Tech Tales From Hell presents..

Appreciation and Accoutability

Andys Tech Tales Accountability is an important consideration and certainly one which affected our IT department. How do I show the value of my work? It's a similar story for the computer repair store on the corner. How can I justify charging for the amount of time I've spent fixing this customer's computer?

I think the problem stems partly from the nature of the work. We perform tasks which are highly specialised and which, really, can only be fully appreciated by those with the knowledge themselves. And jobs often take longer than anticipated.

This issue came to the forefront for me when I became the IT Manager in Sydney, back in the late 1990s. My immediate boss was the Director of Nursing and he had a good understanding of what an IT Department did. After he left some hasty restructuring took place and I had a new boss who, frankly didn't understand what an IT department did. So my work became much harder as a result.

There are various ways you can prove your worth. Most tech support departments use some kind of call center/help desk scenario where requests for assistance are centralised and logged. This is a good system for a number of reasons. Firstly everybody rings the same place, which records the nature of the call and relevant details. Secondly a triage system can be used to establish the severity of the problem and prioritise jobs. Thirdly time spent on jobs and outcomes are also recorded. Fourthly any new requests for extra work can (theoretically) be directed to the help desk as new requests, leaving the tech to get on with his or her work undisturbed (I did say theoretically, see While You're Here). Remember the more freebies you undertake, the more will go unrecorded.

The advantages of this sytem are self evident. It's all there in one database. Activities and outcomes can be charted and reported as required. John and I used some vicious little app whose name escapes me, but it ran under Windows 3.11. There are dozens of better HelpDesk type applications out there now.

So it is possible to catalogue one's activities and report accordingly. This still leaves the problem of the time consuming nature of hands-in IT work. How do you justify spending 4 hours on a crashed hard disk, to your manager? Do you get right into it explaining how firstly you had to diagnose the problem on-site (after clearing the dust and family photographs and other shit away from the user's workspace), struggled with the hardware installation of the recalcitrant new hard disk, perhaps performed FDISK and formatting, closely followed by restoring from a Ghost image (what you didn't back up and had to install the OS from scratch!?), and after that, restored any lost data from the user's collection of 50 floppy disks. And all this without a mealbreak, with the user droning in your ear about something or other and complaining about how long the fix is taking and asking you a dozen questions about their home PC and why it won't work. Just how long do you think it would take for the manager's eyes to start glazing over?

If you're a tech working under an IT Manager, then this isn't usually a problem. Otherwise unless your boss has some technical IT knowledge, it's hard for them to appreciate what you've been up to and in my experience it's a waste of time trying to explain.

And the corollary is...if you are a tech and your work is understood and appreciated by those around you, particularly your boss, then you are most fortunate. If not then you have the choice of sticking around or moving on to better things..

- AndyM

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