If you’re an engineer, the probability of understanding the life and times of folks in IT is marginal at best.
As an engineer our job is to figure out new ways of building things. We’re paid to innovate and break things. And when the things we innovate on have big outcomes we get big rewards.
IT, on the other hand, has a different function. IT’s job is to ensure that the there are standard operational systems in place that allow the business to run efficiently. In many ways, IT is not there to innovate. In many corporate environments IT exists to thwart unnecessary innovation. Essentially lines of business are allowed to innovate in their areas, but to get something deployed at scale the conservative time consuming IT processes minimize the risk of some new disruptive immature technology taking down your company.
Most technology companies refer to this as the “extended enterprise sales cycle“.
So if Facebook says their motto in engineering is “Go fast and break things”, in IT it would be slightly different:
If you are in IT, a way to advance your career is to advocate a new product or technology and have that product or technology work out. Using the technology becomes a bet your career kind of moment.
And if the technology doesn’t work, well that is the end of your career. You’re the douche that introduced Product A that everybody hates and everybody says should be fired. How many of us have sat around using some piece-of-shit product screaming for the head of the fool that forced us to use it? Many. Many. Many.
The old adage – no one ever got fired for buying X – is real. If you make a safe choice, and it doesn’t pan out, it’s not your fault, it’s the vendors fault. If you make a risky choice, and it doesn’t pan out, it’s your fault.
As engineers this is perplexing. The whole point of innovation is to move the ball forward so failure is normal, but IT doesn’t operate at the edge of innovation. IT must keep the lights on.
So when someone in IT bets on your technology they are betting their entire future on you.
Let’s dig into that a little bit more.
Typically you’re selling a piece of technology into a space that IT already has inadequate solutions. The natural and correct reaction of folks in IT is to:
- deny the problem
- try to solve with the existing vendors
- only if they are desperate try something new.
Why do they deny?
Because introducing the new technology means disruption and change. And when you’re short on resources trying to keep the lights on, the last thing you want is disruption and change. Most of the time, people complaining about a problem just go away, so it’s best to just wait and see if this is a real issue.
As for why stick with the existing vendors?
Because the minute you introduce a new vendor there was one way of doing things, now there is two, and that means that everything gets more complicated.
Because you have to keep two sets of employees trained one for vendor A, and one for vendor B. And you can sit there and wait for a heterogenous management solution, but you are finite.
Worse new vendors have new issues. The existing vendor you understand them, they are like a partner you’re comfortable with, things might not be perfect but you understand each. The new vendor is like this exciting new partner that promises so much, but once you get past the first date you start to learn things and it will take a while to get comfortable.
If you are desperate try something new
And so when you’re desperate you will be forced to try something new. The problem will not go away, and your existing vendor can’t solve it.
The dice are rolling…
So you do extended Proof’s of Concept (PoC) to prove the new guy can’t solve it either. Because you really really want the new guy to go away so that the problem will go away.
But the new guy doesn’t fail, and the PoC was successful so you’re at the roll the dice moment.
Let’s take a step back and think about this situation: You have an acute problem that you can only solve with new technology and if the outcome is a failure it’s your fault because it was your job to make the right decision.
This is usually is a make or break your career moment.
If the new vendor works out, you’re a hero. If the vendor doesn’t your replacement can figure out what to do next.
And the stakes are typically not that high… it’s not like sales really needs their email or the web site needs to be up.
So what happens when your new technology fails?
The acute problem is still acute and needs to be solve so your boss looks for new ideas and new solutions, typically elsewhere.
It’s not bad, it’s not evil, it’s just the way the world works.
The guy who bet his career on the outcome is now wondering how long it will take for him to recover from the mess…
Some final thoughts.
As a vendor, I remember selling a piece of technology to a customer, and the technology failing. The effect of the failure was cataclysmic, our ability to penetrate into parts of that customer’s infrastructure was permanently handed to our competitors. The fact that underlying problem existed in all vendors infrastructure was irrelevant. Our product had failed. As far as the person who had bet their career on our tech, he was never going to trust us again. I remember the anger in his voice, and the feeling of outrage.
As an engineer, I was kind-of-like: Dude get over it.
Until I was on the receiving end of such a mess.
A vendor made a good decision for them, that screwed my company over. And I can’t argue with their decision, and they were very good about telling me their decision, but the reality I was screwed, my team was screwed, and my career was hurt. The net effect of that right decision, I will never trust that vendor again. And that means I’ll buy what they have, but I won’t ever bet on them keeping their roadmap promises.
Promises we make to our customers affect their lives. And those promises when we fail to deliver can cost careers. Not ours, theirs.
At some level, you start to wonder, what does this really mean? Well if the customer is a really prominent player in an industry, and they fail with your tech, the conservative nature of IT will be to reject your tech for a good long time. The incumbent you are displacing will use that one failure to keep you out for a very very long time. Worse, the guy who took a risk, will probably tell all of his friends what he thinks about your technology. And everyone will look at this guy as a cautionary tale, that if you bet on vendor X, you too can become a bitter grumpy old dude, so better to use the standard technology. Let someone else take the risk.
As I look at the world with slightly more jaded eyes, I realize IT is Zathras. They are always confronted with the wrong tool, worse unlike Zathras they don’t understand how the tool is built and when they pick the wrong tool, they find themselves in the wrong place …
So to all the folks in IT my products ever screwed, I feel your pain and I am sorry.