What to do when IT is broken -- and management doesn't care

An IT pro tackles deep system issues at one company -- then realizes the worst problems are skin deep

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As IT pros, we know how to fix workflow and systems. Unfortunately, our troubleshooting skills don't always apply to senior execs stuck in their toxic ways.

I learned this lesson during my time at a company with a negative corporate culture. Early on while researching the position, I'd heard from an acquaintance who worked there that it was a good organization. That might've been true for the person who referred me, but I found out quickly it was not the case for those of us in the technology department.

For example, upon arrival on my first day, I was supposed to take part in new employee orientation, but no one was available for the task. Instead, they were all fighting fires, so to speak -- one of the critical systems had failed. As the day went on, I discovered the company had a lot more issues with its technology infrastructure. I almost wanted to walk out and pretend I hadn’t accepted the offer. 

I decided to see what the next day would bring, but it was much of the same: critical systems problems, with no time to do anything other than tend to emergencies. Organization and planning were nearly nonexistent.

Cautiously optimistic

After two weeks, I was about ready to walk -- and I would have, had I not been promoted by the CIO. I’m not sure why I signed on. Perhaps I thought I could make changes for the better.

In any case, after the promotion I was in charge of overseeing all the issues that popped up every day. Senior management -- those at the very top who have no idea what's really going on -- wanted all the problems to be fixed in three months, which was a totally unrealistic expectation.

Over the preceding five years, the company had neglected its infrastructure and kept building on top of what it had. It ended up with a lot of systems that weren’t updated or maintained, which then cascaded into a myriad of issues. One coworker explained it best when he said that working there was like working on a car that was currently being driven.

Due to management's unreasonable expectations, few tech people (particularly senior members) stuck around. I noticed from employment records that a majority of the techs notched only a year of service. Some of the bigger projects could end up with several different leads, and because people didn’t stay put, nobody took responsibility for the long-term goals (“it’s not my problem anymore”). As a result, the infrastructure was a huge mess.

I realized that to really fix the issues, I had to rally my team and make repairs. With a lot of overtime and pretty much ignoring anything the senior execs threw our way, we eventually stabilized the infrastructure after nearly two years of hard work.

They take and they take

I was proud of the work we’d done, but despite this accomplishment, senior management still hadn’t changed. They weren’t interested in our work with the technology and kept demanding the impossible.

Even worse was how they treated the tech department -- as if we were property. They didn’t give much credit to our team, and though we told them the cause of the long-term challenges, they still tried to squeeze our group, thus perpetuating the problem. They didn’t pay much in the first place, and coupled with the poor treatment, the employee turnover continued its churn.

My two most senior employees quit, and I followed. Some problems simply can’t be fixed with tech know-how alone.

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