Brief history of an IT Pro

Change places IT at the heart of the organization. The IT Pro finds themselves in the eye of the storm, having to adapt or be swept away. In this world, IT has three roles to juggle: Protect, Serve, and Catalyse.

Origins

Every IT Pros journey has been varied. We all come from different backgrounds, have different experiences and different expectations. For some, your journey might have started here.

Picture of Colossus working
Colossus in action at the National Museum of Computing

When things were easy (well – relatively easy if you consider inventing something that no one had built before easy). Instructions went in on the left and answers came out on the right. Variation was something you introduced and controlled, clouds were fluffy things floating overhead, security was achieved by making sure you closed the windows and locked the door. OK the image of the Colossus is a little mean, we are not that old but hopefully you see the point. More likely you journey started here…

A typical cubical desk with a laptop, telephone and monitor. It is pretty messy.
My desk from back in the day before I learned to tidy it…

PC’s on desktops, servers in racks (or tucked under a desk) and some would say you are responsible for the creation of the Modern Workplace. In this world the IT Pro was in control with change occurring on their terms and in slow time. They operated in an environment where command and control management approaches built on Kotter and Drucker et al. shaped what you did, when you did it and what the staff got to use. Then someone in management had a bright idea…

An executive addressing an audience. The screen behind him contains a message to "Go Digital"
“Go digital”

Go Digital

It is when these bright ideas become reality that the storm comes. Some might say that they had been reading too many HBR, McKinsey and Gartner articles but every organisation feels the need to “Go Digital” at some point. Seemingly overnight the comfort zone of the organisation and the IT Pro started to evaporate as everyone found themselves in very different world. It is a world where expectations struggle to match reality.

“I can install it on my PC at home, so why not at work?”

Whilst PC’s still live on desktops there are now more users and hardware to protect and serve. There are mobile devices and “bring your own devices” to support. The challenges do not stop there – the fingers and clicks of the IT Pro have to plug the security dykes to keep an ever increasing number of bad actors and malicious code out. All this and more, usually with a tight budget and support ratios often exceeding 1 IT Pro to 500 users. An organizations users are liberated and are now called “customers” who demand service now – driven by their personal use of devices “I can install it on my PC at home so why not at work…”. The reaction is human. Heels are planted and process quoted in a last ditch attempt to maintain some semblance of control and to stay afloat. The IT Pro starts to feel like Garth in Wayne’s World when he is left to present the show….

Garth is left to anchor the show on his own… Clip from the film ‘Waynes World’
Garth fears change… Clip from the film ‘Waynes World’

Ok so I’m painting a pretty negative picture… which is not true everywhere… (and many people got into IT way after Wayne’s World was a “thing”). The picture is a vehicle to get you into open mindset about change and growth.

A truth about Change Management

Through change management there should be no storm – but you know that right – you are an IT Pro. Every change journey should be more like this cute kitty (every personal growth project needs one). If change where a kitty then nothing bad happens and everyone loves you. Everything is taken in your stride. Your adventures with technology are bundles of joy.

Picture shows a cat with its paws on a laptop. The password screen on the laptop is showing hundreds of ***'s
Brute force password attack

But kitties, like users, (or should that be consumers) like shiny new toys and their movements can be unpredictable… Moments after this photograph was taken the owner of the PC was locked out… “One too many failed password attempts”… And that’s the truth about change, bad things will happen, not everyone will love you and adventures with technology are not always bundles of joy.

Role of the IT Pro

And that’s the trouble for all of us, going digital brings unpredictability and with it a requirement to know a whole lot more. Wherever you are from and from whenever you started your journey we are part of a rapidly evolving world. The unrelenting maelstrom of technological change touches every corner of every organization. Change places IT at the heart of the organization and with that the IT Pro finds themselves in the eye of the storm having to adapt or face being swept away. In this world, IT has three roles to juggle : protect, serve and catalyse.


Protect

Protect the organisation from bad things happening to it. Be it data leaks, security breaches or process failures. IT’s role is to establish sufficient guardrails to allow the business to grow and flourish whilst minimising friction.

Serve

IT Pros are the virtual mechanics and cabin crew. Like any machine, things break and they need fixing. We are also here to ensure you get to where you need to as quickly and as comfortably as possible. We’ll set you up in your seat, show you around the virtual cabin, we’ll talk you through safety measures and we’ll serve you new and interesting features a long the way.

Catalyse

The introduction of the canals and the railways catalysed global industrial growth. IT Pros are the railway and canal builders of the 21st Century. Our role is to be at the edge of technology, guiding the organisation with what is right and to provide an incubator where the organisation can grow what it needs for itself. We provide the connectivity that draws industries, people and content together. We are the connections that create opportunities.

Striking a balance

There are several driving forces that create a tension between an IT Pro and the organisation they serve. The key is to balance the forces of organisational change and personal evolution.

Image shows a see-saw (or teeter totter) with three blocks on each end. The blocks represent the forces acting on an IT Pro
Opposing forces

To do this I believe you need to have an appreciation and awareness of the trends and innovations of the industry you are in, the directions they encourage, and the direction your organisation wants to take. As you are probably acutely aware this can generate tension which manifests in individual and organisational “readiness and maturity to change”…

Animation showing the impact of vendors trying to pull organisations forward faster then they are comfortable with. The backdrop is a Rogers Innovation Curve
Vendor influence upon the adoption of technology

Your personal skills and values are the ones that directly influence your personal success, motivation and reward and getting that blend right is critical to evolution. However, compression of personal values is a reaction to the forces of change, and we are under pressure to learn new skills with a reduction in the time available to learn them.

Outcomes: Structures and Roles

The push-pull forces from trends and innovation are hopefully in tune with the direction of the organisation which in turn has been structured to best serve the direction and thereby maximising the relevant opportunities presented through trends and innovation.

Roles are required that will fit the required structure with each team comprising a mixture of individuals who have a complementary blend of skills and values. Roles are also where we want to be as individuals.

Hence, I see structures and roles as outcomes that contribute to the balancing of the see-saw. You could view the left side as organisationally lead and the right as personally-led change. It is important to know that balance can be achieved through no particular order of events or application of habits. This is not personal change as defined by Covey who got you to move through phases of Independence to Interdependence and finally Continual improvement.

Summary

The purpose of this section was to set the scene for the habits that follow. IT Pros are constantly trying to strike a balance between the driving forces of the organisation, vendor and personal needs. IT Pros are under immense pressure to protect and serve their organisation whilst trying to stay one step ahead and act as the catalyst for good.

Footnote

Throughout this project you will see me make reference to the title “IT Pro”. I think the term originated from a time when adding “Pro” to an object was on trend. Perhaps “IT Plus” or “IT Premium” just did not sound right. To me it means “IT Professional” but still why is the “Pro” bit needed at all?

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