Moore’s Ramblings : Other People’s Work

A couple of experiences lately reminded me that it is difficult to understand what people are doing.

Throwing Books

The second experience was more entertaining, so I’ll mention it first. We were about to read scriptures as a family, like we do every night, when Ryan took his kid’s illustrated Book of Mormon and threw it on Caroline’s lap from 1/2 way across the living room. Caroline was startled, and we both asked him “why did you do that!?” at the same time.

He quickly said “Mommy, you threw your Book of Mormon on the couch!”. A few days ago, Caroline had apparently dropped it on the couch as she was walking past. It wasn’t a throw like Ryan’s, more of a gentle ‘plop’, but to a 4 year olds perception it was the same thing.

Ryan saw what Caroline had done, and interpreted it as best he could to undesired results (throwing books). Even though he was trying, he misunderstood.

Perceived Value and Multidisciplinary Respect

Some careers command respect. Doctors and Rocket Scientists are generally presumed to be intelligent and their work is presumed to be both valuable and challenging.

Other fields, such as social work and garbage collecting are respected because people perceive them to be valuable to society, but not due to their presumed intellectual challenges.

There are also many fields that do not command much respect. It seems that many people look down on English majors, school teachers, artists, civil servants and IT professionals. I believe that this lack of respect stems from the fact that it is difficult to understand the challenging nature of these professions without either being in them or being close to someone in them.

In IT there are several factors I see that reduce the respect people have for the profession.

No Official IT Hierarchy

You know that a Doctor has studied more than a Nurse has studied more than a student on rotation. But what do you know about the qualifications of an IT person? How can you tell if someone is a professional programmer versus someone who can barely copy and paste JavaScript, especially since you may not know what JavaScript is? Is the college kid working the Geek Squad kiosk at the same level as the IT Admin at work who manages a room full of servers and hundreds of desktops?

I am not arguing that there should be an official IT Hierarchy; in fact one of the things I love about IT is that it is so open. Most of the things I know how to do in IT were not taught to me in my coursework (I have a BS in Information Technology). The lack of a hierarchy is justĀ  one of the factors making it difficult to judge how much respect to give IT professionals.

Invisible Tools

So often in IT the goal is to make the problems and difficulty disappear. The tools we use to make them disappear are also often invisible.

When you see a pilot in front of a dashboard full of switches, knobs and flashy lights, you know he’s about to do something important. A surgeon’s tray of sharp scalpels other implements serves the same purpose. When I’m working on a Linux server or programming, the instrument panel that is the command line is nearly invisible even though it includes hundreds or thousands of commands ready to be used, many of them with complicated syntax options.

Mis-judging the Depth of Computer Knowledge Possible

Most people use computers like they use their mixer, as appliances. They will check Facebook, E-mail and possibly go shopping, and that’s it. They don’t have any more of a concept of how complex an operating system is any more than they have a concept of how the motor in their mixer works.

If only computers were as simple to fix as a mixer! I can easily tear down my wife’s kitchen-aid, adjust it and put it back together within a couple of hours. Many times I haven’t even been able to find the problem in a computer within that time.

A few months back I was helping someone at work and they said “Your job is pretty easy right, I mean you can just Google all this to find out what to do, right?”. The next day she called with a problem and I facetiously suggested she Google it and fix it herself, she declined the offer and I fixed her computer.

Apathy

The last and most important factor I want to mention here is apathy. Users don’t care to know more about their computers.I’m not talking about programming here, I’m talking the equivalent of adjusting the volume on your car stereo.

I was recently helping a lady, and I resized two windows and placed them side by side so I could copy files between them more easily. She was amazed and asked “Is that a new feature in Windows Vista!?”. No, I replied, it has been around for quite a while.

This rambling section is brought to you because I recently upgraded a server for a bunch of psychologists. Despite the fact that the upgrades were going to beneficial to them, I was treated with indifference and annoyance by many of them. It made me wonder where IT people ranked on their respectability totem-poles in relation to, say, their auto repair person or plumber.

Conclusion

Not much of a conclusion today. Just the thought that maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge others actions without knowing their intent or to judge the value of their job without walking in their shoes. And that applies to me too.

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