Do I.T. Guys Like Chocolate?

I had a phone meeting with a coworker today. He’s in IT.

Generally speaking, the people of our IT department march to the beat of a slightly different drum. I’m no longer surprised at their odd habits. One of them sits cross-legged in his chair during business meetings. He also walks around in his socks at times. Another wears cargo shorts during the warmer months. He either wears the same pair of cargo shorts every day, or he’s got five pairs in the same color. One of them seems to collect his empty pop cans on his desk for days and weeks on end before finally cleaning house. The IT people speak a language that the rest of us don’t always understand.

And IT people enjoy privileges that many of the rest of us do not. They get to work from home a lot. Hence the reason I was having a phone meeting with my IT coworker today as opposed to an in-person meeting.

I set up this meeting yesterday. I have some reports that need to be built. I documented the specifications and created some mock-ups and I provided these to my IT coworker yesterday.  I asked him to look over my documents and be prepared to discuss with me whether what I was asking for was possible and if he could build the logic for these reports within a specific and rather short time frame.

My IT coworker called me this morning, as agreed, but I missed his call. We played a bit of phone tag before finally connecting. As I began to talk with him about my reports, he seemed confused and a bit distracted.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just so tired today. What are you asking me about?”

I was slightly taken aback. What was I asking him about? Didn’t he remember the only reason I had asked him to call me? Odd.

I explained that I was referring to one of the two report examples I had sent him yesterday. He said that I mentioned the examples in my email but had not actually attached them. I was pretty sure that I had, and I quickly looked through the Sent Items in my email account, finding the original email and attachments just as he said, “Oh here they are. You did send them. I’m sorry.”

Again he apologized for being so tired and “spacey.”

I’m not easily annoyed by my coworkers and I particularly like this particular coworker. He’s smart. He does his job well. And for an IT guy, he communicates pretty well with those of us non-IT kind of people. It’s unusual for him to seem so distracted, tired and “spacey.” But I found myself wondering about his exhaustion. Was he up late with a sick kid? Was he up late with his wife? (OOPS! None of my business. Shouldn’t be wondering such things.) Was he up late hanging out with friends?  A part of me wondered how long the work-from-home gig can last if those who enjoy such privileges can’t wake up enough to function during normal business hours.

My IT coworker did seem to come to life a bit as we talked though, and was able to give me his perspective and some promising feedback on what I was asking. He told me he was going to look into some stuff and discuss a few things with someone else and would follow up with me tomorrow or early next week. I figured that was best. I figured he shouldn’t be making any promises when he was having such a hard time focusing and staying awake anyway.

We hung up with me envisioning him lounging in his home office in his pajama pants, hanging up the phone and leaning his head back on his chair. I pictured his eyelids drooping sleepily, a pile of beer bottles in his recycling bin from the poker game with his buddies last night.

Later in the day, I heard another coworker mention feeling sorry for the IT guy I had met with. Something about him starting his work day really early. I suddenly remembered that along with the perks enjoyed by the IT people, such as shoelessness, there are a lot of drawbacks, such as working long past normal business hours, working weekends, and having to make deployments at midnight.

It turns out that my coworker hadn’t been up late with his kid or his wife or his poker buddies. He had started his work day at 3:00 a.m. in order to make sure a very important report was run so that many others could do their jobs when they arrived at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. today.

I was too quick to judge. I hadn’t said anything to my IT coworker about the impression he’d made on me. I didn’t talk about it with anyone else. Still… I thought it. And I should have known better. Now I’m the one feeling sorry … and really grateful to be surrounded by people who are so dedicated to doing a good job, especially when expectations are always high and expressions of gratitude are often forgotten.

I’m thinking maybe I should make amends for assuming the worst about my IT coworker. A little token of appreciation, without explanation, of course because that would just be uncomfortable. But something. Any ideas?

Inside the IT guy’s head

Big things are happening at the office! We’ve been working our butts off and we’ve finally completed the first phase of our project. We’ve been holed up in a conference room for months now, three of us. Sometimes the other few members of the team come in and touch base, but mostly we three create tests and run files and study the results. We document what needs fixing and the IT guys fix it. Then we do it all over again. I really have never worked so hard in my life and for the most part, I love it.

Much of the time, if you were to walk by and peek in, you’d see our heads bowed over our documents as we stare at Excel spreadsheets. Sometimes there is conversation. Sometimes we are so deep in our own thoughts and it is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Recently, the IT guys have joined us in the conference room. As our phase one deadline approached, we could be more efficient if we could just verbalize problems and the IT guys could fix it on the spot.

The IT guys are a little… different. Yes, I know IT guys tend to have a reputation for being slightly off. Our guys do voices. It cracks me up. They make up nicknames for various reports and sing them into songs. They walk around in their socks. One of them drinks gallons of Diet Coke every day. He’s not to be messed with before noon, but after he’s had his fill of caffeine, he’s happy as a clam. That’s when I ask him to fix things for me and I’m most likely to get the desired result.

I had a conversation with Dale today. I had evaluated some online stuff and found things that weren’t working right. I needed to show him what wasn’t working so he could fix it. I pointed to a particular report.

“See these records,” I asked? “Everything displays except for the names. Why aren’t the names showing up?”

Dale spoke out loud as he took notes, “Names are being shy. Help them come out of their shells.”

I laughed, then leaned over to peek at his notes.

“You actually wrote that,” I exclaimed.

“Hell yeah,” Dale said! “The report’s a party! We gotta make sure everyone has fun there!”

Mmmm-kay…

Later, we were back to having our heads down and buried deep in our own thoughts. Dale left the room for a few minutes. When he returned, he slid back into his chair and broke the silence.

“You know how Spiderman shoots a web from his wrist?”

Joe and I both looked up.

“Yeah,” we both replied.

“Why do you think he doesn’t make better use of that? I mean, he could just sit in his chair and shoot the web across the table to grab a pen and pull it back to himself. Why would he ever get up to go get something? Do you think he’s just being lazy by not using the web more?”

“Hmmm,” I responded. “You’re right. If he wanted a beer, he could shoot a web over to the fridge and pull it open. Then he could shoot another one to grab his beer!”

“See,” Dale asked? “You get it.”

He seemed really excited that I’d caught on to his theory so easily.

“Yeah, but maybe he’s being green,” I said. “If he shoots the web all the time, that’s a lot of web to have to pick up.”

“Not an issue,” Dale replied. “The web dissolves in like an hour.”

Who knows these things?

“Okay, then maybe he’s being health conscious,” I argued. “If Spidey sits around all the time and brings everything to himself with his web shooter, he’d never have to get out of his chair. He’d get fat.”

“Nah,” Dale disputed. “He came around in like the seventies. They weren’t health conscious back then.”

Suddenly I stopped and looked at Dale. “I can’t believe I’m actively participating in this conversation!”

Joe smiled, amused. He’d been smart enough to keep any opinions he may have had about Spiderman to himself.

“You should work with us more often,” I told Dale. “You crack me up, making me contemplate things like the Spidey web.”

Dale just smiled. I couldn’t tell if he was really being funny, or if he seriously contemplates things like this in his head on a regular basis. Didn’t really matter to me anyway. I realized that Dale was probably some of the best stress relief I’d seen in weeks.

I wonder what we’ll debate tomorrow? World peace? Why fun-size candy bars shouldn’t be cut with a knife and eaten in smaller portions? (Actually, we already had that conversation.) Anyway, I’m fascinated with the strange way his mind works. I just hope it doesn’t rub off on me too much.