Find Me A Happy IT Worker in Today’s Climate…
Snappy, irritable, lack of sleep, no tolerance for your co-workers, baggy eyes, high blood pressure, overweight and the heaviest thing you lift is a mouse? Then chances are you’re an average IT worker!
You know the drill, start early, finish late, sit down for a meal on your own as the family couldn’t wait and had eaten 3 hours earlier. You’re called out at night or still replying to emails at 2am on your blackberry, weekends are tied up in conference calls and implementations, and you can’t remember the last time you had a weekend to yourself. When you finally go on the family holiday that’s long overdue, you’re glued to the blackberry dealing with the latest crisis whilst the kids and your partner don’t remember what you look like!
Well, you are not alone!
How did we get into this mess? After all isn’t this the digital leisure age?
I believe there are a number of factors at play here, but at a high level :-
- Under Resourcing.
- Reduced Knowledge Capital and dependancies on Single Points of Failures.
Let’s go back in time to the good old 80’s and 90’s. The operating model was much different, teams operated as fully functioning units to the technology and successfully delivered solutions end to end. In effect you would have developers, testers, systems analysts, live systems support, business owners who all understood the role they had to play, had deep understanding of the systems they were managing and accountable for, and new initiatives were deployed once all stakeholders were reasonably comfortable that the development was ready to go live.
I’m not saying this system was perfect, it had its moments, but generally the quality of the testing was high and confidence retained within the organisation that all those involved were able to support the environment at both technical / business level and understood the risks.
Step forward in time to early 2000’s and a new model emerged. The general thought process was that you created specific functions, so a tester is a tester and so they can all be lumped together. Business analysts and systems analysts could be grouped together, live support functions… You know the drill… After all if you take your car to the garage, you expect the mechanic/technician to be able to fix pretty much any make or model of car.
To a point this is true within IT. However what was discovered (and known to the people on the ground floor) is that a tester may have knowledge in their field/application they are familiar with or experts in, but when abstracted to systems outside their field of knowledge, then tests were being skipped/missed or not understood as historic knowledge capital was not retained, the solution not understood end to end, thus leaving significant gaps in the quality of the final deliverables. Consequently, testing teams heavily rely on SME experience.
As a further consequence to this pipeline of work approach to testing, in the last few years of interviewing candidates for various positions, it’s become increasingly obvious the majority of younger candidates have not had the exposure end to end of the environments they support, in some extreme cases, they only understood that the pressed a button and expected a result, if the result was unexpected, it would be passed up the line for investigation piece by piece by many disparate and fragmented teams.
This resulted in pipelines of work being created, flexing up or down depending on how that pipeline was looking and if pressure points needed to be alleviated and finally the killer of IT, globalisation.
In early 2000 companies decided that the average wage bill was too high for IT workers and the government offered some very good incentives for using India as the new centre of IT excellence, and so off-shoring took off as the saviour of the business world. Companies no longer wanted to pay for the Rolls Royce solution by knowledgable staff, but the standard of quality vs cost was considered too high. It was also dependant on the limited number of people available at the time. What the off shore model provided, was the cheap and simple solution, it may not be the best design or implementation of an idea and it may fail along the way, but with enough people thrown at it, then the law of averages says it will eventually work and brought cost savings to the business.
As a consequence to Globalisation, we lost a number of knowledgeable SME’s through redundancy/attrition and putting on the bench as their jobs fell away in favour of 4 or 5 offshore resources that were capable of simulating delivery a similar end result for a fraction of the wage bill of one SME.
3) Under Resourcing and Reduced Knowledge Capital
For the SME’s that remained, this resulted in under resourcing within projects, thus exaggerating single points of failures within organisations, reducing Organisation Knowledge Capital and at the same time increasing the working hours of that resource.
The idea of following the sun started out as a good idea, we have offshore and near shore people supporting systems around the clock, Australia, USA, Canada, India, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Europe and with the overlap of each time zone basically meant that problems could be investigated 24×7.
The practical reality is that handovers to the next team are ineffective and still require co-ordination by an SME or a central team, i.e. Major Incident Management, Live Systems Support etc, and we have to be available for conference calls with our counterparts in all time zones, this resulting the work life balance pendulum has significantly shifted out of kilter.
With the introduction of Blackberry phones, VPN connection so employees can dial in from home, this effectively means that you are constantly glued to one screen or another. How many of you who have read this far are familiar with the email tag war? Everyone who participates sends emails later and later, some will go on to 4am all seeking information.
The government talk about taking public transport and more telecommuting… But the reality is, that clients expect an on-site presence within their organisation, resulting in more travel, hotel accommodation, flights etc all contributing not being green… But that’s another story for another day…
So how has this contributed to the health of IT workers in the UK?
I look around and see the average 40’s something IT and Business workers with various medical conditions/ailments, whether it be Asthma, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Stress related illnesses, it’s becoming more common place than it was in the late 80’s/early 90’s. In fact, from experience I see an increase in Diabetes , High Blood Pressure and Stress from IT Workers who work in the Support sector. Maybe a study should be done into this…
So what is the future of IT Workers? What are your thoughts? Am I talking nonsense, do you have a more positive view of IT? I’d love to hear them