The Nathans Episode 2: What does my IT Department do anyway?

Ep2 Picture

By: Nathan Frey  |  Featuring: Nathan Shannon

One of the most common questions we get in life is “what do you do for a living”.  If you were to say “Doctor” or “Lawyer” no real extra information is required for someone to really appreciate what you do.  In the IT field, this question garners mixed responses.  Normally I answer this question by saying I’m in “IT” but almost always after that I hear the cringe-worthy follow-up question of “so what do you do in IT”.   I say cringe-worthy because, to be honest,  answering them with an accurate job description is similar to giving someone two sleeping pills and asking them to read War and Peace. In short , we do a lot and I generally don’t want to bore people to death.  It’s not that I think the person asking me can’t understand or that I feel what I do is boring, it’s really because of the massive amount of tasks that pop into my head when I start to think about it.

Unfortunately, not being able to tell people what I do without lulling them into a catatonic state is a little disheartening.  Now I’m not the most optimistic guy but even I would enjoy a sunny piece of admiration for the work that I do.  But how do I tell someone without all the extra effort in a manner that makes them truly understand the question of “what does my IT department do anyway”?

To really get some perspective on this I decided to ask the other Nathan this exact question in an ambush style manner of questioning. (Que the Law and Order DUN-DUN)

Me: (slightly louder than the situation should require) “SHANNON!”

Nathan Shannon:  (typing at keyboard) “Hmm?”

Me: “What do you do here? I am writing a blog and want to get your response to that question”

Nathan Shannon: (swivels around in his chair and faces me then pauses—a look of concern on his face)

Me: “What do you tell people that you do when they ask you? You know, like family or friends.”

Nathan Shannon: (still concerned) “Well.  I tell them I’m in IT and I work on computers”

Me: “Everyone works on computers.  What is it you do on your computer?”

Nathan Shannon: (looks down for a moment then looks up at me with a boyish smile on his face) “I make sure other computers are working”

Me: (clearly disappointed) “Gee….Thanks.  Would you care to elaborate a bit?”

Nathan Shannon: (sighs then takes a deep breath) “I monitor the servers, computers, switches, firewalls, applications, security policies, virus threats, firmware levels, hardware levels, software levels, data storage, adapters, uptimes, downtimes, frequency, forecasting, service requests, tickets, incidents, events, logs, errors, IO, redundancies, DR, replication, latency, permissions, and help dog-sit for a client’s labradoodle named Quincy.”

Me: (pausing—a befuddled look on my face) “Um, thanks.  That’ll work. Wait, Quincy?”

We then chat for a few minutes and somehow find ourselves talking about the best presidential quotes–but that is another story.  Chatting with the other Nathan eludes to how much we actually do in IT–especially here at Helixstorm.  One thing to keep in mind however is that not all IT departments are created equal.  Depending on the size of the business, they will vary a great deal.  In the spirit of keeping things simple I will give a generalized list of things your IT department does on a daily basis.  (Or what they should be doing….)

Making sure you have all the tools to do your job

  • The entire point of IT is to keep everything running smoothly and available so that everyone in the business has all the computers and applications they need to perform their job.
  • When I look into a Client’s issue, I’m not just there to fix their problem and run. I also look to see if they have the right tools they need.  Technology changes all the time so when better ways of performing certain task are made possible from technological advances, I recommend those to my Clients to keep their business competitive.

Updating, Patching & Security

  • The vital servers and machines you use in your business require a fair amount of TLC to stay in tip-top shape. Updating and patching these devices are critical to not only fix bugs and errors that occur in the machines but also to prevent security risks like viruses.

Monitoring all the computers, systems, and well….everything!

  • There was an old adage that states that “it is better to be proactive than reactive”, this is true in IT. Monitoring the environment of your business is critical however sadly, not performed that well by most IT departments.  If something breaks, like a server or a failed hard drive, and your IT department did identify or forewarn you about the issue previously then they are doing something wrong.

Saving you money

  • I know you are thinking “How does my IT department save me money?”. Well, from a business perspective it’s very simple. A clever IT Admin is able to automate a lot of the daily tasks needed to keep everything up and running.  This translates into savings because the more things are automated the less IT staff you need, the less incidents and downtime you will have, and it allows your IT guy to spend more time speaking with you rather than rushing to the next “fire”.

From a larger perspective, IT is typically broken down into several categories like Networking, Systems, and Storage but there are literally so many different areas and specialties I could go on for days.  The main thing to remember about any IT department is that it exists solely to optimize and maintain your business’s ability to create revenue—that’s the whole point.  A lot of people will view their IT department as a cost-center, but in actuality, it’s a cost-saver.  Your IT department should be there to help you do your job, and if they don’t—they should.