Some thoughts about one-man shops

Some thoughts about one-man shops. I noticed a post today by Rob Merrill (mostly because he linked to me in the post) on the Good Recruits blog titled Yes they are looking. I thought what he had to say tied in nicely with some of my own thoughts recently about the job I left behind.

If you are currently the boss, or the CEO of a company, which has one IT employee, you might want to listen up. What Rob had to say about “a feeling that the employee is serving everyone else, never being served.”, because that's exactly what wound up happening to me.

That was my first IT job, so naturally at first I was very excited that I was getting paid to work on and with computers all day long. I had a lot to learn, and to get up to speed on, so it kept my interest pretty well. I even relished the challenge of keeping things running that were so obviously out of date and in need of upgrading. I kind of wore it as a badge of honor that even though we had old, crappy equipment, I managed to keep things going and people were able to get their jobs done. Eventually, we finally had no choice but to upgrade and I was glad to get that experience under my belt, even if it did mean working 60 hours over 4 days.

Once that was done, however, the challenges began to get few and far between. That upgrade was in 2000. They are still using most of the equipment we purchased then. They are completely dependent on 6 year old hardware and software. There are still no plans to phase it out or replace any of it. Aside from that one upgrade in 2000 they never, in the 7 plus years I worked there, set aside budget items for technology. There was never any serious discussion about doing anything differently than the same way they'd been doing it, technology-wise. (There were plenty of discussions, but none of them ever included the go-ahead to spend any money, so I can hardly consider them serious)

On the other hand, every user and management complaint about that old technology and it's limitations, was directed at me, the person with no budget and no authority to spend money or make decisions. I was given the task of doing everything I could to make sure everyone had the training they needed to use their computers, but those same users were never held responsible for actually learning anything. In 7 years not a single supervisor ever asked me to give them feedback on the tech skills of the people who worked for them, or asked me to take part in an interview to make sure someone they were hiring had the requisite computer skills, but most of them did blame me when those same people didn't know how to do something, regardless of how many times I'd showed them.

Despite my best efforts to work on preventing break downs, to proactively deal with training issues and database maintenance, and to try and suggest ways to improve the state of the technology (which were mostly ignored anyway), most of the people I worked with saw my role as little more than sitting around waiting for something to break. A view that was obviously shared by my supervisor and other senior management, given their refusal, six months later, to actually hire another IT person because “we really wouldn't have enough for them to do”.

Which would be fine, had they not allowed me to simply walk out the door and take most of my knowledge with me. They've gotten away with that, because in the interest of parting on good terms and not wanting to leave the handful of very good friends I made while working there left hanging, I agreed to be “on-call” for them in case of emergencies or to do some things that they would have had trouble doing on their own, for 6 months or until they found a replacement. One week from today, the 6 months will be over. There are still a handful of things that I have not gotten handed over to anyone, and while I think they've found someone to call for PC emergencies, this past weekend when one of those brilliant users “accidentally” set a master password on their database library file, I was the person they had to turn to as their database expert.

Anyway, to make a long story even longer, if you find yourself supervising a one-man IT Department, you might want to take Rob's point. They probably are looking, and you probably won't be near as lucky as my former employers have been. Not to toot my own horn, but I don't know many people who would agree to still share knowledge and information six months after leaving a job, whether they were making a little extra on the consulting fees or not. It simply takes up too much time. They were very lucky in that regard, I could have just as easily left in August, pointed them to my documentation and told them to figure it out on their own. Will you be able to do that if your IT person leaves? If not, you'd better start planning for it, or do everything you can to keep him/her satisfied with their current job.

I'd do both if I were you.  [Out of the Frying Pan, and into the Cube]

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