The failed array cost the bank untold millions of dollars in downtime. Afterward, all but one of the bank's tech team was fired, says Howard. The guy who told the truth about what went wrong, instead of trying to cover his assets, was spared. (See IT superhero No. 7: The Lone Geek.)
But there's a downside to relying only on instinct: Guess wrong, and your intuition can come back to bite you. Howard says you need to back up your gut feelings with facts before you go public with your theory.
"You want to follow your hunch, but back it up with the facts before you broadcast it," he says. "Even if you end up being wrong, no one can fault you because you've substantiated it."
Due to downsizing, many tech pros have been forced to do the work of two or three people, notes Mike Meikle, CEO of the Hawkthorne Group, a boutique management and technology consulting firm. Even when basic admin or support duties have been outsourced, once the outside contractor or managed service provider hits their contractual limits, the spillover falls to this hero.
"They're like the guy in Fantastic Four who can stretch his body and cover anything," Meikle says. "They fill the gap when your outsourcers hit their allotted support time or contractual bureaucracy stalls progress."
Often geeks have no alternative but to push hard until the job is done. After Chile's Puyehue volcano erupted last June, Iron Mountain network engineer Chris Preister flew to Buenos Aires and worked around the clock for four days migrating his company's network, getting out moments before the airport was shut down.
"There's no magic or voodoo to it," he says. "It's just hard work and commitment."
This dependence on heroes bleeds over to development, when teams are often pushed too hard to make unrealistic deadlines, says Steven A. Lowe, CEO of Innovator, a consulting and custom software development firm.
"Some IT heroes push through and code for 70 straight hours and sleep under their desks to meet deadlines," he says. "The problem is that their mental acuity starts to degrade after so many hours in front of a keyboard, and they start to make mistakes."
Their fatal flaw? Burnout. Even the most powerful IT hero can get stretched too thin and will snap -- usually into another job, says Meikle.
"The danger to the business is if they say they need it in three months and you get it done in three months, they'll want the next project done in three months too," adds Lowe. "They forget that IT got it done because everyone was working 90 hours a week. That's not sustainable. Relying on heroes can be dangerous."