The Problem With IT, Episode #84

If there’s only one thing you take away from this evening’s rant, it should be this: we–IT, or Information Technology–are sometimes our own worst enemy. We design, make and support a system for people to use. And then skimp on training because we just don’t know how or don’t want to do it well because it will cost more money. How can this idea possibly go wrong?


Here it is in a nutshell, presented via one 95-minute call I had today (I kid you not…Over an hour-and-a-half I’ll never get back).


It used to be that new hires–employees, that is, not contractors–regardless of position, were given a three-day new employee orientation course, covering everything from our sexual harassment policy to benefits registration to sitting for the badge photo to even getting a half-day training on the basics of using the computers. Even our new salespeople were flown in to be trained and get handed their brand new computers.


Sure, the computer course made a lot of assumptions, and that’s only fair: I think there’s a point where anyone being hired for an office-based job will need to be familiar with using a computer. So the course was designed to fill in the blanks–explain password policies, walk through working remotely, and explain the process to get software and order new hardware.


That stopped over a year ago. The training is now done online. Which requires a certain amount of that assumed knowledge to be used, along with knowledge that may not have been gained yet because the training may be contained in the training course that hasn’t yet been taken.


To wit: the call I had today that outlasted most Disney films.


The salesperson called on her first day of work. She’s at home, having just opened the box which FedEx dutifully delivered to her doorstep. She has unboxed everything, and somewhere in the box has come across a sheet of paper which tells her to go through six steps to get started with this little carton of electronic joy.


Step one: call the help desk. It goes downhill from there.


For any of you out there who know salespeople, you will know that this one line, along with the phone number next to the instruction to call us, is the only thing from this sheet of paper that the salesperson has actually read. Everything else on the page is like the black-and-white buzzing of a flying pest.


I answered her call and right away we had a problem: she didn’t even know her user name. This, the fundamental identifying point for her forever in our computer system, is an unknown to her.


What follows is not the actual transcript of some of our exchange, as I was more courteous and she may or may not have been considerably more clueless:

It’s on the sheet, I point out.

“No, it isn’t on the sheet,” she said.

Yes, it’s on the sheet. I’ve seen the form. It’s right there toward the top, under your name and address.

“No, I don’t see…Oh wait! There it is! I’m spiffyuser21! [*not a real username*]”


So that’s your username. Now, your password is [REDACTED, ending with the only partially secret employee ID number that was given to every new employee on their letter of hire from HR, along with the name of their supervisor and HR rep].

Oh, I didn’t get that.

You did, and you know you did….It had your agreed-upon salary and bonus structure on it.

Oh, that! Yep, got it right here! I kicked my husband out of bed so I could sleep with it…So many zeros!

So let’s log into the laptop.

But I got an iPad. Can’t we start with that?

No, there’s a reason to the order for this. We’ll have to change the password on the iPad if we do it out of order. That will just waste time.

Oh, but I’ve already started working with the iPad.

Okay, fine. We’ll do it your way. Just don’t expect this to be a pleasant process because of this.


You see, she’s always wanted to play with an iPad, and now that work has given her one, she can’t wait to work with it and see what it can do. I started telling her about doing e-mails, using the work apps, doing all the work on it that is easier now that she doesn’t have to schlep around the laptop all of the time. In the midst of me extolling the virtues of our business applications, she actually asked me how to watch movies on it. Me: *facepalm*


Okay, I say. Let’s hook it up to your WiFi to start configuring your new iPad.

“Oh, I don’t have WiFi. I just plug into my internet. Where’s the plug on this?”

That’s a problem. You’ll have to call in some other time for us to help you configure that, then. It only works on a WiFi connection. Let’s plug the laptop into your internet connection, and log in using that username and password I gave you earlier.

Long pause.

Is that working?

Long pause.

“I don’t know. It’s just giving me a message that it can’t log me in.”

That would mean that it isn’t working. Try it again. Type the username exactly as it’s printed on the sheet you got, and type the password exactly as I told you.



This went on 10 times. Seriously. Then as I have her tell me exactly what she’s typing–because I’ve tested her account on one of my computers and the combo works perfectly–I find the flaw:


“I’m typing ‘username:spiffyuser21’.”

You’re actually typing the word ‘username?’ In the field clearly marked ‘username?’

“Yes!” I can actually smell the pride over the phone.


After quickly and violently disabusing her of that idea, we finally got logged in. her internet connection worked surprisingly right out of the blocks. So we went to what would have been step three on the sheet she didn’t read. Connecting to our systems remotely. That stage worked well. Even changing her password was relatively painless. I thought this 45 minute nightmare was almost over.


I remoted in and walked her through getting to her e-mail on the laptop, getting to the training course website, and how to get into the online HR system to see her paycheck with all of the superfluous zeroes. I was almost home free, since she couldn’t do the iPad setup since she didn’t have WiFi.


And then I noticed it: her computer was on WiFi. Dammit.


Yes, I spent the next 45 minutes or so walking her through getting the iPad set up and configured, having her fumble through login after login, unread prompt after unread prompt. But finally, we got her basic apps setup and her e-mail working.


And then she asked the final clincher: can I help show her some of the basics on her programmer–the special computer designed to program the pacemakers she’d be selling. Nope. There’s an online training course for that. And the people who support those have a different number. But all of that information is on the same sheet you didn’t read.




See you tomorrow.