What users hate about IT pros

Really, would it kill you to spend an extra 30 seconds with a user to make sure the fix you just applied actually works?

That's what Jeff, portfolio manager with a financial services firm in the Washington, D.C., area, wants to know.

"[It irks me] when an IT manager 'fixes' something on my computer and then says 'It should work now' and walks away," says Jeff, who, like other users interviewed, didn't want his last name or company named for fear the IT pros in his organization read this publication.

Walking away is not what annoys Jeff the most about IT managers. "Once [our IT manager] asked how I enjoyed a weekend party; he had read my e-mails, as I never mentioned the party to him," he says.

The relationship between network managers and users is often love-hate. Users revealed a general sense of respect for and reliance on IT staff - but were quick to come up with frustrations about their IT departments. Despite technology becoming mainstream, most users are still befuddled by their PCs and the people who manage them.

Because most users don't understand how a PC works, they don't understand when it doesn't work, and the blame often falls on the expert who last touched the system. Take, for example, the syndrome "one step forward, two steps back."

"What bugs me most about my IT manager is, when he makes a change to my computer he always leaves things undone - keyboard shortcuts [are missing], programs that I use all the time are uninstalled, passwords don't work," says one woman who works at a Washington, D.C. radio station. "And it always seems to happen overnight or on the weekends, so when I arrive in the early morning I don't have access to the things I need. It drives me nuts!"

Brian, a director at a national industry association, says his pet peeve is his IT department sets limits on his e-mail storage. Employees have 25MB of storage space for messages, which Brian quickly consumes because he receives more than 100 e-mails every day, many with attachments.

"I don't think [e-mail storage] should be unlimited, and I understand why the size needs to be monitored, but it doesn't seem like the storage capacity has adjusted to the inflated use of e-mail," he says.

When asked to name the strangest request the IT department ever made, Brian jokes: "They wanted to 'sync my handheld,' which seemed a bit inappropriate."

Which brings up another common complaint: techno-jargon. The technical terms and shorthand that IT managers throw around create an air of mystery and superiority to those not in the know, some say. And that may be by design.

"While they make you feel stupid on the one hand, they also shroud solutions in mystery, which I believe is a job protection/justification strategy," says Lisa, a partner with a financial services firm in the Boston area.

One IT executive points out one of the technology industry's most basic terms. "Look at the word 'user,' which we use to describe people. It does not have positive connotations; either someone is shooting heroin or freeloading off their family," says Frank Gillman, director of technology with Allen Matkins, a law firm in Los Angeles.

(Editor's note: Yes, we're obviously guilty of this, too.)

It's safe to say the majority of users don't want to understand the inner workings of a switch or have the company's WAN sketched out on a white board.

"You've got to keep it simple," says Heather Clarke-Peckerman, president of HCP Consulting Group, a career coaching firm in New Jersey. "Most users aren't interested in the how [technology] works. Just show me what to do, how do I get out of this dialog box?"

She recommends IT managers remember how they first learned about technology and what descriptions or explanations helped them understand better.

Alan Matkins' Gillman instructs his staff to teach users enough so when they run into the same problem with their PC again, they don't necessarily need to call the help desk.

"I tell our people to teach users how to fish rather than just solve the problem," he says.

Gillman also recommends his staff use analogies; comparing a computer to an automobile often works, he says. When a user at his law firm asked if he needed to shut down his computer at the end of the day, Gillman asked if the user shuts his car off when he gets home at night.

"People really respond to that," he says.

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