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.
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: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com