Remembering your worth as an IT professional

An IT pro learns just how little tech skills were valued at a former company

In the book "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams, there is something called the Total Perspective Vortex, which was designed to drive its victims crazy by making them realize how insignificant they are. It does so by showing them their relative importance in all of space and time. While nowhere near as mind-rending, here is my version of the TPV.

The nature of an IT job is that techs are called on during work hours, after work hours, on weekends, and so on. If there is an emergency, it's all hands on deck. Outside of the office, it can also mean that family and friends may seek you out for technical help or advice. To a certain point, this is just part of the profession, and it's nice to help out when possible.

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But there are times when things go too far and it gets harder to draw boundaries. Such was the case at the Internet service provider where I worked for many years. Over time, the Internet was viewed less like an up-and-comer and more like a utility, not unlike gas or electricity. And the atmosphere in the office became one of condescension.

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The IT staff ranks began to shrink. At its worst, there was one tech to about 250 employees, and because there were so few of us, most of us were always on call. It got to the point that if you were at a local eatery grabbing lunch and ran into someone from the office, chances were very good that you'd end up working before lunch was over, fixing whatever computer problem the person had. Lumped in as part of our company duties, we were also expected to work on the laptops, computers, and other tech needs for the relatives of the top execs.

David, the head of the company, was actually nice when he needed help from the techs and in general to me. One day he called for tech help. I went to see him, and he wasn't his usual pleasant self. He wasn't rude, but he obviously wasn't in the mood for small talk. I fixed whatever issue he was having and left.

Some time later, I left the company due to long hours and burnout. Through friends and acquaintances at my old job, I found out that David had passed away. I thought about the last encounter I'd had with him and wondered if it had occurred around the time that the doctors gave him a grim prognosis.

We were not close friends, but he was my boss at one time, so I attended the funeral. After the service, I got a chance to see a lot of my old non-IT coworkers, including "Jean," who seemed happy to see me again. I was simply happy to see a familiar face.

We spoke for a couple of minutes, and ultimately, the conversation turned to Jean's computer problems. He wondered if I could take a look sometime soon. I said something, I don't quite recall what it was, but it was said to cover my surprise. I had just been asked for technical advice at a funeral.

In my version of the Total Perspective Vortex, I found out where I fit in with my old company. In relation to the totality of the corporation, in or recently out of it: I was the help.

I have a set of skills that is based on book study and a lot of field experience; it is valuable. Some people, perhaps unwittingly, don't recognize this. But it's important as an IT professional to remember one's worth.

This story "Remembering one's worth as an IT professional," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com.

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