When sysadmin Terry Childs went off the rails in San Francisco a few weeks ago and deliberately locked down the majority of the city's network, no one should really have been surprised. As most IT professionals will tell you, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
InfoWorld took a fascinating look at the soft underbelly of the IT work world recently. Sadly, all of the author's sources refused to be identified out of concern for their jobs. I find that level of fear disturbing since serious issues rarely get better unless they are exposed to the light of day and managers are held accountable.
It's not that I don't understand the reluctance of IT workers to come forward publicly. They know they are easily replaced by the legions of tech workers churning through colleges in the U.S. and those waiting in the wings for jobs to be outsourced overseas. I'm dismayed that the climate is so hostile in the first place, and that managers and CIOs allow it to continue.
The chief long-standing complaint of tech workers is how they are expected to produce results with little or no say in how to get the job done. For instance, the president of a company may suddenly decide the entire company needs to "go green." He'll issue a directive to IT to reduce its carbon footprint without actually funneling money into the department to retire old, outdated equipment and replace it with environmentally-friendly hardware. Tensions arise when the company president tells IT to make do with what they have, and IT simply can't.
In his article, Kaneshige tells story after story of tech workers who struggle to keep their jobs, dignity, and sometimes sanity, in the face of an industrywide uptick of layoffs. "There's no question that another flare-up à la Childs is in the making, as companies turn a deaf ear to the pleas of burnt-out tech workers," he says.
There's precious little advice in the article about how to fix this severely damaged situation, likely because no one knows just what to do about it. One IT manager Kaneshige interviewed recommends choosing someone with a technical, rather than business, background to lead teams of tech workers. CTO Yau-Man Chan says he expects his corps of engineers would "be less cooperative if [he] came from a business background."
What else can be done to reduce the tension between IT managers and staff? Of course communication and respect are key, but let's dig deeper. Let's have some real-world ideas in the comments.