When some New Media Douchebag decides to go on a crusade about the eeeeeeeeevil that is
IT, and how we're all just keeping you down man.
The latest entry in this cuntacular cavalcade is Farhad Manjoo, who wrote this tripe in Slate. He invited IT people to directly comment back to him via email, and so, well shit, I am certainly not going to pass up that kind of offer. But, because I'm real sure it'll get routed to /dev/null, I'm reproducing the email here too. (I've even odds that in his ponycorn fantasy world, he doesn't think that IT people even know what blogs are, much less actually have one.):
Not that I think for even a second that you've the slightest interest in any reasoning that counters your own ‘if they’d stop being evil, we’d be so much more productive’ fantasy, but, there are no shortage of windmills to tilt at......
For background, I’ve been in IT for around 20 years, from $bigCorp to higher ed, to small companies.
During a town hall meeting for State Department workers last month, an employee named Jim Finkle asked Hillary Clinton a very important question: "Can you please let the staff use an alternative Web browser called Firefox?" The room erupted in cheers. Finkle explained that he'd previously worked at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, where everyone enjoyed Firefox. "So I don't understand why State can't use it," he said. "It's a much safer program."
This person was an idiot. First, would you ask the CEO of GE the same question? No. Why? Because you wouldn’t expect the CEO to be familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of this browser vs. that browser. Yet somehow, the secretary of state is expected to know this. Really. This wasn’t someone striking a blow for freedom, this was someone who couldn’t get his way, and didn’t understand that the State Department and the NGI are two different things, so decided to pull a fast one, in the hopes of getting the ‘CEO’ to start something for him. Fail.
You don't have to know Jim Finkle or anyone else at the State Department to recognize their pain. Millions of workers around the world are in the same straits: They've heard about the joys of Firefox, the wonders of Google Docs, or any number of other great programs or Web sites that might improve how they work. Indeed, they use these apps at home all the time, and they love them. But at work they're stymied by the IT department, that class of interoffice Brahmins that decides, ridiculously and capriciously, how people should work.
Bullshit. That is the precise word for this. Bullshit. Oh, the joys of firefox, until you have to deal with an internal site with old code that has sat there running fine, doing its job for years, but Firefox can’t use it. Oh sure, there’s a point that the site should be upgraded, but right now, it costs zero dollars to maintain, while upgrading it solely so that another browser can use it will cost...not zero dollars. I wonder if you just spend money on things because they are new as a matter of course, because that’s kind of what is behind this silliness. “I want the new toy”. And of course, rather than spend a scintilla of time behind why the answer might be ‘no’, you resort to that tired old saw about how IT does nothing but say no because it gives us a hardon. Yeah. We love nothing more than angry emails and insults. Google Docs is great...until you need a feature it doesn’t have, or someone sends you a document that requires some internal scripting to run, or has formatting that Docs can’t handle. So now of course, we have to deal with two versions of the same thing, and note: if you are a company, Google applications are not free, not even close. So we now have to pay for two applications to do the same thing. I’ll leave off the security and infrastructure weaknesses that things like google docs have. But then again, you don’t care about that boring stuff like security or infrastructure, do you? You just want the new shiny, and if you get told ‘no’, then obviously, it’s just because IT are mean poopyheads.
The secretary of state didn't know why Firefox was blocked; an aide stepped in to explain that the free program was too expensive—"it has to be administered, the patches have to be loaded." Isn't that how it always is? You ask your IT manager to let you use something that seems pretty safe and run-of-the-mill, and you're given an outlandish stock answer about administrative costs and unseen dangers lurking on the Web. Like TSA guards at the airport, workplace IT wardens are rarely amenable to rational argument. That's because, in theory, their mission seems reasonable. Computers, like airplanes, can be dangerous things—they can breed viruses and other malware, they can consume enormous resources meant for other tasks, and they're portals to great expanses of procrastination. So why not lock down workplace computers?
Oh yes, how outlandish. Outlandish things like testing new versions of applications to make sure that the things you need to work right, work right. You’ll do that for us, right? Oh, did that Firefox plugin come up with a security hole? You’ll manage that update on your machine for us, right? You’ll read the staggering amount of security reports, mailing lists and newsfeeds that we have to just to keep on top of things. You’ll learn the details of the way the slate network is set up, down to OS versions on routers and servers, so you can tell what the implications of a security issue may or may not be. You’ll do all that for us, and never, ever, complain that it’s not your job to do that, that it’s IT’s job to do that, but never, ever, ever inconvenience you in any way, shape, or form in the process.
