June 21st, 2006


missing, or not missing, the IT department

Let me first say that I work for a Very Large Company that tries to make airplanes. With well over 10,000 employees, we're constantly struggling (like all companies are) to find the balance between being so unorganized that people don't know where their part of the puzzle is, and so organized that people are nailed to walls with red tape and can't do anything.

I think by working here I've learned that if you err on the side of over-organization, individuals will take it upon themselves to defy the boundries of solitude, talk to other departments, and get s done. Making airplanes is the most important thing, and we learn to play well with the organization because we know, at heart, that there are nice things about it even if it's a pain sometimes. Building airplanes shows that the organization is balanced and doesn't need screwed with any more. So even though I'm under eight bosses in an overworked department that keeps trying to hand me remedial documentation work and cert reports, I've managed to spend a lot of my days working outside all that with the lab guys, flight test pilots, maintenance manual writers, and all sorts of people outside my little department who all want to make a better airplane and know that sometimes it has to happen from the base up, not the top down.

The reason for this entry is that there's one department I haven't been able to work with: IT.

Everyone in IT is a nameless, faceless, defensive drone who embraces neither the project (make an airplane) or the organization. The only thing IT embraces is itself. Every piece of knowledge about their department is either supposively obvious (you didn't know we had a separate IP address for the ftp proxy? how stupid are you?) or a carefully gaurded secret (oh, and there's no way we'll tell you that IP address so you can let your vendor open a firewall port to it). You can't go to your lead project engineer for help navigating the IT department - he's having the same issues you are. You can't get a special inside person to call for practical help - there's one big IT number and you get whoever answers it that day. There's a laundry list of things you "just can't do" no matter what the justification is, and they don't offer alternatives or ideas to work around the system, you're just supposed to give up.

The really awful thing is that when I talk to IT professionals about this a lot of them smile knowingly and think it's hysterical to hear an engineer's tales of scrambling around their requirements, using home computers to download flight chart databases and stolen admin access passwords to install vendor diagnostics software. Remember "Hackers", where the company's top security programmer rode around on a scooter, glaring at all the idiots around him, existing in a world all his own? I seriously think that's how a lot of IT guys want to be. Aloof, uneffected by company goals, with control over everything and responsibility only to themselves. Our IT department wanted to work in the basement of the office across town, they wanted one big phone number for all of them so you could never get a personal contact.

Sadly, it's only funny until you get laid off. That's exactly what's happening at my company... the IT department was the first to face cuts in 2002, and now it's whittled down to almost nothing. The helpdesk has been outsourced to a company with offices in india, with 70,000 employees. Now, I call the helpdesk and provide a huge description of what I need to get a "Yeah, okay, we'll fill out a ticket" response to everything.

IT didn't want organization to balance chaos, they wanted organization to remove them from the purpose of the chaos altogether.

I don't think it's funny for a guy to lose his job, okay? I think it's tragic that so many IT positions are being outsourced and that at every company, getting your computer to work is a nightmare. But at the end of the day if airplanes don't fly it's a sign that there's a problem with the organization, and IT never understood that. They were the only people in the company who, if you told them they were holding up a customer delivery, would respond with "That doesn't effect me". It's sad that they couldn't leave their basement and get to know some of us who make the airplane decisions instead of just wanting to know who makes the IT decisions. When we gave up on them ever being part of the family, it didn't matter who they were anymore. Now, they're nobody.