% fortune -ae paul murphy

6 steps to IT management freedom

One of the things that came out of last week's discussion on getting across the mental barriers people put up to ward off unfamiliar ideas was a comparison between commitment to some technology and addiction to that technology.

Imagine, for example, that someone calls you out of the blue with a request that you design an information architecture for a new business - say a hospital or a law firm. In that position I tend to reach for Solaris and MacOS X first, Linux second, and Windows only as an accommodation to external needs. Your choices might be different, but the process, and thus the concern, is likely to be the same: yes, you will provide an unbiased judgement but your judgement, like mine, will be colored by your experience and your technical starting points.

Now I'm prepared to argue that someone who is genuinely unbiased with respect to two technologies is guaranteed to be incompetent with respect to at least one of them and highly likely to be incompetent with respect to both because you simply can't use two technologies on comparably complex problems without forming opinions about which one works better.

On the other hand it seems equally clear that experience blinds as well as enlightens - and while I actually have commended Wintel infrastructures to clients for whom social compliance was more important than cost, the truth is that I wouldn't even consider it as an option in a situation, like that of a hospital or law firm, where the need to keep client data confidential trumps all other concerns.

So with all that in mind I thought it might be fun to develop a six step recovery program for IT managers addicted to specific technology solutions:

  1. admit that you're the victim of your own success with whatever technology you're addicted to -that, for example, your knowledge of Windows prevents you from learning to use FreeBSD effectively;

  2. ask yourself whether there shouldn't be something better - and therefore whether you couldn't do better if you learnt to work with something higher up the technology scale. I.e. if you use Windows, consider MacOS X, or if you use Linux, consider Solaris - and if you use Solaris, consider customising Plan9;

  3. expand your understanding of the issues that link IT success to business success. Get gut comfortable with the valuations non IT people put on both IT services and IT related risk; understand why these pull in opposite directions, and integrate that new knowledge into your IT decision process;

  4. look carefully and honestly at what you've done in the past - and ask if you really want to do more if it?

  5. commit to change. Talk to others about the new directions in your life, admit to past mistakes.

  6. and finally, if you haven't changed your colleagues along with yourself, change your colleagues: because by now everyone at work will think you've lost it - so you need to get another job, preferably a non technical one.

And if you think that last one's too cynical, you don't understand the real barrier to change: other people.

Peer support is one of the most powerful means we have of ensuring that we get only information that's consistent with what we already believe - and it doesn't matter whether the venue is the dailykos, a self improvement circle in Communist China, or a progress meeting on the latest Windows product roll-out and security crisis at work: the enemy is not invited to speak - meaning that when you think enough about what you're doing to become the enemy, you'd better get the star blank star out of there while you still can.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.