I’m always on duty!

I remember this one time Neil and I were having a beer after work at a bar just off Toronto’s Eglinton Ave. when we spotted Dave, our IT manager, walking out the door to join a friend on the patio. I knew exactly what to do.

We waited until we’d finished off our beers and gathered up our

belongings. As we left, I searched for him among the other patio-dwellers and found him with a pint of his own at a comfortable table for two. His friend was in the middle of a sentence, but that didn’t stop me. Dave’s eyes widened with a “”You? Here?”” expression as I approached.

“”There you are!”” I said. “”We’ve been looking all over for you! The network’s down and you’re going to have to get back up to the office right away!””

Dave smiled the slightest of smiles as he took a swig from his bottle. “”I don’t THINK so.””

I was kidding, of course, but after recently taking a week off to recharge my batteries I wondered what it is about IT managers that makes us expect them to always keep the meter running.

I am not an IT manager; nor do I have anywhere close to the responsibility of maintaining the network infrastructure for an entire business. While on vacation, however, I found it nearly impossible to keep the technology out of my mind. I’m not foolish enough to think I could avoid technology itself, I just wanted a break from the issues. I resolved not to read any newspapers or newsmagazines. I avoided any contact with a computer or Internet access device. Though I watched a lot of television — I don’t have a cable TV at home, so this is a genuine luxury for me — I stayed away from broadcast news.

But as early as 9:00 a.m., while tuning in to Live With Regis and Kelly, I began to realize there would be no escape. Every day Regis and Kelly have audience members at home call in to answer a trivia question. As I was watching, Regis asked that day’s caller what he did for a living. “”I’m in computers,”” he said.

“”Computers!”” Regis boomed. “”Oh, well, if you’re in computers, you should come over here. We need people who know about computers.””

Kelly nodded. “”We’re having problems.””

Immediately I was brought back to the delicate matter of user-IT manager relations we covered in last week’s Soft Skills series.

A few days later, at the annual Schick family picnic, I was cornered by one of my aunts. “”I need to buy a computer, and I just know you could help me,”” she said, marking the first time a member of my extended clan has ever acknowledged what I do for a living. I found myself discussing the concept of “”good enough computing”” and quoting market share statistics from IDC.

Finally, I decided to settle in to read a philosophy book I had been saving for some time. Once I struggled my way through it, it turned out to offer a new theory about human progress that used the rise of computers and the Internet to make several key points. I might as well have been sitting here in the office, trying to dream up one of these editorials. I can only imagine an IT manager’s holiday, which is no doubt filled with help desk-style questions from friends and family members.

Obviously as the use of technology increases in the enterprise we become more dependent on the professionals who do our troubleshooting, but perhaps we also make some psychological assumptions about their dedication to the job. The stereotype of the programmer who stays up until all hours working on a new line of code feeds into this. So does the rise of mobile computing and remote access tools that allow IT managers to be on guard 24 hours a day.

As IT departments try to align themselves more closely to the business objectives of their organizations, they would do well to make sure they have the resources necessary for the enterprise to temporarily survive without them. Mission-critical or not, there’s still one form of downtime we all need.

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Shane Schick
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