IT Tharn or Nirvana?

Due to the high-tech slowdown, I’m out of a job. I’ve been busting my butt daily to try to find one yet I keep dreaming of the perfect job.
“Welcome Bob. Please, have a seat. My name is Athena and I run the IT department around here. I’d be your boss if you were hired on for this position. Let me first tell you about us and ensure that you’d like to work for us before we go much further.” She leaned against the corner of her desk.

“I report to the head of the company. He believes and I agree, in direct communication. He sees our job in IT as providing employees with the right tool to do the job. We also agree that IT is not the sole domain of any one platform. When we go shopping for technology, we go shopping for the best solution available. When we get a new hire say in, accounting, or marketing or even a receptionist, we like to empower our people with options and tools that will work best for them. If they want a PC running Win2K, no worries, we get it for them. If they want a Mac running OS 9, hey, we get it for them. If they want a laptop we get it for them. There is no, “One size fits all” around here. We provide as much a custom solution as is reasonably possible. If they have no clue what they want, well we talk with them one on one and discuss the options available to them. Sometimes I even see it as providing “IT Counseling” to our employees. It’s simple, we provide IT Solutions, not IT Rhetoric. What good is IT to one of our employees if they can’t get the work done they were hired to do?
She tried to judge my response by my face. Unsure she asked, “We on the same page so far here?”

It must have looked like my eyes had glazed over and either didn’t understand or didn’t agree. The fact was, I was in IT tharn. I couldn’t believe that she had said what she just said. She just told me the entire company and IT department wasn’t about rules and regulations! It was a company that listened to their employees and provided them with “solutions” and not “rules,” an IT department that was more interested in getting you the tools to get your work done instead of dictating how you did it? No wonder it looked like I wasn’t in agreement, I felt like I had died and entered an IT Nirvana.

“OH YEAH! We’re on the same page!” I blurted out suddenly. I was a little off kilter. I’m used to interviewing. I’m am great in interviews because I can think so well on my feet but I had been surprised that anyone would want to tell me about their company first… find out if I liked the way they did business before they found out about me. Normally when you go into interviews they are so into controlling the situation and hold their cards close to their vests.

“You see, we look at IT as being an ally to the employees and other departments, not as adversaries. They know the company doesn’t make money unless they can get their work done and they can’t get their work done unless our technology works for them. So I need people that will support our vision of technology and how we support technology around here. That means Macs, PCs, OS X, OS 9, XP, desktops, laptops, telecommuting, whatever. So does that vision make sense to you?”
I regained my interview legs by now, “Oh man, does it ever. That’s what I’ve always thought what IT was about, providing solutions.” I let my natural enthusiasm come out at this point and she could feel it. She smiled and knew she could move on to the next part of the interview.

She sat down at her desk. “Looks like you have a lot of PC experience. Is that your specialty?”

“PCs? I know quite a bit about them but if I were to say I had a specialty, I’d say it was definitely Macintoshes. Especially now that OS X is becoming more widely adopted. My previous UNIX experience comes in real handy. Though I’ve not had a chance to use it in a support position before.”

“What’s your skill level on the Mac?”

“I’d say, I’m pretty expert on Classic OS and intermediate on OS X. I’ve switched entirely over to OS X within the last six months and I enjoy hacking it at the root level.”

“What programs do you use on your Mac?”

“You name it… I pretty much use it. I use many Adobe applications. I love InDesign; I’m at an intermediate level there. I’m still a novice at Photoshop but use it in producing my photography. I’m really beginning to like Illustrator. I use MS’s Office, just so that I could get knowledge and experience with it. I still use FreeHand via classic and of course the web browsers etc.”

“So you’ve got experience using Adobe apps. Do you use the native OS X versions?”

“Yes, I waited to upgrade to them until I had pretty much nailed down using OS X on a daily basis. Once I got Classic tamed under OS X, there wasn’t much standing in the way of using it daily. Then, as the Adobe Apps came out, I’d upgrade as soon as I was fiscally able to do so. InDesign was first, then I finally got Illustrator and now Photoshop. I haven’t bothered with FreeHand as I’ve heard the X version just isn’t that fast but since 9.0 works so well in classic, that hasn’t been an issue.”

“What about Apple’s included Apps? AppleWorks, iPhoto, iMovie, etc.? Think you could support them?”

Now here is where I’d normally bluff in an interview and talk big. This was different and though I didn’t want to blow the job, she had a very honest personality and had taken a much different approach than I’d seen in an interview and certainly had a much different view of how IT works. I couldn’t lie. “Could I support them? Yes, with additional training. Could I use my past experience and knowledge of computers, software and what not to ‘get by,’ absolutely. Depends on what you consider support as well. Often, the end user is simply unaware of a feature and or how to do what they want. So if someone said, ‘How do I change my margins?’ I’d be good to go. If someone wanted me to get deep into advanced features of a program, I’d be at a loss because, those aren’t my main applications.”

“So what would you do if you got to a user’s desk and didn’t know how to fix their problem?

