Wednesday, February 17, 2010

06. why your IT department hates you volume I: social swiss army knife theory

first in a series.  "volume I" because i'm provided with a near infinite supply of ammunition.  but this one is just a primer.  things you (should) already know, to get you started.

the fact that a large percentage of people really don't see why IT, tech people, and i'll even throw mechanics in here, are bitter in general (especially off the clock)is part of the problem.  stop for a second to think about the last tech person you've talked to (if you are reading this and are a tech or tech-inclined, don't worry about this, as tech to tech communication runs through different protocols).  what was the first thing you said after hi or hello? was there even a hi or hello?  you ask about how they're doing or maybe their weekend plans?  i'm guessing not.  though i've heard it phrased differently almost each of the thousands of times, the direct theme remains wholly unchanged -

"i have a problem, can you fix it for me?"

and most of the time, sure, we can.  but the problem lies not in what we're asked for, but in how we're asked, why we're asked, and on a lot of occasions, the expectation that we can perform magic to fix someone else's screw-up or lack of foresight.

how:  using phrases like "thingy," "box," and incorrectly using names of parts or software interchangeably.  we understand you're not experts, but we're expected to speak your language to solve your issue.  the very least you can do is try to explain your situation to us as clearly as you can.  ambiguities like "it doesn't work" or "it crashed" open up causal chains of, and i'm not exaggerating here, over 100 things that may possibly be wrong with whatever may or may not be working, and on occasion this turns a simple issue into a wild goose chase.  another pet peeve of nerdkind everywhere is casually asking for something ridiculous, and the accompanying surprise when we say no.  "we need the entire thing re-done by tomorrow morning?  what?  you can't?  but it shouldn't take that long!"  if the tables were turned, with a major project within a very limited timeframe, you'd likely tell me to go to hell. 

why:  while this one gets irritating, looking back on it you really have to laugh.  the annoying "why" factor comes more into play as the position of the person requesting help rises.  these are situations where the problem at hand is advertised to be of great importance by someone very high up, so naturally one would have to drop whatever they were doing to go address it.  you put on your game face, grab your tools and get ready to assess the situation and then you learn the grim truth - you just got called away from tracing through a rat's nest of cabling or starting a deployment or recoding the website because someone needs a flash plugin - to watch their kid/grandkid/relative sing/dance/do something funny.  awwww.  magical.

there is, and will always be, some sort of division between two these types of people in the sphere of business and the world and at large - the masses, so called for a reason, and the technocracy.  the masses generally view the technocracy as largely awkward, irritating, and anti-social, and figure that it's "just the way they are."  this adds another layer of exclusion to an already embittered service-oriented social class.

these combined attitudes of many of the masses lead to a belief that technical people themselves are tools to be used, and not actual humans, and makes up what i call social swiss army knife theory.  we have a particular set of skills that allow us to help people make their lives easier, and are many times viewed as those skills only, not actual people.

enter level 2 bitterness.

i know plenty of tech nerds that could carry on detailed and intelligent conversations about politics, philosophy, or economics with anyone who majored in any one of those topics.  on the other hand, i know a ton who like to go out and party and could probably drink you under the table.  on the third hand, i know plenty who can do both.  the funny part is that not a lot of people would know it or really care to find out.

now i'm not whining.  i don't suffer from the stereotypical awkwardness or social ineptitude, and i'm not trying to make the technocracy look like a victim.  like i said, this is first in a series of posts.  there will be one calling for the de-sissyfication of the american nerd.  but in the spirit of this whole damn thing,  i'm just providing you with a viewpoint you may not be used to.  i speak for much of nerdkind, because all they'll really do is curse you under their breath.

so be a little nicer to your local nerd, and remember that he or she isn't a swiss army knife, just a person who knows how to use one.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

05. common damn sense: leggo my lego

there are a lot of times i see news stories that really makes me question humanity's future, mainly because of the leadership of the present.  i fully understand that the world isn't a very friendly place, but there are certain times when people just take things way too far.

what prompted this was a story of a nine year old kid in PS 52 in staten island.  the fourth grader brought his favorite lego toy into school and faced serious consequences as a result.  why?  it fell subject to the school's zero tolerance policy on toy guns at school.

that's right, the pictured toy, which as you can see measures less than 2 inches, was subject to this policy and young patrick timoney faced suspension for his so-called crime.  the department of education does in fact mandate that no replicas of firearms are allowed in schools, but disciplinary action is left up to the discretion of the school's principal, based on if it looks realistic and causes alarm.  the principal of PS 52, evelyn mastroianni, decided to go completely by the book and more, pulling timoney from lunch (where he was playing lego with his friends) and sitting him down, considering the gun and accompanying police officer lego figure a threat and cause for concern.  his mother, laura timoney, was understandably enraged when she came to the school, seeing her son in tears.  his father, retired police officer pat timoney (the reason this was his favorite lego toy) was also justifiably angry, stating that he's dealt with toy gun cases before - where they were used to threaten harm - and that clearly this can't be classified in the same way.  luckily, the department of education administrator that was contacted for this incident determined that no further disciplinary action needed to be taken.

there's a certain point where people in positions of authority need to understand where the spirit of the law is what's called for instead of the absolute letter of the law - TENFOLD when there's children involved.  i think toy gun policies in school are important - glorifying firearm use in a building full of impressionable children doesn't exactly foster the greatest of learning environments.  but it's not like this kid brought in in a replica beretta or desert eagle.  him and his friends weren't "playing guns" at recess.  it was a lego gun, with lego policeman, less than the size of your thumb.  lego.  a nationally accepted, tried and true children's toy.  the principal's decision made a 9 year old kid who loved school (his favorite class is math, all A's too, i think) afraid to go back to school to potentially face the principal again.  i just can't see how this alternative is better - taking the love of learning away from a kid is the most destructive thing someone can do.  even if the letter of the law was properly applied, the toy gun was clearly not even close to real, so authenticity doesn't even come into play.

what happened  to "put those away or you'll lose them until the final bell?"  i mean come on, this isn't exactly the warden catching a prisoner with a shank.

this whole thing could have been avoided, if she just tried to apply some common damn sense.