The Misunderstanding of Information Technologists

Sep 14 09

The Misunderstanding of Information Technologists

Paul Weinstein

In many ways an employee in a business
with any significant headcount has to deal with the same social
constructs as any student in high school. Social groups, pressures
and mores impact decisions and actions just as much as the
organizational chart. Alas this also means that stereotypes and group
labels can quickly impact how various teams and business
organizations perceive themselves and others.

For IT Professionals this of course
means retaining the label of “geek, nerd, dork and dweeb” along with an
equivalent high school social hierarchy, low man on the totem-pole.
Which means IT Professionals can end up in a lose-lose situation
where an executive or manager might perceive an IT geek as
antisocial, bullheaded and business-challenged.

But in an opinion piece last week for
Computerworld Jeff Ello, an IT manager for the Krannert School of
Management at Purdue University, feels that at the heart of the
matter, IT Professionals are simply just misunderstood.

That is, IT Professionals are
analytical individuals that can empower those around them and that
their behaviors and intentions are simply misread. What might look to
one manager as an individual that can’t accept the manager’s decision
on how something is to be done is really an individual who is
fighting for something to be done in a logical and effective manner.
“It’s not about being right for the sake of being right but being
right for the sake of saving a lot of time, effort, money and

His opinion puts one in mind of Mike
Judge’s movie Office Space in which programmers Peter, Michael and
are terrorized by Initech’s demanding and perplexing management team,
personified by the company’s Vice President, Bill Lumbergh. But the
appeal of a movie such as Office Space is that one doesn’t have to be
a programmer to have ever felt terrorized by an impersonal business
executive. A customer service representative can feel equally

Yes, of course Executives should look
at IT department as they would any revenue generating organization in
general and not as some group of misbehaving malcontents. Each
organization and individual, taken at face value, is an important
asset to the business, with specific skills that can benefit a
company. For IT this means bringing strong creative and analytical
abilities to the table, skills that can be brought to bear on just
about any business problem.

In noting that within the analytical
skill set, “at the most fundamental level” of IT’s job is “to
build, maintain and improve frameworks” Jeff Ello reminds us of
what IT can do best, bring about significant strategic advantage for
the business.

However, for whatever reason Jeff Ello
seems interested more in trying to justify the specific social group
and mores of IT Professionals than he seems in communicating how
those misunderstood stereotypes can be overcome. For whatever
grievance or special treatment he might wish to argue to the
world’s collection of Executives on behalf of IT Professionals, it
should be noted that in the end, we all want the same thing, for
whatever enterprise we find ourselves engaged in to succeed. For that
is what differentiates business from high school.

In any case, it works both ways. If IT
Professionals are going to gain the respect of those Executives and
Managers in endeavors great and small, technical and non-technical
alike, it also means that IT Professionals need to understand the
rules of the game governing Executives and business. It is time for
both groups to shed past stereotypes and move on to bigger and better

1 And
of course Milton, can’t forget about him. He can set fire to this
place, you know?