“Honestly? It would depend a lot on the attitude of both the user and the people I work with in IT as to how I’d handle the situation.” Her eyes perked up as I said that. “If the person was desperate to fix their problem because they were under a serious deadline my gut reaction is to call and find out who the ‘expert’ is on that particular application or hardware. If it wasn’t a critical issue, I’d be more inclined to try to track it down myself.”
“Why is that?”

“You really want to know?” I said it in such a manner that he knew I was going to be brutally honest.

“Yes.” He seemed almost eager with anticipation.

“Well, one of the reasons I have learned so much about computers is that I…” I trailed off. But her face reflected an encouraging look that seemed say Go on, tell me. I’ve got to know. “The reason I know so much is because I hate relying on IT Techs to come to my desk and fix my system. Even when I began working in IT support, most IT people can be down right unprofessional in how they treat end users and their co-workers.”

A sly grin began to curl on her face as I continued. “I’d rather figure it out myself and be spared the huffing and puffing and the condescending attitude and borderline abuse that many techs exhibit when they come to a user’s desk.”
“BINGO!” she exclaimed. “Exactly what we will not and cannot abide here, bad attitudes.”

I went into IT tharn again. She laughed when she saw my face. She spoke quickly before she lost me, “So if you’re and end user, not a tech, you’d rather figure it out on your own, costing the company money than have it fixed and get back to work?”

“Well, if any of my past jobs were any indication, yes.”

“Do you think that makes sense?”

“No, but better that than spend the rest of the day recovering from the tech’s negative attitude. Especially since so often the problem doesn’t get fixed.”
“What would be the perfect way to handle that problem in your mind? You’re still the tech, you’re at the end user’s desk and you determine what the problem is generally but can’t resolve it. What would be the perfect way to handle that?” Again, the look on her face said that she really wanted to know my honest opinion.

“Ideally?” I paused wondering how honest I’d be. “Ideally, once I concluded, I didn’t have the where with all to fix the problem, I’d have at least concluded what the problem was and would have a resource name I could contact on my team. I’d call them, explain the situation and if possible, they’d talk me through the solution over the phone in as a professional enthusiastic manner as possible.” She still encouraged me to go on. “I’d fix the problem, show the end user it was fixed, teach the end user how to avoid it in the future and move on. Preferably with enough time to document the fix for future reference.”

“Bingo!” she said. “That brings us to another way we do things around here, attitude. We believe in being upbeat and positive. We believe getting the end user up and running is primary. We also believe that not every tech has every answer and we believe in a zone defense, not man to man.”

I knew what he meant. She meant that there would be specialists on various software and platforms. There would always be a go-to guy for any issue and if the go-to guy didn’t have the answer there would still be other resources.
“So what if your call to the ‘expert’ couldn’t resolve the issue over the phone?”

“Ideally, I’d hand it off to them, or better yet, they could break free and come to the desk while I was still there. Both of us providing the same level of customer service, I learn a little from him about his area of expertise and we both solve the problem. Just as I’d do the same if there were a problem he couldn’t solve and it was one of my areas of expertise. We compare notes at the end, kind of a review and then move on.”

“Customer service?”

“Yes, customer service. Right then and there, that end user is my customer, not just my co-worker. Just as when the expert gets there I become his customer as well as my customer becomes his, in part.”

“Bob, welcome aboard. That is, if you’re interested in the position.”
I was shocked. I didn’t even get do my spiel about my customer service. How three different customers in two separate industries have literally said, “You’re the Nordstrom of…” fill in the blank. I didn’t get to go on about my tech skills etc. Though all that was in my rŽsumŽ’

“Well, yes.” I said hesitantly and still confused.

“What else do you would you like to know?”

“Well, what do you want me to do? And for how much?”

“I’d like to start you out supporting OS 9 and X and related software, especially for our marketing and art departments. They are transitioning over to X very soon. I’d like to start you out at a Tech II level II pay, though I fully expect you to be at Tech II level three by your 90 day review. At that same meeting, I’d like to work with you on how we go about charting a course to make you to an OS X System Administrator. Would you be interested in going that way? We’re already pretty sure we’re going to be buying those new Xserve rackmounts and we want to have a system admin. For them.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Nope.” she said with a smile. “We believe that employees are our partners. You help us and we help you. It’s a symbiotic, not parasitic relationship. As you grow, we grow as well by your additional knowledge and expertise.”

“You got a deal!” I stood up and shook her hand. “When do I start?”

“Tell you what. Why don’t you come back on Monday next week? Take the rest of this week and enjoy it and relax. I want you rested and prepared for what lies ahead.”

“Again, it’s a deal! Thanks!”

I walked out of the office dazed and thrilled. I knew I’d work hard, maybe harder than I’d done in previous jobs but I knew I’d never be ‘Tired’ of it.
Then I get another e-mail from wondering if I have any MS certifications; I search on and only find two hits for Mac OS, both of which are for ISP helpdesk support. Argh! Come on Apple, fire up IT with your superior solutions, NOW!

Bob McCormick

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