Tech chat

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Today was pretty insanely busy at work today, so this post has been “in the works” all day, at least in my head.

I took part in the Tech Chat on Kevin’s podcast over the weekend, which was pretty fun. I guess Kevin will have some excerpts during some upcoming podcasts, and I understand there’s even a pretty good outtake, all thanks to my laptop! 🙂

During the latter part of the conversation, though, we revisited a concept that came up in the previous podcast, in terms of user support. Many people get into IT thinking that they’ll just be in the back room, working on servers, and other machines, and that’ll be their job. Even most people outside of IT view it the same way. They picture the kind of folks who spend all night coding, hacking, and eating Skittles with Dr. Pepper for dinner, who are rarely ever seen.

The truth, however, is that interpersonal skills are very important in IT, and not just for the helpdesk people! Obviously if you do any kind of support at all, you need to interact with the users. You need some people skills. But even if you’re not doing direct support, you need people skills. How else are you going to determine what the needs of the staff are? How else are you going to determine how much education is needed, and what kinds of training? How are you going to balance the needs of various departments, and users, if you can’t interact with the people in those departments? How are you going to prioritize projects or fixes without understanding what each area brings to the table across the organization? You have to be out and involved in order to fully understand how what you do in the back room affects the rest of your business. Without that, you’re running blind.

For example, you could sit in the back room and decide that everyone’s going to have 250MB for email storage, and no one’s going to have Admin rights to their local machine. That’s pretty common practice, but it may not fit with what everyone in your office is trying to do. You need to poke your head out of the server room every once in awhile and see what’s working, what’s not working, what could be useful, what isn’t. That takes people skills.

In all seriousness, and not to brag, but I honestly think the skills I picked up working with a High School youth group for 10 years are just about as valuable to doing a good job as my tech skills. It’s those skils that allow me to discern a user’s comfort level, their learning style, what they really might be saying when they complain about something, and when they aren’t comfortable with a concept but don’t want to admit it. They help me do training in a variety of ways, approach concepts and changes in different ways for different users, and maybe most of all, they help me listen to what people are trying to tell me.

End users might be a pain, but without them you probably don’t have a job, so learn to interact with them and learn how to make them successful.

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