IT sweatshop pays the price for budget cuts

When the IT director hatches a plan to reduce costs, the consequences spread far beyond the tech support staff

In today's economic climate, it's not uncommon for employees to take on new roles, whether or not they're qualified. To the budget people upstairs, this may sound like a wonderful idea. In real life, the benefits of such a strategy do not always translate.

I saw this for myself a couple of years ago while working for a major company at its North American headquarters -- coincidentally, where the organization's CEO and everyone else at the top of the corporate food chain were stationed as well.

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IT management at the company didn't treat any of their staff well, but the employees in this location were consistently handled like the proverbial stepchildren. New IT staff would come in on a temp-to-hire basis, assume the job responsibilities of three people, run full steam ahead until they burned out, and then quit/get fired. Very few actually made it to the point where they were hired on full-time. Even if they did, they usually didn't last much longer since the pressure only got worse.

When I arrived, I found that the only other IT staff member had been there a mere two months with minimal training. The last full-time IT person had left a month before, so she'd been on her own since and was frazzled beyond words.

Not only were we overworked, but the users at this site were some of the neediest and most demanding backstabbers you could find anywhere. Add to that a ridiculously complex configuration for the machines, file synchronization that never worked, roaming profiles that corrupted at least once a week for each user, and servers that were less stable than a 20-something former child star.

We were hired as the local IT staff for the usual desktop support responsibilities. The offsite tier 3 support team was responsible for managing the servers and network equipment.

After a couple of the employees burned out and another was fired, the director of IT came up with a brilliant idea that would save the company all sorts of money: He would have the local IT support people be responsible for server and networking equipment at the headquarters.

In theory I'm sure this sounded like a great idea, but in practice he was begging for trouble. I had some server experience from a previous job, so I was able to keep an eye on that. But the networking equipment -- fuhgeddaboudit. I didn't even know what each piece of equipment did, much less how to troubleshoot it. They were simply magical boxes with twinkling lights that made stuff work.

When I expressed my concerns to the director, he started with an empty promise to have someone from the network team "come down and show us some stuff." Then came a threat masked in all of the political horse crap he could muster: "We encourage all of the people that we hire to continue growing and bettering themselves, and this is what we would like to continue to see from you. So you can help the team out by taking on this role."

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