Here's why: The restrictions infantilize workers—they foster resentment, reduce morale, lock people into inefficient routines, and, worst of all, they kill our incentives to work productively. In the information age, most companies' success depends entirely on the creativity and drive of their workers. IT restrictions are corrosive to that creativity—they keep everyone under the thumb of people who have no idea which tools we need to do our jobs but who are charged with deciding anyway.
Yes. Big old stupid IT knows nothing about your job. We don’t do anything but sit upon our thrones whilst virgins lay at our feet, and our servants feed us dates and anoint us with sweet oils. While I’m sure that makes you feel good about yourself, it’s also complete bollocks. It is impossible to support anyone without knowing what they need to do their job, and you’d be surprised at how much IT people know about things that aren’t IT. (Well, that would require you to treat IT people as people, and based on this article, you don’t do that.) I’ve supported a wide range of users throughout the decades, and while they aren’t IT, they’re all pretty good at what they do, and when it comes to their area of expertise, quite a bit smarter than I about it. Our job however means we have to keep the network and the computers running for everyone, all the time, and that’s not easy. No matter what your Googleh.D in computer science tells you. So when people need changes made, while to that person, they’re only talking about a change on one computer, to us, they’re talking about something that has to be analyzed against ever other computer, a host of regulations, corporate requirements, and sometimes, actual security and compliance issues, along with the very real additional work that this change will create, and how that change can be smoothly integrated into the other applications that person, and others need to use.
If I sound a bit over-exercised about what seems like an uncontroversial practice, it's because I am—for too long, office workers of the world have taken IT restrictions sitting down. Most of my co-workers at Slate labor away on machines that are under bureaucratic control; they need special dispensation to install anything that requires running an installation program, even programs that have been proved to be safe—anything that uses the increasingly popular Adobe AIR platform or new versions of major Web browsers. Other friends are blocked from visiting large swaths of the Web. IT departments install filtering programs that block not only adult sites but anything that might allow for goofing off on "company time," including e-mail and chat programs, dating sites, shopping sites, and news sites like Digg or Reddit (or even Slate).
FIGHT THE POWER!!! Yes, yes, I like Public Enemy too, but as it turns out, they aren’t a reliable network administration methodology. Who knew? You make, over and over again, the mistake that everyone spouting this nigh-drivel does...that it’s all about safety. It isn’t. Sometimes, it’s about stupid things like labor. Let’s take your beloved Adobe Air for a moment. For you, it’s a momentary download, a couple of clicks and that’s all. For an eeeeeeebul IT person, it’s an application that doesn’t allow you to easily automate installations and updates. Even worse, if you want to avail yourself of the command line installer, you have to agree to a separate license for your entire company, just to be able to automate installations. There’s a great example of Morton’s Fork for you. Even if you punt and let the users install it themselves, then you find yourself on the prongs of all kinds of other issues that don’t exist for you, but are very real for IT like license audits, bandwidth utilization checking, (yes, I know in your world bandwidth is free. IT however, doesn’t live in the land of magical ponies and unicorns, where the internet is run by happy fairies and it’s all free. Bandwidth is not free, and the problems caused by going over what you pay for are real. You just never see them, so you think they don’t exist), and all the other fun things IT people do when we aren’t cackling over how to ruin your productivity.
Even worse, most, if not all IT people know that crap like Websense and similar software is just that: crap, and that people fucking off on company time is a management/human issue, not a technology issue. We tend to argue against this kind of crap more than you do, because you know who it puts out more than you? Us. Every time some nimrod PHB gets his panties in a bunch because someone was on MySpace, it’s our fault for allowing it, and word comes down from on high, block that site. What, you think we like having to run the idiotic reports about web usage and maintain the block filters? Really? Do you also think we enjoy shoving needles into our eyes? Both tasks have about the same enjoyment factor.
But of course the only reason for it is our need to keep you down. There could never be any other reason.
Different IT managers have different aims, of course. At some companies—like Slate—the techs are mainly trying to keep the network secure; preventing people from installing programs is a simple and effective (if blunt) way to ensure that corporate computers don't ingest scary stuff. Other firms want to do something even more sinister: keep workers from having fun. These companies block the Web and various other online distractions on the theory that a cowed work force is an efficient one. But that's not really the case.
