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More important than you think

by Douglas E. Welch

March 31, 2000

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

Today, computers have become a part of every business and every life. Computer Careerists used to work mainly for high-tech companies, but now they are just as likely to work for Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. Increasingly, you might find yourself working in industries where computer failures and mistakes can not only mean the loss of millions of dollars, but maybe even the loss of lives. As high-tech workers we all need to remember that small actions on our part can have very large effects on those we serve. The quality of our work can effect those around us in many, important ways.

Everything old is new again

Anyone who remembers the days of mainframe computing knows how frustrating it was when the system was unavailable or slow, no matter how long it might be. PC's helped to alleviate some of this frustration since the effect of one malfunctioning PC was much more limited. Of course, now it seems we have come full circle. With the proliferation of LANs, then WANs and now the Internet, the failure of one web server or one router can have dramatic effect. You only have to experience a storm of phone calls from irate users and management once to understand the effect your actions can have,

Know the consequences

It is important for all of us, from the most junior tech support rep to top management to understand the effects of their technological actions. One mistyped command or improper configuration can have a direct effect on your company's bottom line or even impact the safety of your co-workers.

Perhaps you change one option on your web server, only to find that the change effectively shut down your site. Every minute the server is down can mean lost visitors, lost sales and lost ad revenue. It doesn't take long for these losses to mount up to staggering levels.

Imagine the damage caused by a hospital database administrator who happens to mis-configure a system that holds hospital records. While nurses and doctors can fall back on paper records the slower reaction time could be disastrous.

Like it or not, there are consequences to your actions that you cannot abdicate, no matter how little official responsibility you may have.

You matter

Too often technology workers are treated like a necessary evil. Upper management and other departments often don't understand what IT departments do and only see them as a roadblock to avoid. This can leave technology workers feeling as if they don't matter. When this happens, quality falls. In truth, though, regardless of what others might think, you need to understand and remember that you have a responsibility to maintain the quality of your work, if not for the company, then for yourself.

Don't allow apathy to creep into your work. Every network change you make, every program you write, every computer you configure or repair, could have a dramatic effect on your career. Even one major error could have you looking for a new job. You need to emphasize the quality of your work so that you can rise in your existing company or move to a better position elsewhere.

Pass it on

Not only do you have to recognize your importance, but it is also in your best interest to help those around you understand their importance as well. We have all had experiences where non-technology workers have dramatic effects on the systems we design, build and maintain. It may sound like a joke, but I was present when a custodian in an office accidentally unplugged the main mini-computer running the operations of a theater box office where I was working. Surely, there were many mistakes that allowed this to happen but had the custodian been made aware of the situation beforehand it might not have occurred.

In another case, a server in a temporary project trailer was crashing each night at quitting time. Unable to diagnose any problems with the computer itself I visited the site. I asked one of the workers who sat near the server to show me what they did when they left for the day. Sure enough, they were turning off the power strip where the server was plugged in.

Our co-workers can have major effects on our work. Take the time to help those around you understand what you do. It can prevent situations like those above and others much, much worse. Regardless of how you are treated by your company you owe it to yourself to be the best you can be. Technology workers, at every level, are increasingly the glue that holds companies together. Even if your company doesn't realize this, you must for your own good and the well-being of those around you.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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