The Jackass in I.T.

Here’s the deal:  our IT department director is a mechanic, not a race driver.  He isn’t interested in supporting MACs even though half of our students use them.  Worse, he always wants to horn in on our plans and limit our innovations.  He never goes to CALI or ABA Tech Show but is sure he knows everything, despite the fact that he could not get a proxy working for the past year and a half.  When we wanted to use clickers, he did not move in a timely way so I complained about him, only to be told that I was wrong he really is interested in innovation and service.  He’s a “nice” guy so that seems to carry him pretty far with the law school administration which I would not describe as tech savvy.  Short of crime, what should I do?

Wow. I knew that sooner or later I’d get a question about difficult IT departments, but even I’m surprised that it happened on the first day of this blog!

One of the most amazing lessons I learned during my time in academia is that being liked by the right people in administration can go a long way towards job security, even if you’re totally incompetent at your job.  And let’s be clear, this IT Director sounds incompetent – He doesn’t appear able to perform basic job duties, he shows no interest in improving his skill set and, worst of all, he hampers the attempts of others to do their jobs.

Ooooh, that last bit is a massive pet peeve of mine.  It never bothered me if co-workers wanted to do nothing but surf the Internet all day, but stay out of my way.  I’ve got this German work ethic thing going and I want to earn my paycheck.

Since we’re all in agreement that this guy sort of sucks, I think it may actually be useful to figure out WHY he sucks.   I firmly believe that most bad employees/co-workers are made not born.  (The other 5-10% really are just jerks.)  This guy might be salvageable.

Okay. He’s an IT guy in a law school.  That means he’s a fairly bright person that has been treated only slightly better than one would a waitress in a roadside diner  by people that are convinced they are God’s Gift to Academic Discourse.   On a more basic level, he’s a servant in the world of academe.  In the outside world, he’d be considered brilliant.  Inside the Ivy Walls, he’s a red headed step child somewhere in between the janitor and staff secretaries.  That can really mess with one’s attitude.  The know-it-allness, the reluctance to support MACs (which may not be in his skill set and he doesn’t want to admit) and dragging you down and keeping you from succeeding might all be in response to years of battering.

That doesn’t excuse the behavior.  It just might be a cause of it.

So how do we work with it?

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and start with the “win more friends with honey than vinegar” school of thought.  First of all, find out if he even has a professional development budget.   It sort of shocking how many IT people don’t, especially considering how quickly the needed skills change in that area.  If he doesn’t, perhaps you could suggest to his administrator buddy to kick in a few bucks so he can attend CALI or some other conference. Makes you look like Mother Freaking Theresa to the admin and may win you a friend in the IT department.

(Um, I guess I should make an editorial note at this point that I work for CALI.  Our conference really is pretty awesome, though.)

Now, assuming he has a professional development budget but chooses not to use it, I have to admit…that does nudge the dial a few clicks more to the jerk side of things.  BUT! Maybe not!  Maybe he just needs a nudge in the right direction.  Attending a professional and/or academic conference can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before.  Maybe offer to co-present with him at a conference.

It also doesn’t have to be a huge thing.  If your staff does intra-staff brown bags or other smaller professional development activities, invite him along.  Get him in the mindset that professional development is something that everyone does – no matter what their position in the law school – and continues to do throughout their career.

And if that doesn’t work?

Well, if going over him didn’t work, and going through him won’t work, you’re just going to have to go around him.  Do what you can without his assistance and document, document, document all the times that he got in your way.  Because eventually – especially with the MAC thing or anything else that directly impacts students – students will start to complain.  Loudly. Or he’ll mess up with some other administrator.  Or something else will happen and your opinion will be asked on his job performance.   And you can say, “Funny you should ask. Let me go get my spreadsheet.”

So let’s talk about the title I gave this blog post.  As you’ll learn as you read stuff I write, I’m a farmgirl. A real one.  Had a pet pony and everything.  And as a result, I tend to relate most things back to lessons I learned on the farm.  And this IT guy sounds like a real jackass.  The hee-haw donkey kind. Now you can try and force a donkey to do what you want, and sometimes you can even cajole it through treats and sweet talk.  But basically a donkey is only going to do what it wants to do.  So you have to somehow convince it that it wants to do what you want it to do.  It’s not easy, but once you do, it’s a smooth and profitable relationship.  And if you can’t? Well, then you turn it out to pasture and just go hook up the damn horse.

So, did I get it right?  Give your two cents in the comments!

 

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