System Support

We are 800 years away from being a real industry with meaningful letters after our names

We are not gods; we are barely people

The editor of a community newspaper in Vancouver, the Westender, recently wrote an article entitled “Who died and made Systems People gods?”

I was idly leafing through the publication while waiting for a meal order, when Carlyn Yandle’s article jumped out at me. She mocked IT people effectively. Her key points, worth taking to heart, are:

– IT people don’t make sense. “Are they a cult or something?”

– We have no emotions. “Most of the time they’re interfacing with the office computers, oblivious to their surroundings …”

– We make sure the users have no skills. “One moment your screen is frozen, next thing you know that new program has rendered all your knowledge of the old program useless.”

– We blame the users. Don’t need to quote her; my current project would truly benefit from intelligent customers.

– We don’t respond to problems. “We’re all imagining those missing-in-action Systems People holed up somewhere, slopping their Meat Lovers’ sub into their keyboards while playing those creepy marathon CD-ROM games.”

So along with horrible customer service we have problems with food. I’m not sure about the food – I’ve seen and smelled some interesting things at people’s desks – but I have been baffled by IT BS on many occasions. Fortunately, the more I do project management, the less nonsense I’m willing to tolerate.

As an industry, we have problems with consistency. When it comes to technical standards, I figure binary, hex and ASCII are here to stay, but anything past that is a crapshoot. As for professional standards, CIPS has been trying to get their ISP designation generally accepted, like a P. Eng or CMA, for a long time. I have a hard time taking it seriously because A) I suspect that I wouldn’t qualify, but it doesn’t stop me from making money, and B) I always thought that ISP stood for Internet Service Provider, not Information Systems Professional.

Accounting, law and real engineering has been around for centuries. Double-entry bookkeeping has been around since the 12th century and I still can’t get two accountants to agree on how my books should be set up. IT is so new and volatile that it will likely take 800 years for the technologies and methodologies to settle down enough to make standards.

Regardless, were we instantly to sort out our technical and professional consistency issues, no help would be forthcoming for Ms. Yandle. An accreditation is often an invitation to use complex terms to state the obvious. Remember the last time you spoke to a lawyer, a surgeon or an accountant? The good ones were the ones that made sense, didn’t insult your intelligence and kept you out of jail, Emergency and the poorhouse. Just because we are 800 years away from being a real industry with meaningful letters after our names, why not just do the following for our customers?

Speak plainly. “I’m sorry the printing isn’t working. There is a problem with the way the PC has been set up to transfer information to the printer. We are working on it and will update you in three hours at most.”

Help them so they can help you. “It’s true that software upgrades tend to make people mental. It happens to me all the time. If you want, I can sit down with you for an hour and give you a tour, or I know a trainer who can do so.”

Get to know the client. “A few of us are going out after work. If you can take the geekiness, you are more than welcome to join us.”

If we are to develop a decent, accredited professional group, let’s do so better than the others – let’s put the well-being of the customers first and speak in plain English before inventing more jargon.

Ford is a semi-geek project manager who holds a B.A. in English and lives in Vancouver. He and his wife will take Carlyn Yandle out to dinner if she can find a way to e-mail him at