Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Nothing from something

April 22, 2005

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Even as the world has progressed from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, many things have remained the same. Products, whether hard physical objects or great ideas, are the end goal. What we can mold with our hands or mold with our minds creates something new and valuable. In some ways though, the average technology job is different. Instead of focusing on making something tangible, we are engaged in making something disappear. We solve problems. We remove barriers to access. We make something obsolete that was previously unassailable. This can lead to some interesting workplace issues.

Credit where credit is due

The truth is, creators are more highly regarded in today’s work world, than removers. You have often heard the phrase, “I can’t imagine how I could have done my job without Product A, Service B, Technology C” The truth is, people cannot imagine it. In fact, they often forget just how difficult something used to be. Worse still, they often forget who made this change possible. For example, you might remember the creator of a specific program or printer or computer system, but you don’t remember the co-worker who first suggested using the system, waded through all the problems, fought with purchasing to justify it or maintains it on a daily basis. All you can remember is that this particular piece of technology is great!

Facing such anonymity on a daily basis can be a hard lesson for high-tech workers. Inanimate machines get all the credit for their hard work. It happens everywhere. The person who removed the barrier is forgotten, simply because the barrier itself has been removed. No one wants to think about what it used to be like. They only know that the problem is solved, or, in many cases, that there are many more problems to solve. “Get that tech guy out here now. I’m having a problem, again.”

What have you done for me lately?

This issue is really just an extension of the typical “What have you done for me lately?” questions that seem to drip from some people’s attitudes. When you solve a problem, you are a god. When another problem occurs, you are dirt. This constant elevation and let-down can be very disheartening for high-tech workers. We like to feel that we are doing the best job we can, even when some particular problem is defeating us at the moment. We know in our hearts that we will eventually solve the problem, but our lack of solution is taken as simple ignorance by those around us. I have had people complain about an unsolved problem even as I am setting there, at their desk, trying to solve it. I could understand them being upset if I was sitting in my office, feet up on the desk, eating donuts, but here I was actively engaged in finding a solution. I just was not finding it quickly enough for them. Of course, they never seem to remember that, left to their own devices, they would not be able to solve the problem at all.


For most of us, there doesn’t seem to be a completely adequate solution to this problem. Our job is to remove the obstacles...make things work...make it go away. We can’t constantly harass people with the successes we have had in the past, but there has to be some way of reminding them how we smoothed the road for their work. As high-tech workers you deserve a little credit for the filled potholes and straightened roads that makes everyone’s life a little bit easier. Perhaps you should institute a policy of reporting back to each client on all the service calls, telephone support and product research you performed for them over the last week, month, year. I am not a big fan of internal charge-back systems to justify IT budgets, but how about a little mental chargeback, reminding each and every client, customer, co-worker exactly what you did for them. Something tells me that gaining a little brain space in your clients minds might be a great way of improving your relationship. Respect is a two-way street and sometimes you have to (gently) remind your customers that you are providing a necessary and in some cases, indispensable service.

Each high-tech worker is a creator in their own right, but your skills reside in making nothing out of something. The next time you turn that mountain back into a molehill, make sure there is an understanding between you and your clients that removing a problem is often an act of creation in its own right.


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