Phil for Humanity Phil for Humanity
A Guide for the Survival of Humankind and Helping the World, Society, and Yourself.

The Problems with IT Firefighting

In the Information Technology (IT) business world, computers are almost always breaking down or not quite working correctly. As a result, most system administrators or tech support personnel are continuously in a re-active role of repairing systems. This is often called "IT firefighting", where engineers hop from one major system malfunction or "fire" to another, trying to put out technical emergencies one after another.

As a result, this IT firefighting is a continuous high pressure job that eventually crushes morale and causes burn out for almost everyone in the tech support staff. For instance, most tech support engineers that I know quickly get disgusted with their jobs, so that they no longer even want to work on computers for fun any more. Ironically, this is the reason that most tech support engineers went into the computer field in the first place. In the beginning, learning and playing with state of the art technology was fun, and now it is depressing.

Unfortunately because of this, there has been noticeable decline in the number of qualified IT workers, and it is not because there are not enough IT engineers out of work either. Therefore in order to decrease the loss of qualified employees, the continuous stress of daily IT firefighting has got to stop or at least decrease significantly. Even with IT salaries that are higher than average, qualified employees that do stay on the job are more likely to be depressed and burned out, thus they work less efficiently and are prone to make more costly mistakes.

Typically in most large companies, some IT managers are able to periodically rotate their staff from re-active roles to pro-active roles to prevent burn out. These pro-actives assignments usually include upgrading systems, patching software, building new computers, cleaning up, general maintenance, new projects, and implementing code that will hopefully and most likely prevent system failures from happening in the future. These are the jobs that IT personnel typically prefer doing, since they are less stressful, more satisfying, and generally more fun to do. Unfortunately, this is seldom an option for most IT tech support teams.

For that reason, another solution is needed. That is why people in any organization have to be punished for causing system malfunctions that they look to IT to fix for them. Due to the lack of planning or foresight of others, IT tech support is constantly in the position of resolving emergencies or putting out fires that they did not start.

This punishment could be very severe or even minor. For instance where I work, if anyone breaks any system, then they are responsible for buying coffee, bagels, or donuts for everyone the next work day. Other alternatives are a whiteboard of shame to list who and what their mistakes were or a dunce hat. In my job, I have seen several very serious system failures that cost my employer thousands of dollars, yet no one was punished for it. Yet, Iíve seen employees get reprimanded if no one could surf the Internet for a few moments and no lost of revenue occurred. As a result, punishment needs to be fair and proportional to the cost of the mistake. I hope that this punishment will cause people to be more careful with the computers systems and eventually decrease the number of future issues from happening.

Another problem for IT support is user errors and training. All too often, users submit issues against computer systems when in actually the applications are working correctly and the users just needed more hands on training. Yet, these issues are consistently viewed as IT problems. When in reality, these users would be much better off with mentors who could better assistance them with their issues with respects to their assignments. This is just another example why tech support personnel are so fed up with their jobs.

In conclusion, the re-active nature of IT tech support or firefighting is a very stressful and demoralizing job that suffers from a high rate of burn out and employee turnover. Therefore, IT employers need to start experimenting with new ways to improve these jobs, such as mentoring employees and punishment for preventable mistakes, in order to better keep and satisfy their qualified employees by indirectly improving morale.

by Phil for Humanity
on 07/29/2007

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