IT's geek du jour

Our hero, the IT professional, is often pitilessly characterised as a geek, complete with short-sleeved white shirts, pocket protectors, taped-up glasses and nasal decongestants. But does this image ring true?

A quick poll conducted by Computerworld revealed that many IT professionals consider the geeky image as a positive one, and not damaging to the IT industry's self esteem. Although, the geek conjured is less Dilbert and more Neo, from the Matrix.

Eoin Joyce, a former IT professional and now a partner at training body Selfcert, draws the distinction between the cool and the nasty.

"A lot of people who interact with IT pros see (the comic strip character) Dilbert in them, because of the answers they get when they report a problem.

"Dilbert probably comes across as too dumb to be an actual IT professional," he said, "[whereas] movies such as Hackers and The Matrix make the geek image cool -- it doesn't harm the industry at all! However, the image of the IT pro who speaks jargon all the time and is uncooperative, is harmful."

A cool geek, in Joyce's view, is intelligent and analytical. A nasty geek's crimes, he said, include bombarding users with techo jargon, creating IT systems without regard for the business unit that pays for it, constantly saying "that can't be done", and generally making the CIO's job difficult.

In the US, a similar poll found that IT professionals are likely to be multilingual, come from a diverse range of cultures and have gym-toned bodies under their black turtlenecks.

Locally, our IT pro comes from a different mould.

Polled on his choice of music, poetry and choice of threads, Reefe Brighton, CIO, Aurora Energy, said he is partial to the waistcoat teamed with comfortable jeans; he listens to Boston and Queen copied to MP3s for ease of use.

While an IT manager from consulting firm, who requested anonimity, said IT professionals are so over-worked that they have no time to listen to music, let alone have a life and read poetry!

But all agreed that IT professionals of today come from a range of different cultural, socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Although there are positive aspects to the geek, and it is all well and good for those on the lower rungs of the ladder, this cocoon should be shrugged off for those that want to reach upper management.

"The geeks shall inherit the earth. Hopefully not till we're finished with it though," quipped Brighton. "If you want a career in broader management, then yes [the geek image is harmful]. Very few CIOs go on to become CEOs."

The anonymous IT manager agreed: "At the lower levels it is OK, but for management-level IT people, there needs to be more business awareness."

Joyce, however, saw no harm in a bit of geek in the CIO.

"The IT professional of the future will not get by on technical skills alone. Other aspects of the person do not matter, such as race or gender. As long as they have good problem-solving skills and personal skills, they will succeed," Joyce said.

"If someone has risen to the rank of CIO, they probably had the necessary skills to deserve such a position."

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