Reality IT: An Open Letter to Your Users

Whether through ignorance, blatant disregard for corporate policy or sheer unwarranted self-confidence, users have a boundless ingenuity for screwing things up.

April 4, 2006

4 Min Read
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Everyone needs to vent now and then, and IT staff members are no exception. During a recent airing of grievances, one staffer observed that the technological components they care for--the hardware, operating systems, applications and so on--tend to work well. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, once you get a piece of gear up and running, it goes about its job with a minimum of fuss.

The real problem, in his opinion, is end users. Whether through ignorance, blatant disregard for corporate policy or sheer, unwarranted self-confidence, users have a boundless ingenuity for screwing things up.

Having come up through the ranks myself, I understand the frustration. Like other IT professionals, I have horror stories of user-induced mishaps. Of course, I've also caused a few problems, and it stings my pride when I have to concede defeat and take my laptop to the IT support staff for a fix. Imagine a Nascar driver taking his minivan to the shop. I know my staff snickers (albeit discretely) when I ask for help.

But though we might want to laugh in users' faces or whack them on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, I reminded my staff to be unfailingly polite. After all, they are professionals, and a major part of their jobs is to babysit--I mean support--these people.

Meanwhile, I wrote this open letter to our users. We can't actually send it for obvious reasons, but at least it'll make my crew members feel better the next time they help someone out of his or her latest self-inflicted jam. Maybe your IT team will appreciate it, too.Dear Corporate Computer User:

Your IT staff at (insert your company name here) really wants to tell you off, so here goes. There is no such thing as a stupid question, but there is such a thing as a stupid user. I'll give you three guesses as to whom that might be.

You users do the most amazing things, which either drive us nuts or give us a good chuckle. We give you these computers, the network and all the related resources, with support, so you can do your jobs. Not so you can fill your hard disk with MP3 files. Not so you can download porn from your home broadband connection onto your work laptop. Not so you can stream basketball games to your desktop. Not so you can play the "I'm a power user and can configure my own system" game.

We scratch our heads when you manage to insert the power cord of your laptop into one of the non-power ports, or when you ask for help with some program you installed that we don't support. We cringe when we hear you left a $2,000 laptop full of sensitive data in a taxi. We love to get your call from the Far Away Inn at 2 a.m. on a Sunday because you forgot to back up that PowerPoint presentation for your big sales pitch.

Admittedly, you keep us on our toes. The IT staff must work hard to stay ahead of you. Our network engineers have learned to configure our switches to detect more than one MAC address coming through a port at a time in case you set up your own wireless access point. Our software developers try to anticipate every crazy way you'll find to break our applications. Our IT security manager spends most of his time staying ahead of virus, worm and spyware infections caused by your indiscriminate use of e-mail and the Web.Service With a Smile: We'd like to assure you that this letter won't change our relationship. You can come by the helpdesk after spilling your caramel macchiato all over your laptop without worrying that the staff will make fun of you to your face. We'll just keep doing it behind your back.

And if you're concerned because the IT staff has the know-how to read your e-mail, please don't worry. You keep us too busy for such things, and even if we did have the time, we wouldn't invade your privacy. We do have ethics.

But we would like to offer one parting piece of advice. Don't snap naked pictures of yourself and your spouse, save them on your laptop, and turn that laptop in to the helpdesk for repairs. Your photos won't necessarily show up on the Internet, but the IT staff will never look at you (or your spouse) the same way again.

Hunter Metatek is an enterprise IT director with 15 years' experience in network engineering and management. The events chronicled in this column are based in fact--only the names are fiction. Write to the author at [email protected].

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