Enjoy the “Newness”

Image of Kurt Russell from the movie "Tombstone"

My very first full-time IT gig was as at the University of Tulsa, as the manager of campus computer labs (75-80% — which was essentially a specialized form of desktop support), followed by general campus desktop support (20-25%), not to mention having to wrangle 36 student workers across 5 computer labs.

The day before I started, my new boss told me to dress in jeans and bring a backpack, and he said:  “I want you to go hang out in the various labs as a student.  Watch what happens, see how things are done and problems solved.  You’ll do this for a few days, because you’ll never again be able see things as our users see them.”

I was young enough then that it wasn’t a stretch to pass as a student. It was a great lesson.  I got to see immediately what needed to be fixed, seeing all the issues without any shine or varnish.

I feel the same way now – I’m the new guy, with an average machine, testing connectivity to things, learning the local jargon, etc. etc.

As I’m learning the new ways, I’m doing some deep thinking of how we commonly divide up the work in IT: Client Services, Network/Security, DB/Application Support.

Every Client Services group has a Helpdesk of course. We have great resources available to staff, but like IT staff everywhere, we are sometimes overly focused to set things up quickly and efficiently. When this happens, sometimes users are kept in the dark and not “taught to fish.”

My Mantra: when you go out to assist the users, consider if the fix you’re doing is something you’ve done before for that user or department before.  If so, refrain from the quick fix, and put on your Trainer hat.  Ask the user if they’d like to learn how to do this fix for themselves.  Let THEM touch the keyboard, and you gently and politely guide them from the side – help them carefully write down the steps.

Just like that, you’ve begun to be a resource rather than an order taker. As well, you’ve begun to deputize a local guru who can learn a bit how things work, and perhaps reduce some future tickets.

At one of my first IT leadership gigs elsewhere, I had one tech who was too fast. Too efficient. After shadowing him on a couple of calls, I threatened to tie his hands behind his back so we would start to learn to use his words rather than his fingers…

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