Why IT Builds a House of Cards



  • It does not take long working in IT to experience this phenomenon. The previous IT professional built what is clearly a disaster and then promptly quit. We see this in small shops where there is a single IT professional that leaves or in shops using an MSP and the MSP is replaced. In both cases the commonality is that when there is a change of IT staff it is a total change of staff - there is a lack of continuity between the old staff and the new staff. What is important here is that there is no one involved in making the old decisions who then is affected by them in the future.

    So why do we see this so often? This might seem strange and just a bizarre artefact of IT, but there is a reason for it, I believe. Or reasons, perhaps.

    IT is inherently complex and as we well know, it is poorly understood by management and often ignored. Management often sees only the results and not the risk - whether to outages, data loss, audits or whatever. This means that management will often (in fact, almost aways) reward "getting lucky" more than "doing a good job." This creates some very obvious problems. Combine this with the fact that nearly no SMB has a growth plan for IT pros effectively forcing them to change jobs to continue their careers and we have a disastrous combination of factors for the business.

    To an employee making big decisions that are only see from the outside and not audited for quality processes there is only results of "it worked" or "it failed" rather than "it works but we are at huge risk of total disaster" and "it didn't work, but nearly did and it wasn't my fault." An employee is, much of the time, more protected by cutting corners than honestly trying to do good work. This is an obvious failing by management to not look for meaningful work and to reward random or worse, reckless, work.

    The result is that for best career results in the SMB space much of the time and often in the MSP for the SMB space the best career options can be had by taking reckless chances. In doing this, projects can come in under budget and be completed quickly. Why waste time protecting the environment from disaster, why waste time documenting, why train someone else to take over, why study best practices or common approaches - all of these things add career risk and if the business isn't looking for a "good job" to be done, there is little incentive for the IT staff to consider them as valuable. In reality, even very reckless IT decisions are rarely going to blow up in the first year or two, most disasters happen well down the road. And even very dangerous conditions rarely have a disaster rate higher than 50% over a system lifespan.

    For example, using a Walmart bargain bin laptop as a server, no RAID, no backups, with a pirated copy of Windows 2008, without being patched ever still has a better than 50% chance of not creating a disaster for more than two years. Of course we know that this is a terrible businesses decision and represents all kinds of risk to the business, yet if the business is not auditing for good decision making, long term investment thinking, thinking like an owner, risk assessments, legal licensing, industry best practices and so forth, the business would only see "working file server with active directory functionality" and "saving a fortune over other proposed solutions." Of course, the business could fail and lose every bit of their data and be hit by a major Microsoft licensing audit and be totally out of business overnight because of this, but unless those disasters hit the business might never know what risk was taken.

    How does a house of cards scenario help the IT pro? In tons of ways:

    • It lowers the skill and effort needed to do IT work. This lets marginally skilled IT pros look competent and even, in some cases, like super stars (short term).
    • It allows IT to benefit from getting paid full time work, for doing part time effort.
    • If the IT pro or MSP can walk away before the disaster hits, they look like heroes and move on to the next job(s) with a sparkling reference that they need only use once or twice before doing the same thing from the next job.
    • If the disaster hits before they quit or find another job, the impact is minimal. If the fault for risky house of cards thinking gets pinned on them, they get fired or quit - it's not that much punishment, the risk is low. Find another job, use a different job that didn't have a disaster as a reference. References are a dime a dozen.
    • If the disaster hits after moving on, blame the "new guy" for not maintaining the system properly. The same factors that kept management from auditing while you were there likely can't tell if you or the new guy are to blame for the disaster. Heck, he didn't fix the problems so clearly he was okay with how things were, right?
    • In easily 60% or more of cases, no disaster will ever happen before systems are retired or the company fails anyway. Most SMBs go out of business in just a few years in general. So the chances that there even will be a failure at all, while insanely high for a business decision where the negative outcomes will often mean bankruptcy, is no big deal to the employee for whom the risks are trivial. So there is a very good chance that several companies that an IT pros does this to will never be any the wiser and will very often thank him for what he did.
    • Even if caught, because the business wasn't watching carefully there is a very good chance that the IT Pro can pass blame to equipment, acts of God or whatever. These things happen, just look at all of the other SMBs having unexpected, total disasters. Even when caught, blame is not always assigned.

    At the end of the day, IT Pros in the SMB are rarely held accountable in a way that rewards good decision making for the business and rather are more likely to be rewarded, either by the initial company or through subsequent career moves, for having put the business at risk. The risks to the business are huge, while trivial to the IT staff. Conversely, the employee is rarely rewarded for doing a truly excellent job and may be passed over for work if they refuse to cut corners compared to someone offering to "make do with fewer resources and less budget" making it actually a risky career move to do a good job!

    At the end of the day, IT cannot fix this problem. Only businesses can. Good business means rewarding employees for good work and holding them accountable to bad work. But if the business rewards high risk scenarios, employees will take that route. Understanding how businesses are incentivizing their own demise or risk is the critical first step to fixing this issue.



  • Too bad I can only upvote this once.



  • I hope to write more on how businesses can deal with this and how IT can encourage businesses to deal with this. And how to avoid it.



  • @scottalanmiller said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    I hope to write more on how businesses can deal with this and how IT can encourage businesses to deal with this. And how to avoid it.

