% fortune -ae paul murphy

"More SCI/tech headlines"

There's a problem I think all of us who work in IT have to face: in the public mind IT is technology and technology is science. Unconsciously they see us as the ambassadors of science and when we fail to meet a responsibility most of us don't know we have, we're failing to meet their expectations - and that affects their perceptions of us in a negative way.

You can test this in many different ways. On the surface a glance at almost any traditional news publication will show the link - science and technology get lumped together with the same mental midgets cheerfully denaturing ipods one day and black holes the next. Less superficially, pay careful attention to the people around you when science related issues pop into casual conversation - you'll see many of them glance at IT people like you, hesitate an eyeblink or two, and then plunge ahead with their opinions. In that situation the hesitation reflects the assumption: technology is science, the techie should know - and the plunge ahead reflects an unmet expectation about your role.

As an experiment, try to meet those expectations for some trial audience: become what they unconsciously expect you to be: the man from Missouri - a fact focused, straight talking, absolutist. Most people don't knowingly talk about science issues but most of the issues people talk about have a scientific basis, so when those topics come up focus on facts. Take the attitude that facts count, that people can believe anything they want to - but if the facts don't support it, if the experiment can't be repeated with similar results, if the opinion contravenes generally accepted principles, then it's probably wrong.

A word of warning: never say or imply that you know better - it may be true, but the only thing people resent more deeply than that is finding out that you're right. Personally, I'm not very good at this - so don't take my advice on how to do it - but what you need to do is find your own way to balancing a factual focus with humility and thereby eventually establish your reputation as the go to guy on SCI/tech issues.

Do that, and your IT career can "inexplicably" take off - why? because you'll be meeting a broader spectrum of user expectations.

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.