"One of the biggest things to cause IT pros to feel undervalued is a lack of appreciation for the skills they're bringing to the table," says Joel Evans, co-founder of the Geek.com news site. "They're misunderstood in a professional sense. You have some manager who runs Ubuntu on his home PC and thinks he knows all about Linux. He looks at net admins and thinks 'they just maintain the network' without having any idea what that really entails."
Geeks are from Mars, suits are from Venus
The problem runs deeper than a mere lack of appreciation. Geeks and suits don't walk the same walk, talk the same talk, or even eat lunch in the same rooms. They have different motivations and seek different rewards. It can create a simmering discontent that may easily boil over into a major problem.
"The problem is not simply that IT people are disgruntled," says Bill Pfleging, co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive."
"The problem is that geeks in general are one culture and suits are a different culture. They're like oil and water. They have completely different ideas about what should be going on. The whole situation is loaded with lack of respect and lack of trust on both sides," he says.
For example, the business side usually assumes techies are lying to them, says Pfleging. "It's the Captain Kirk school of management. Scotty says it's going to take 48 hours to fix the warp engines, Kirk says you've got two, and somehow Scotty gets it done. But the real world doesn't work that way."
Meanwhile, many techies think business people who don't understand technology -- and have no interest in learning about it -- are idiots. "It's frustrating for them to have to answer the same question over and over," he adds. "They get very irritated when the suits don't respect the technology they care about."
There's no dearth of consultants urging IT pros to improve their communications skills and get more involved in the business -- but you'll rarely find anyone urging the business side to learn more about IT.
"Nobody cares about the technical aspects of a solution or problem, except the geeks," says Duperval. "If geeks want to be taken seriously by management, they need to speak the language of the business: How is the company going to make money or lose money, and why is it important for management?"
SourceForge community manager Ross Turk believes business professionals are starting to realize they need to meet the geeks halfway. "Most businesses are about technology these days," he says. "Being technologically competent is a differentiator in way it hasn't been in the past."
But while the suits control budgets, salaries, and the overall direction of the company, the geeks hold the keys to the economic engine. Without IT, there is no business. The question is whether unhappy IT pros will use that power toward their own ends.
"I don't think techies ever doubted they had the keys to car," says Pfleging. "Now the suits are starting to realize it. Back in the '90s, I talked to techs who were fully aware of the Y2K problem, but they were content to sit back and wait for it to all go to Hell. Watching a suit go down in flames is entertainment for geeks."