    These are things that are sorely needed to be visible -- especially at the upper levels of management in some circles.



  • @scottalanmiller said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    Combine this with the fact that nearly no SMB has a growth plan for IT pros effectively forcing them to change jobs to continue their careers and we have a disastrous combination of factors for the business.

    This is almost as big of a factor as incompetence. Pay is rarely good for SMB, training is rarely offered, and Management rarely cares about IT long term. There isn't much incentive to do any better for your company. The IT professionals that are competent know they are using the job as a stepping stone so they like to stay on cruise control and it is hard to blame them.

    However, I left my last position with a completely different network then when I started. It shows how a competent IT staff who is supported by management can accomplish quite a lot. I will say they did pay quite a bit better than most other jobs with networks around the same size and appropriately staffed their IT.

    The moral of the story here is you get what you pay for. Every once in awhile you can get a rockstar IT person at $40K a year, but it doesn't really happen very often. Sure, many IT people go start out a $20k and work their way up ( I did), but they are going to view that $40K a year salary as a stepping stone with limited growth. Give them limited support (money and verbal) and the chances of having a dank network get even lower.


  • Vendor

    @IRJ said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    The moral of the story here is you get what you pay for. Every once in awhile you can get a rockstar IT person at $40K a year, but it doesn't really happen very often. Sure, many IT people go start out a $20k and work their way up ( I did), but they are going to view that $40K a year salary as a stepping stone with limited growth. Give them limited support (money and verbal) and the chances of having a dank network get even lower.

    $10 an hour to hire IT?!? You can make more waiting tables, or at a gas station. 40K isn't much better (Bartenders make more than this).



  • @John-Nicholson said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    @IRJ said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    The moral of the story here is you get what you pay for. Every once in awhile you can get a rockstar IT person at $40K a year, but it doesn't really happen very often. Sure, many IT people go start out a $20k and work their way up ( I did), but they are going to view that $40K a year salary as a stepping stone with limited growth. Give them limited support (money and verbal) and the chances of having a dank network get even lower.

    $10 an hour to hire IT?!? You can make more waiting tables, or at a gas station. 40K isn't much better (Bartenders make more than this).

    Haven't been in SW much I take it. Tons of people complaining about earning less than gas station cashiers and fast food workers.



  • @scottalanmiller said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    @John-Nicholson said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    @IRJ said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    The moral of the story here is you get what you pay for. Every once in awhile you can get a rockstar IT person at $40K a year, but it doesn't really happen very often. Sure, many IT people go start out a $20k and work their way up ( I did), but they are going to view that $40K a year salary as a stepping stone with limited growth. Give them limited support (money and verbal) and the chances of having a dank network get even lower.

    $10 an hour to hire IT?!? You can make more waiting tables, or at a gas station. 40K isn't much better (Bartenders make more than this).

    Haven't been in SW much I take it. Tons of people complaining about earning less than gas station cashiers and fast food workers.

    It's become rather common. Most of my jobs I have been severely underpaid. Not all, mind you, but most.



  • Just to necro this thread, how would someone in IT actually get the business to see and understand these risks? I've tried this, explained in full detail the chances taken and I get a "thank you for telling us, but let's stay the course" sorts of responses.



  • @DustinB3403 said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    Just to necro this thread, how would someone in IT actually get the business to see and understand these risks?

    Literally print out this article and hand it to them! 🙂



  • @DustinB3403 said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    "thank you for telling us, but let's stay the course" sorts of responses.

    Not much you can do for that. As a teacher, I could teach all day, but there was no way for me to force a kid to learn.



  • @EddieJennings Not even if you hit them with the book?



  • Try the rubber chicken. Worked for my geometry teacher



  • @DustinB3403 said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    @EddieJennings Not even if you hit them with the book?

    That's tough, kids move fast.



  • @scotth said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    Try the rubber chicken. Worked for my geometry teacher

    Well rubber chickens are way more aerodynamic than any book so that's a no brainer.



  • @DustinB3403 Remember to answer the air gapped phone in the bottom right drawer. 🙂



  • @scotth said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    @DustinB3403 Remember to answer the air gapped phone in the bottom right drawer. 🙂

    What?



  • @DustinB3403 said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    Just to necro this thread, how would someone in IT actually get the business to see and understand these risks? I've tried this, explained in full detail the chances taken and I get a "thank you for telling us, but let's stay the course" sorts of responses.

    So you stay the course while keeping your resume current,,, and then, when the proverbial crap hits the fan, you have the prime opportunity to say "I told you so!"



  • @DustinB3403 said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    @scotth said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    @DustinB3403 Remember to answer the air gapped phone in the bottom right drawer. 🙂

    What?

    Same geometry teacher would take out the rubber chicken, beat it on the desk and then pretend to answer the deskphone in his bottom right drawer. All I can say it that it got our attention.



  • @DustinB3403 said in Why IT Builds a House of Cards:

    Just to necro this thread, how would someone in IT actually get the business to see and understand these risks? I've tried this, explained in full detail the chances taken and I get a "thank you for telling us, but let's stay the course" sorts of responses.

    Thanks for the necro. Get greeted with a comment I didn't recall making, just to look at the date 2 1/2 years ago. lol.

    Then, on a second note, this article legitimately applies to me today.