In my book “What Schools Don’t Teach You About Working in IT“, I briefly discussed the aspect of working in a field that demands a lot of personal time. The studying. The research. The tinkering. I mentioned how it can present a challenge for personal relationships and recreational endeavors. I’m not talking about beer-30 or office lunch outings either. I’m talking about time you need to remind yourself that you have a life.

I have been reminded of this throughout my career. I’ve seen far too many colleagues and friends deal with personal issues that, in one way or another trace back to their line of work. Substance abuse. Divorce.  Relocation. Family stress. Medical issues. And so on.  In most cases, actually in every case, it was directly related to a human aspect. I’ve never seen technology itself actually ruin someone’s life in my field of work. Never. I’ve seen plenty of people screw up the best technology. And along with it: the best kinds of people, caught in the crossfire.

Humans are the worst thing to happen to technology. 

If I had to sum up my view of how humans have dealt with it, I would say it’s like the monkeys in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or maybe: Idiots pounding nails with wrenches. I hope I live long enough to see just one IT project completed as it should be. Without human ego and stupidity derailing it somewhere along the way. After witnessing and participating in over a hundred IT projects, I’m still waiting. But I’m mot holding my breath.

But this isn’t about that. This is about the second aspect: The costs of human stupidity and ego on other humans. In most cases it’s the ones who try hardest. The ones with the best intentions, and the most empathy that get the short end of the stick.

On Monday I was again reminded of this when I learned of the passing of a coworker.  I didn’t know him personally.  I knew of him, as he was employed at the same client for over ten years. Like me, he is (or was) a contract employee. A consultant, if you prefer. His name was mentioned in conversation quite often. He was well-liked, it seemed.

The new executive management decided it was time to “shake things up“. Regardless of his performance (he had recieved numerous commendations and promotions) they let him go on short notice along with the rest of his team. A new team was hired without any prior experience, nor any meaningful references. The new contracting firm didn’t place a person on site for several weeks. First impressions are awesome. But that’s for another story.

What the executive folks didn’t bother considering was the human side. Aside from his quality of work. His dedication. The fact that he was in the midst of a painful divorce and many other personal matters. He went home on Friday and ended things his own way.

Regardless of your views on this. Regardless of who is, or was, at fault for this unfortunate event is now meaningless.  It’s done. But what I find hard to accept is how the folks that make these decisions which impact so many lives beyond work, just move on and keep laughing. Nothing new. Dollars flow. Equipment moves. Papers move. Meetings continue.  Someone knows he existed. Someone misses him I’m sure. But to some he was a commodity, not a person.

For what? To shake things up. To prove someone’s business savvy. Their acumen. Their prowess. The irony is that this particular client business isn’t even technically a business. I can’t speak for all of them, as some of the executive folks are well-intentioned, smart, articulate and sincere about their desire to make things better. But those weren’t the ones involved in this particular thing-shaking effort.

I guess what I’m getting at is how we value what we do for a paycheck. How we value the presence of others at work and outside of work. As coworkers, or as people, that lead lives like we do. I hope we don’t devolve to the point where we treat those around us like sports teams and traded players. Commodities.

Say “good morning” to others, whether you know them or not. Respond to others instead of ignoring them. Those of you working in other fields that greet people often may think this is obvious. But many IT people work alone or in small environments. Think of how others cheer you up even when you don’t want to be cheered up. Who knows. Maybe it’ll change what someone does later that day. Maybe it’ll change their weekend.


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