Rage against the machine

Every family has an eccentric relative that is excused for routinely engaging in odd behaviour or obsessing about matters of little consequence.

Mine was Uncle Dennis who worked as an orderly in a psychiatric residential facility for more than 20 years.

Relatives blamed his job for his peculiar ways saying that, over time the staff become like the patients.

Uncle Dennis came to mind as I pondered the question of whether IT professionals go through a similar process - becoming like the machines they maintain.

Do they adopt some of the characteristics typical of the software they spend so many long hours managing? It would explain the high stress levels.

Uptime, mission-critical, reliability, high availability, I'm describing the systems here, not the people. But that's the environment in which IT professionals operate - from the pressure of zero downtime to the late night calls from the other side of the globe.

Today's computing equipment doesn't fail, so any errors that are made are probably yours.

Vodafone likes to joke that BlackBerrys are so addictive users call them crackberrys. But the fallout that follows - always being switched on - was revealed in last week's edition of Computerworld (August 23, p1).

The article outlined the findings of research undertaken by Seminole Electric Cooperative CIO, William Cross who completed a doctoral thesis on the relationship between stress and the quality of software code.

He found that as programmers feel more stress they write lower-quality code. What made the article so colourful was the profile Cross provided of a typical IT professional suffering from serious stress levels.

Those that fit the profile are job-addictive, work long hours, divorced, sensitive to praise and face serious health problems if the issue isn't addressed.

Forgive me and my insensitivity, but the first image that sprang to my mind was that of the divorced, hard drinking heroes of a corny, 1970s cop show.

But seriously, I'm the first to admit that the fast pace of the IT industry isn't for the feint-hearted. And it can be particularly gruelling if you fit the profile.

Cross says IT professionals have an unusually high desire to please others and that it tends to get IT people to put in more hours and take things more seriously than perhaps another group.

Cross says the best stress leveller is participant management - let your staff participate in the process. You pay them a lot of money for their brain power so it's foolish not to put it to good use.

In other words, don't try to be a hero. Not even machines are invincible. Just be human. Are you becoming like the machines you maintain? E-mails to Sandra_Rossi@idg.com.au

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