Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lost in Translation

The longer I continue in my career many things keep getting easier. Experience fills in the knowledge gaps. There's one thing that remains frustratingly difficult though: dealing with non-technical people. Often, when I've sat down with other tech workers and healthy doses of beer, the conversation seems to inevitably turn to non-technical users.

"This job wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the users."

Experience naturally teaches us how to interact with non-technical users. You step on a lot of toes and hurt some feelings along the way but often the frustration remains even when you can gracefully talk a user back from the ledge and solve their problem. (True story: I've walked into an office once to find a user with gun drawn on his computer. Not even joking.) As technicians we can often look past the technophobia, the lack of understanding, even the anger that users are experiencing. The ignorance and the willful disinterest are much harder to accommodate.

There seems to be an inherent disconnect between non-technical users and IT staff. I'm convinced that much of it has to do with the way our minds work but also in the way we approach technology, our methods for dealing with new information and tools.

I think the best thing we can do to help bridge the gap between user and technical staff is eliminate the silo-ing of employees to some extent. We keep the IT folks in the basement - out of sight, separated off from the good-looking people in sales, no windows. Why do we do this? For one thing, IT staff embrace the separation. We're not usually cuddly or necessarily good with people. The separation is also a symptom of the way business tends to look at technology and IT staff; The viewpoint is that IT is not part of the business but rather a facility we just toss money at.

As an industry, IT needs to get people skills. The helpdesk needs to be social not just in the Social Media sense but in the squishy human contact sense. Bad people skills should not be tolerated any more. Its driving people to use Shadow IT solutions and doing bad things to business.

IT is people.