A Job I’m Glad I Don’t Have

As you might be able to tell from the paucity of episodes here at MR&HBI, I’ve rejoined the ranks of the employed. My writing has taken a real beating, so today I’m going to spend some time writing about work. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

I don’t mind writing software; I’m pretty good at it and I can make pretty decent money doing it. I would much rather write code than dig ditches, for instance, and luckily for me the world has decided that making Web sites is worth more than roadside drainage. (Before you go and say, “that’s because it takes skill and training to make a Web site, but anyone could dig a ditch’, ask yourself – could you dig ditches for a living? If the economy were turned upside-down, that ditch-digger living in his nice house would say, ‘anyone can make a living sitting on their ass in front of a computer, but I dig ditches. I’m glad things are the way they are, is all I’m saying.)

My current job sends me dangerously into territory I don’t much like, however, and that’s the area known as Information Technology. It’s not really a good name for the job, which is about setting up computers and keeping them running. It’s less about making things and more about making things work.

Last night, for instance, I moved the Web product I’m working on to a different server and it didn’t work. Naturally I assumed the problem was in my code (it had worked on that server in the past), so it was several hours later that I discovered that for reasons I still don’t know, the server failed when it tried to compress very large messages. Just *poof* no response beyond the number 500 (something went wrong). To make things more fun the server was specifically set up to not write out a lot of error messages to its log. I turned off the compression feature (with a hammer) and things worked again. Five hours or so spent to add seven characters to a PHP file, to make things work the same way they already did on other servers. Welcome to the world of IT.

I think the original intention of the phrase information technology referred to the the information that would be stored, manipulated, and distributed by machines. What the I really stands for is the vast store of arcane crap you have to know to do that job well. What line of the php.ini file to modify if you want zlib output buffering and utf-8 character encoding. How to set up all the computers in an office to use a local domain name server first. That’s the information in IT.

The worst thing about having an IT job is this, however: When you’re doing a good job, no one notices. When a company is running smoothly, that’s a sign that the IT department can be downsized. There are no problems! What are those guys doing all day? Having things not happen as part of your job description makes for tricky times when you do your job well. Of course, when something does go wrong people know just where to find you.

So if you work in a company that has people on payroll working to keep your technology humming along, cut them a little slack. Someone’s got to do that stuff; be glad it’s not you. I do enough IT now to know that I’d rather let someone else have the pleasure.

4 thoughts on “A Job I’m Glad I Don’t Have

  1. From time immemorial (or at least since I started teaching at this community college in 1998), each academic department has run its own computer lab classrooms. Aside from problems caused by (at some times of the day) having more classes that need labs than there are labs, things have run well. Each department has chosen to run its labs in a way that suits the department.

    Now, as a cost-cutting measure (the Legislature found a way to give us a 4 percent budget cut while calling it a 2 percent cut by assuming that we would get federal stimulus money that hasn’t materialized), all of the computer lab classrooms will be administered by IT Services. This will allow the college to cut the jobs of the people who run the labs for each department, although the IT staff, as far as I know, will not be increased to handle the additional burdens.

    Yeah, I’m glad I don’t work in IT.

    • And now the IT guys have to go into each lab and figure out how it was set up (probably not documented) and try to standardize them. This will be a large effort in terms of time and will lead to a barrage of complaints: “I used to be able to do it this way.” “When Alice ran the lab we never had these problems.”

      • Well, here’s a bit of happy-ish news: Nearly all of the guys who ran the labs for our department are being transferred to IT. They’ll be reporting up a different chain of command, and they’ll have to standardize the labs to institution-wide criteria, but at least the transition will be smoother.

        Of course, if they’re being transferred rather than terminated, that’s good for them (I like them a lot, so I’m glad). However, that doesn’t translate into much cost savings for the college.

        And yeah, most of them are musicians. One of them is a drummer in a pretty good local band.

  2. I always thought “Information Technology” was a PC euphimism for computer worker, ala’ Sanitation Engineer=Garbage Man.
    The other day T and me saw a slightly paunchy guy with a long pony tail. We decided he was either a musician or an IT guy. And noted how so many IT guys play music as a hobby.
    There is a funny UK TV show called “The IT Dept” (I watch it on Netflix streaming). I don’t think it is actually so accurate as to who is really an IT guy, but it is funny nonetheless.

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