May 212014
My current day job involves supporting safety systems on locomotives.  This is a relatively young field and can be thought of as air traffic control for trains.  Even though the associated technologies (GPS, cellular communications, data acquisition, etc) are mature, the overall development is fairly new.  This means we talk a lot about IT.  And not always kindly.

We’re part of engineering, so even from our geeky perspective IT is still a THEM.  Sure, I do some coding when I have the time but it’s just not under IT auspices.  And when our coffee talk turns to IT, as it frequently does, it’s laced with the usual fear and suspicion.  IT guys don’t play well with others.

As a fringe IT guy myself I know it’s a mistake to paint all software developers with a brush as broad as “coder culture”, but there are some stereotypes that I’ve seen generally run true.

The most common is the legendary antipathy toward users.  You know, those pesky people that actually dare to use programmed products.  Oblivious to the fact that developers tend to code as a cathartic exercise, exorcizing the shoulder-clutching demons that insist in our ears that This Cannot Be Done.  Function rules.  Usability?  Ha!  It’s for the weak.

With tongue in cheek I put together a little presentation a few years ago [“Brainstorming for Improved User Engagement“] that gently urged my bit-wrangling brethren to go a little easier on their victims, also known as concept provers.  The bottom line is that unless you’re just inflicting a solution upon yourself, at least have a bit of mercy for those poor code-consuming souls lacking your creative gifts.

Because that antipathy runs both ways.  Software users know you hate them, developers.  You foist upon them fragile solutions rushed by clueless business managers, and idly implement 10,000-foot-level error messages like “You can’t do that now”.  Come on… admit you take a bit of perverse pleasure in the latter.

And even if you’re not a developer, if you’re in IT at all then you’re part of that alarmist squadron that never has good news to share other than “after three days of downtime we have managed to restore server function without knowing what the original problem was”.  Dwelling in the IT dungeons means emerging periodically to a) lambaste users for unwitting ineptitude and/or b) informing everyone how inadequate are the resources you’ve been reluctantly provided.

There was a blissful time, decades ago, when IT was a minor sub-function of enterprise… and employees in its sphere were largely segregated from the rank and file.  IT was so mysterious then that socially-detached technicians had the run of their domain and very little oversight/interference from the aforementioned clueless business managers.

As IT mainstreamed, however, it had to be wrestled furiously into the light.  Blinking and bellowing, the Beast that is IT fought against its shiny new place at the executive table with a stubborn passion.  And even though corporate suits now begrudgingly accept that IT is a critical component of their business, they have yet to actually support it.

Aye, there’s the rub.

So indulge your newly-socialized co-workers as they adjust to what is now the worst possible scenario: being more exposed than ever yet rarely provided the proper tools for doing their thankless jobs.  These folks work miracles with inadequate resources, so they can be forgiven their alarmist bent.  If you were in their shoes, you’d know the sky really is trying to fall– and the only thing keeping it up is some poorly-tested code.

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