Why does IT Suck?

I majored in Computer Science in college.  This was one of the more difficult majors at my university.  My fellow students were some of the brightest and most intelligent people on campus.  Then I graduated. I was shocked to find out that this very same group of people made up the most dysfunctional, high failure, hated groups in most corporations; the dreaded “IT.”  

At that moment, I made it my life’s mission to solve the paradox of IT.  The reverse-synergy where the whole is so much less than the sum of the parts. The purpose of this blog, my consulting work and everything I do is with the aim of “helping IT not suck.”  I try to say it nicer to actual clients.

What do I mean when I say “IT Sucks”?  I mean this in all dimensions, it sucks to work there and it sucks at delivering. My intention is not to insult IT personnel, this is a systemic problem, the system is broken.  I interviewed a woman who was an IT contractor at Southwest. I asked her “I hear wonderful things about Southwest, tell me what they are doing differently over there.”  Her answer was “Southwest is a wonderful company, but IT is as dysfunctional there is it is everywhere else.”

Why does IT suck?

The geeks are beholden to the cool kids.  To be clear I’m not saying that all techies are geeks or that all non-IT people are cool.  But generally, IT is filling “requirements” from the business. They don’t want to say no. They don’t have the communication or people skills to hold boundaries.  They want to please.
Think about this way, when you ask the legal department, or accounting for something, and they give you an estimate is that estimate honored?  And what about IT? From my experience, when IT says how long something will take, they are chided and shamed until they change the estimate. It should be no surprise when they deliver it late.  

Technology is viewed as a commodity.  Though technology has become revered in recent years, technologists are still viewed as the dregs of the corporate society.  In many companies business people don’t allow techies in their meetings and in many cases they don’t even know the names of the people doing the work.  IT is so commoditized that it is often outsourced to an offshore company. It’s no wonder that IT is not delivering, we’ve commoditized something that’s not a commodity.

Technology is non-linear.  Organizations treat technology as if it’s linear, predictable and certain.  Organizations don’t have experience in managing chaotic systems. Most technology work is to build something that has never been built before.  Technologists are solving brand-new, hairy, never before solved, problems every single day. The popular belief is that we should be able to manage technology as a factory, and measure code as “widgets”.  I’ve heard IT leaders proclaim “we just need to find the IT equivalent of a widget!” Organizations that truly think IT is making widgets will continue to have dysfunctional IT departments.

Leadership is not valued in IT.  Much has been written about IT’s refusal to develop leaders. In many companies, people are promoted based on technical ability rather than leadership ability.   Despite the reluctance to develop leaders, the traditional reverence for leaders has seeped into IT.  In other words, career advancement only comes through leadership, so people are incentivized to validated by having staff.  Organizations like Bell Labs were known to have advanced career paths as individual contributors, but nowadays if you want to have influence and financial gain, you need to have a staff.

Does IT suck in your organization?  Let us know!