There is a phenomenon that I have noticed in both my personal and professional experience in the field of information technology. Have you ever been in the situation where someone is breathing down your neck to get an issue resolved that you are utterly powerless to resolve personally? I call this The Helpless IT Worker Syndrome. Read on for a better description of the causes and what can be done to stop it.
As far as I can tell, there are three root causes of this problem. The first cause is vendor lock-in. This is when you have a vendor which sells a particular hardware and/or software solution. If there is a problem with it and the vendor is the only person who can fix it, this would naturally cause a lot of stress; particularly if the vendor is giving you the run around. The solution is that vendors should be open with their customers about where the problem is, what is being done to fix it and how long they can expect until a resolution. Another thing that a vendor can do is attempt to make their product more resilient, but there is only so much that can be done with that.
The second cause of this problem is an access-control hierarchy. In smaller businesses, this tends to not happen nearly as much because if you’re the sole IT worker there, you pretty much set everything up and you have the power to dictate who has access to what. In a larger organization such as the one that I work in, there are access control systems to prevent complete and unfettered access to the systems. While those access control systems are a necessary evil, they don’t enable you to solve the problem. For instance, lets say you have to escalate an issue to another team due to the fact that your current access privileges do not let you handle the problem; even if you know where the problem is and can readily fix it. The solution to this problem isn’t nearly as clear as the previous one because those access control systems are a necessary evil in any large organization because someone with complete and unfettered access to the systems could do irreparable harm. What solution I can think of is the fact that the people who handle the issues escalated to them should always remember that the reason why they are being escalated to is because someone else doesn’t have the prerequisite privileges. Additionally, they should remember that they are probably a little stressed because of the third cause of the Helpless IT Worker Syndrome.
The third manifestation of this syndrome is the primadonna user that thinks that their issue is more important than anyone elses; even when they are having the same issue as everyone else. Typically, this manifests itself as the user threatening to go to your boss if you can’t resolve the problem in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, the reason why you can’t resolve it in that time is because of the aforementioned causes above; either the vendor is being difficult or there is an arbitrary access control system in place preventing you from fixing it. There a few solutions to this problem; 1) Keeping a record of who turns into a primadonna and approaching them with caution, 2) Informing your boss of the situation first so that they know you’ve done your due diligence, 3) Reminding users that they are out of line and although you are there to help them, you are not there to take abuse from them. The bottom line is that when you deal with users who are primadonnas, you need to hold your ground and don’t let them rule you.
While all of these problems sound typical to any IT shop, that doesn’t mean that as IT workers, we are powerless to change it. As IT workers, we are customers and providers of technology solutions. We have the power to demand accountability and clarity from our vendors, effect policy change in our organizations and keep track of problem users and do our best to solve their problems while not having superficial threats dangling over our heads.