February 8th, 2014
IT inferno: The nine circles of IT hell
The tech inferno is not buried deep within the earth — it’s just down the hall. Let’s take a tour
Spend enough time in the tech industry, and you’ll eventually find yourself in IT hell — one not unlike the underworld described by Dante in his “Divine Comedy.”
But here, in the data centers, conference rooms, and cubicles, the IT version of this inferno is no allegory. It is a very real test of every IT pro’s sanity and soul.
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How many of us have been abandoned by our vendors to IT limbo, only to find ourselves falling victim to app dev anger when in-house developers are asked to pick up the slack? How often has stakeholder gluttony or lust for the latest and greatest left us burned on a key initiative? How many times must we be kneecapped by corporate greed, accused of heresy for arguing for (or against) things like open source? Certainly too many of us have been victimized by the denizens of fraud, vendor violence, and tech-pro treachery.
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Thankfully, as in Dante’s poetic universe, there are ways to escape the nine circles of IT hell. But IT pro beware: You may have to face your own devils to do it.
Shall we descend?
1st circle of IT hell: Limbo
Description: A pitiful morass where nothing ever gets done and change is impossible
People you meet there:Users stranded by vendors, departments shackled by software lock-in, organizations held hostage by wayward developers
There are many ways to fall into IT Limbo: When problems arise and the vendors start pointing fingers at each other; when you’re locked into crappy software with no relief in sight; when your programmers leave you stranded with nothing to do but start over from scratch.
You know you’re in Limbo when “the software guys are saying the problem is in hardware and the hardware guys are saying the problem is in software,” says Dermot Williams, managing director of Threatscape, an IT security firm based in Dublin, Ireland. “Spend eternity in this circle and you will find that, yes, it is possible for nobody to be at fault and everyone to be at fault at the same time.”
A similar thing happens when apps vendors blame the OS, and OS vendors blame the apps guys, says Bill Roth, executive vice president at data management firm LogLogic. “Oracle says it’s Red Hat’s fault, while Red Hat blames Oracle,” he says. “It’s just bad IT support on both sides.”
Michael Kaiser-Nyman, CEO of Impact Dialing, maker of autodialing software, says he used to work for a nonprofit that was locked into a donor management platform from hell.
“The software took forever to run, it only worked on Internet Explorer, it crashed several times a day, and was horribly difficult to use,” he says. “The only thing worse than using it was knowing that, just before I joined the organization, they had signed a five-year licensing agreement for the software. I wanted to kill whoever had signed it.”
Organizations also find themselves in Limbo when their developers fail to adopt standard methodologies or document their procedures, says Steven A. Lowe, CEO of Innovator LLC, a consulting and custom software development firm.
“Every project is an ordeal because they’ve made it nearly impossible to learn from experience and grow more efficient,” he says. “They spend most of their time running around in circles, tripping over deadlines, yelling at each other, and cursing their tools.”
How to escape: “When you’re digging a hole in hell, the first thing to do is stop digging and climb your way out,” says Roth. That means making sure you have the tech expertise in house to solve your own problems, going with open source to avoid vendor lock-in, and taking the time to refactor your code so you can be more efficient the next time around.
2nd circle of IT hell: Tech lust
Description: A deep cavern filled with mountains of discarded gadgets, with Golem-like creatures scrambling to reach the shiny new ones at the top
People you meet there: Just about everybody at some point
The circle of tech lust touches virtually every area of an organization. Developers who abandon serviceable tools in favor of the latest and greatest without first taking the time to understand these new frameworks and methodologies (like node.js or Scrum), thereby preventing anything from ever getting done. Managers who want hot new gizmos (like the iPad) and invent a reason why they must have them, regardless of the impact on the IT organization. Executives who become fixated on concepts they barely understand (like the cloud) and throw all of an organization’s resources behind it in the fear of falling behind the competition.
“In reality, we all visit the circle of lust now and then,” says Lowe. “The problem with tech lust is the accumulation of things. You can get so mired in ‘we can’t finish this project because a new tool just came out and we’re starting all over with it’ that nothing ever gets done.”
How to escape: It is difficult to break free from the circle of tech lust, admits Lowe. “We all love shiny new things,” he says. “But you have to know what’s good enough to get the job done, and learn how to be happy with what you have.”
3rd circle of IT hell: Stakeholder gluttony
Description: A fetid quagmire filled with insatiable business users who demand more and more features, no matter the cost
People you meet there: Demons from sales and marketing, finance, and administration
This circle is painfully familiar to anyone who’s ever attempted to develop a business application, says Threatscape’s Dermot Williams.