One obvious problem with such restrictions is that they're arbitrary. In blocking "dangerous" sites or programs, IT managers inevitably restrict many more useful applications. One editor at a large New York publishing house told me that the art department at his company is constantly running into the firm's net-nanny filtering program. An artist will need to look up, say, pictures of 14th-century Ottoman swords in order to illustrate a fantasy novel—and she'll run into a notice saying, "Access to that site has been blocked because of the following category: Weapons." (It's a measure of the IT department's power that all the office workers I interviewed for this article would talk only on background; no one wants to get on the wrong side of his tech master.) Or consider this madness: Even though many companies are now looking to popularize their products or brands using social-networking sites, IT departments routinely restrict access to Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk.This may be the only part of your ridiculous article that makes any sense, mostly because it’s the same kind of thing IT departments argue. People want us to block emails with ‘bad’ words, only to find out that it really pisses off an already pissed off customer when their emails bounce. Managers want us to block words like ‘vagina’ or ‘penis’, only to discover that the MD you have on staff to review claims kind of needs to use those words. Regularly. They want us to block ‘weapons’ because somehow, a management seminar convinced them that if you can’t read about weapons at work, you won’t go postal and kill your coworkers. But again, since you’ve backed yourself into a corner with your thesis that all these decisions come solely from IT, and only because we want to exert control over you, that is the only reason you accept for this. The truth is, you should be bitching at middle management and HR more, because they drive these kinds of decisions, then let IT twist in the wind when, shockers, they aren’t popular. But again, why would you bother to do any research? You’re leading a revolution! Facts don’t matter, only soundbytes.
What's worse, because they aren't tasked with understanding how people in different parts of a company do their jobs, IT managers often can't appreciate how profoundly certain tools can improve how we work. As I've written before, switching from Outlook to Gmail changed my life; hosting my e-mail at Google freed me from methodically backing up old mail, which is an important way I remember my reporting contacts. When I worked in an office not long ago, though, a new man in IT decided that forwarding company mail to my Gmail account might violate the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. I tried to explain that was ridiculous—Sarbanes-Oxley proscribes deleting mail, which I wasn't doing, and, anyway, the IT department had no problem forwarding mail to people's BlackBerries and iPhones. But he wouldn't budge. And it's not just Gmail: I can name several programs—plugins for Outlook or Firefox, desktop Twitter clients, local search programs like Google Desktop, and lots of other apps that have yet to be invented—that might let people work faster or more efficiently. But IT departments can take years to approve such advances; there are office workers all over America still stuck using IE 6.There is not enough room here to detail how wrong you are about SOX. In fact, SOX doesn’t specifically proscribe much of anything. It’s a crappily worded law that gives almost no guidance, so the interpretations of the law come from auditors, and every company’s auditors do things differently. SOX auditors may only proscribe deleting emails for certain company officers, or they may proscribe it for all. They may require you to keep a copy of every email sent and received for the last n days, they may not. In some cases, auditors may very well proscribe forwarding email to Gmail et all. You never know until they tell you. So your interpretation of SOX, while convenient for your article, is um..incomplete. As well, the implication that somehow, you know more about the advantages and use of things like Gmail than every IT person everywhere? Can you even sit within arms reach of a computer, with your head all bloated like that? Oh, and your attempt to liken the use of things like EAS and BES to forwarding to Gmail? What you don’t know about such things would fill oceans. Oceans. But rather than learn, you instead run the New Media Douchebag playbook, and assume that only you, Farhad Manjoo, is able to really understand what’s going on.
Of course, the rich, rich irony in this is that while you complain and whine about how IT can’t possibly understand how anyone outside of IT does anything you completely, completely overlook the fact that a dead wombat knows more about IT than you do. Yet, here you are, telling IT how they should do things, even as you rail against them telling you how to do whatever it is you do.
But I’m sure what you’re doing is completely different. I bet you could even explain how in under a decade...once I’m in a coma...and deaf.
You might argue that firms need to make sure that people stay on task—if employees were allowed to do whatever they wanted at work, nobody would get anything done. But in many instances, that claim is ridiculous. My fiancée works at a hospital that blocks all instant-messaging programs. Now, she and her co-workers are doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals—they've been through years of training in which they've proved that they can stay on task even despite the allure of online chat. Can anyone seriously argue that the hospital would suddenly grind to a halt if they were allowed to use IM at work?
Can you guarantee that the content of such IMs would never contain confidential patient data that could be seen by someone else on the same IM program on that network that has no need, and therefore no authorization to see that data? Can you guarantee that the IM program you want to use would allow for multiple levels of security and access restriction? Do they support SSL and/or Kerberos? Can they tie into LDAP? Do you even know what some of the data leakage issues are for IM in a medical situation, and the time, work, and money required to properly handle them so they don’t get reamed by a HIPAA audit? Does any of that even exist in your world, or is this yet something else you know nothing about, and therefore think there’s no difference between what you do at home, and what is required of the network that doctors and nurses use at a hospital?
