cases, it is faster to go to them and fix their problem than it is to try to explain to them how to do it on their own.

They have no respect for the fact that you have more work to do than dealing with their measly minimal problems.

What both sides are missing:


Users tend to treat IT like lackeys. Chances are, unless you're working for a giant corporation, and maybe even then, those guys that you're calling for tech support have other things to do aside from waiting for your phone call.

Every time the phone rings, they have to drop what they're doing to deal with you. And that means every single one of you. You might notice that one IT guy is probably helping 30 to 40 people, or maybe more. I was doing tech support for 80. If 10% of those people have 1 problem per day that takes an hour to deal with each, the day is over. Screw lunch break.

Tech support isn't fun. It's a day full of dealing with unhappy people who either have insanely easy (i.e. why did you call me) problems or insanely difficult (i.e. I can't fix this in one day) problems, all of which need to be dealt with immediately. Also, while you're dealing with them, voice mail is being filled up by other unhappy people.

What IT tends to forget is that they are in a customer support position. Really for truly, their job is to get all of these phone calls and deal with them, regardless of how irritating they might be.

If a user is calling, chances are it's because their ability to work has been compromised entirely. The easiest way to stop them from bothering you is to get them into a position where they can do their work again. Constantly putting them off will just make them angrier and more irritating.

How it should all go down:

People need to treat computers like cars.

If you were hiring for a job that required driving, you wouldn't hire somebody who didn't know how to drive. You probably wouldn't even hire them and expect them to learn how to drive. You would make the ability to drive a requirement for the job.

You wouldn't call your mechanic and say, "I need help now." You would ask if you could set up an appointment. You would show up at the prescribed time, drop your car off and wait for it to be finished. You wouldn't stand around and watch over the mechanic's shoulder, nor would you fiddle with the car trying to fix it yourself unless you actually knew what you were doing. Google is not enough for car repair.

On the other hand, your mechanic shouldn't just show up and tinker with your car without explaining what they did and why. If a mechanic didn't explain what they did to your car, or were rude in the way they did it, you would get a new mechanic. The same thing should apply to support staff.

In all of these transactions people are polite to each other. You are polite to your mechanic because he is going to fix your car for you and he knows more about your car than you do. Your mechanic is polite to you because he is receiving money in return for the transaction and because he knows more about your car than you do. It's all pretty simple, if you really think about it.


Writer, beer drinker, brewer. Not necessarily in the order. For more, check Top Fermented and Mystery Brewing Company.

more about erik lars myers


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sandra thompson
4.18.08 @ 9:27a

One of my grandgeeks used to be in IT tech support and I learned from his complaints about "us" and he learned from my complaints about "them." The whole thing boils down to manners. If we'd all just remember the manners we learned in dancing school at age six, and practice them, the world would be a better place. Putting other people down, which is a form of rudeness, is an unforgivable sin. BTW, my grandgeek told me that the reason IT tech people ask if the computer is plugged in is because, believe it or not, often it is not. Well, duh!!!! OFTEN, he said. Sometimes "we" can be soooooo dumb. Anyway, thanks, Erik, for reminding us to mind our manners.

erik myers
4.18.08 @ 9:38a

Quite seriously - the reason that IT starts with the really stupid questions: "Is it on?" "Is it plugged in?" "Is it out of paper?" "Have you rebooted?" etc. is not because they're trying to belittle people, it's because a great majority of the time, that is actually the problem.

russ carr
4.18.08 @ 11:25a

There are days I believe I have an invisible "I know more about computers than you" sign tattooed on my forehead, and only people who represent the "you" can see it. I'm not IT. I've never been hired in that capacity, nor has it ever been even a buried line item in a job description for any position that I've held.

And yet.

Whether it's been in a full-time job or even now, as a temp, people make a beeline to my desk when there's a problem. It doesn't help that I seem to end up at companies where the existing IT department is either 1) hopelessly slaved to making sure the network itself doesn't crash on a daily basis; 2) located offsite, in another part of town, as with my last two companies; 3) non-existent. Showing up at the door of these places is like riding into some frontier town as the Man With No Name. They don't know who I am, they have no particular reason to trust me, and yet SOMEHOW they're certain I can help them.

At my last assignment, which was ultimately quashed because the network here in St. Louis was being crippled by the network in Boston, I was attempting to explain the reason why a whole bunch of files wouldn't open to the woman who was ostensibly my supervisor. At one point she stated, "You know, you're talking to me like I'm a fifth grader." I probably blushed, and began to apologize, and she interrupted me: "No, no, that's GOOD! This is the first time I've been able to understand all this technical stuff."

So as a non-IT IT guy, let me tell all you users out there: We don't really think you're fifth graders. We're not trying to demean you. But if you started talking to us about whatever area of expertise you operate in, our eyes would probably glaze over, too. If you try and get a technnical explanation from us, it's only going to make you frustrated at your low comprehension level (which will only reinforce your baseless supposition that you don't/can't understand your computer, and that's exactly what we don't want to do) and make us look more like elitists, which we really aren't.

If you honestly want to know what the problem is, and how to avoid it in the future, then allow us to explain in terms we expect you can understand. Otherwise, don't ask questions, and trust us to get the job done.


jael mchenry
4.18.08 @ 11:33a

When I worked in the computer lab in college, I remember people thinking they'd lost their entire thesis when in fact they'd just left the computer too long and the screen saver had kicked in.

I've been in the position of the "expert" and I've been in the position of the idiot who just wants the thing to start working again... it really is just common courtesy that's needed to keep the relationship healthy. The car-mechanic metaphor is a good one.

lucy lediaev
4.18.08 @ 4:29p

I agree with the courtesy issue. We have a competent IT staff where I work. I can solve most day-to-day problems myself, but my whole work life revolves around my computer. So, when I call, I do need help. Typically, I get the help, but I have no idea if anything has been done, when it was done, and if further work is needed.

I don't want to be sexist, but the best thing that has happened to our IT department is the addition of a US Army trained female tech who communicates. I know what she is doing, why she is doing it, and when she'll be done. She also tests her fixes to make sure they work before she leaves my computer. What a pleasure it is to deal with her! The males in support seem to be following her lead, and they, too, are learning to communicate. Maybe they are learning that they have fewer irate or confused customers when they simply talk to them.

erik myers
4.19.08 @ 11:41a

It's not sexist. The part that you're finding good is not that she's a female, it's that she communicates.

We've got plenty of women in IT who are just as uncommunicative as the men.

erik myers
5.7.08 @ 11:53a

Just testing something.

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