Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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Hey New Kid – This Ain’t Google

September 6th, 2007 · 2 Comments

How do you know if your IT job is part of the dark side? Are you employed by a corporation’s IT department? Well then, you’re in the dark side. Here is a list of some of the ways your corporate IT job is dramatically different from our cousins over at Google, Microsoft, and any other company that actually sells software.

Nobody sells your work product.
Don’t try to tell me about chargeback to the business, or how we have to convince our business partners to “pay” for our budget each year. While there is salesmanship involved, it is not the same as having a job where you create a product that is sold on the free market. There is at least one degree of separation between what you produce and the company’s product. This means your work product and the company’s competitive advantage do not have a direct relationship. Doing what you do better than everyone else doesn’t often mean the company will be more successful in the marketplace. If your lucky, your work product will have an indirect relationship on competitive advantage, meaning your work influences your company’s ability to sell, market, or produce its product in a positive way. Most of the time, jobs in an IT department don’t have this type of strategic relationship. Instead they are either essential (meaning screwing up hurts the business, but being a rock star doesn’t help them) or non-essential (meaning whether you do a good job or not, that train just keeps on chugging).

Most people are average
Remember that coding genius you sat next to in college? The one who could do anything in code, but couldn’t manage to get his pants and shirt on in the right direction two days in a row? That guy doesn’t work here. Corporate IT departments are very poor at hiring talented people. They are easily suckered by good resumes, clean clothes, and decent interview skills, attributes that have nothing to do with how well a person can code. Ubergeniuses don’t work here, as a general

rule. Instead, corporate IT is full of people who are on average, just average. What that means is a very large portion of an IT department are of below average intelligence, just like the normal population.

Get used to being outrun by snails
Corporate IT departments don’t change quickly, and certain processes can be particularly painful. Some common IT processes that can take forever and are buried in red tape, and often do, include:

  • Purchasing a new server.
  • Getting non-standard software or hardware.
  • Getting a project approved.
  • Hiring a new employee, no matter how desperately needed they are.
  • Like butter scraped across too much bread
    Thank you, Bilbo Baggins, for capturing one of the most frustrating aspects of corporate IT: multi-project multi-tasking. Employees in corporate IT are often regarded as “SME’s”, subject matter experts, not technical experts. There is an important distinction in this. A SME knows a system or business process like their own brother, whereas a technical expert has great technical expertise. The value of a SME is derived from her historical relationship with a particular business application, and as a result her SME-ness is almost always needed on multiple projects at once. What this means is most IT people who get really good at a particular application migrate to a “coordinator” role, where they support multiple projects but don’t do technical work. Goodbye skills. Goodbye technical adventure. Hello, stuck like glue to this application until it is retired, by which time your technical skills will be little more than a memory.

    Get ready to watch contractors do all the fun work
    Remember multi-project multi-tasking? That means your only assigned to a project a portion of the time, ranging anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. No project manager with any experience is going to assign you to important technical deliverables with this kind of unpredictable allocation. You are a risk to their project. The hard technical work, the fun stuff, is going to be assigned to someone who is 100 percent allocated to their project. Who are these lucky devils? Contractors. Not employees.

    Crappy equipment
    Corporate IT departments tend to buy crappy computers. As a result, you and your colleagues will have much better computers at home than at work. You’ll use operating systems that are several years behind the marketplace. New versions of software will come out and you won’t be able to use

    them. Why? Because they haven’t been “approved” yet. It takes time to demonstrate that a new product will work in your environment, and corporate IT isn’t particularly motivated to do this quickly.

    Hardware hoarding
    Crappy equipment means lower productivity. Lower productivity is frustrating. So, when you see a contractor leave, meaning a monitor is now being unused, you’re going to swipe it, if you have any sense. Then you’re going to figure out how to set your computer up using dual monitors, without being detected by the hardware police. This is called hardware hoarding – snagging useful equipment when you can.

    This list can go on and on, and it will. I’ll post a part two eventually.

    Dave Christiansen, Managing Editor

    Dave Christiansen is the founder and managing editor of
    TechDarkSide.com. He manages projects for a Fortune 100 financial services company and writes and talks about project management. He can be reached at dave@techdarkside.com.

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    Tags: Job Advice

    2 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Mike Herrick // Sep 6, 2007 at 9:50 am

      The thing is it isn’t actually like this everywhere. Every industry has companies that understand that IT is a strategic asset – not just a cost center.

      And I think some cages are going to get rattled in the next decade as technology is more and more pervasive and more and more companies realize that they are actually really technology companies or dual-purposed (part technology / part x) and perhaps they should start behaving like it.

    • 2 David Christiansen // Sep 10, 2007 at 6:34 am

      My observation about is that the factors I describe above vary geographically, depending on whether the IT department has to compete with real software companies for talent. If they don’t, they tend to be “darker” than those that do. As a result, the closer you are to major technology corridors you are the better it will be.

      I think Progressive is a good example of a dual-purposed company. They get the importance of technology. That’s why they are kicking butts in consumer auto insurance.

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