Indeed, there's no empirical evidence that unfettered access to the Internet turns people into slackers at work. The research shows just the opposite. Brent Corker, a professor of marketing at the University of Melbourne, recently tested how two sets of workers—one group that was blocked from using the Web and another that had free access—perform various tasks. Corker found that those who could use the Web were 9 percent more productive than those who couldn't. Why? Because we aren't robots; people with Web access took short breaks to look online while doing their work, and the distractions kept them sharper than the folks who had no choice but to keep on task.
Actually, were you to get off your podium, and do some work, you’d find that most of the ‘studies’ that ‘prove’ how (near) unfettered access cost you BILLIONS are all, or mostly funded by...the people who make the software that will ‘cure’ this problem. It’s the big reason why IT people think it’s a waste of time. But then, all it takes is one idiot who causes a lawsuit because they can’t not watch porn at work, (and it happens. My soul is forever darkened by the things I’ve found on co-workers computers over the years. Stuff that would make even the most ardent b-tard gag), and someone files a lawsuit over it. It has happened, it is still happening and it will continue to happen, and IT will somehow be expected to change human psychology with an internet filter.
I know you think we enjoy it, but the worst, worst, worst part of our jobs is when we get told to monitor email or someone’s computer. Why? Because you people are boring. You ever monitor an accountant’s computer? Or anyone else’s? Just.shoot.me. But, because we like remaining employed, we do what we’re ordered to, and take the blame from idiots without a clue...like you.
Corker's finding fits in with a long line of research that shows distractions can sometimes be good for the mind. Doodling, for instance, helps us stay more alert at meetings. Indeed, Daniel Pink, the author of the upcoming Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has pointed out that some of the world's most innovative companies are also the most relaxed about goof-off workers. At Google—which, like most big tech firms, imposes no restrictions on workers' computers—people are encouraged to spend time doing stuff that is unrelated to their jobs. Everyone at Pixar is allowed to spend many hours every week attending classes on filmmaking, painting, drawing, creative writing, and other subjects. And Netflix has no vacation plan—people can take as much time off as they like as long as their work gets done.
Not all companies are the same. Pixar is not Citi is not Raytheon. As well, you’re confusing multiple issues. Yes, Pixar does encourage employees to do a lot of things that aren’t directly job related. Most smart companies do, but that is not the same as no restrictions on workers computers. If you think that pixar isn’t making sure that confidential movie data or upcoming ideas aren’t leaked by employees, you’re smoking dope. Here’s a test...go work at a place like pixar, and as soon as you find out some confidential company info, send it in an email to someone you trust not to leak it. Then wait. In no time, you’ll be having a very unpleasant chat with a CSO or someone similar. Just because they let you go on Facebook, don’t think they aren’t monitoring what you put there.
OK, but shouldn't firms at least do something about viruses and porn? Sure. Rather than restrict access for everyone—ensuring that nobody ever learns which programs are genuinely bad news and which are blocked just for convenience's sake—they can educate workers about how to use their computers. IT departments could also block the most-obviously ruinous sites, places that traffic in illegal material, like the Pirate Bay, or that have been flagged as repositories of dangerous software. But doing any more than that is counterproductive. As one locked-down worker told me, blocking parts of the Web "systematically makes the company stupider" about the innovation now flooding into our lives. Systematic stupidity is rarely a plan for success.
You don’t think we don’t try this? You don’t think it hasn’t occurred to us that if you just teach someone about what not to do they won’t do it? Do you think that kind of shit ever works? Maybe for 1% of people, but those tend to be the people you didn’t need to talk to in the first place. Over and over, the people in IT try, through various methods, from email to badly done video skits, to educate people about the dangers on the internet, and what do we get?
“hey, your computer has a bunch of spyware”
“oh. Maybe it was from that popup window that told me I had spyware and I should install their scanner”
“but we talked, last week, about how those are fake, and you should never, ever, do that.”
“but it looked real”
“yes, which is why we tell you to call us if you’re not sure”
“oh, well, now I know”
One week later
“Hey your computer has a bunch of spyware...”
Are you really living in such a fantasy world that you don’t think we haven’t thought about and tried to implement this crap? As well, let people find out on their own what programs are okay and which ones are crap? What, they're now supposed to spend hours a day dealing with application/OS/network interaction? When do you propose they do the job they were hired to do? Are you seriously so delusional that you think this kind of thing takes zero time?
Yeah, you are. Your ‘article’ makes it obvious, and I’m pretty sure that no amount of reality will change you from your mighty crusade against the ebul that is IT. But, it’s my time to waste, and at least I tried.
Next time, you should throw in how we only do this to justify our inflated salaries. Leaving that one out makes you look like an amateur.
Oh, you didn’t think you were the first one to write this kind of tripe, did you?
See? Not only are you wrong, but you’re not even original.
New Media Douchebags
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