Recently, ITWorld asked me to share some thoughts on "IT's Worst Addictions (And How to Cure Them)" (https://www.itworld.com/article/3268305/it-strategy/worst-it-addictions-and-how-to-cure-them.html). While I had shared a number of thoughts on the topic, space and format restricted the post so that only a couple of my ideas were printed. I wanted to share a more complete version with you here.
The tone of the original article was fairly light, using the word "addiction" in it's informal, rather than medical, context. This is understandable, and in that framework it's easy to lapse into AA-style thinking/language that conflates “IT addictions” with true addictive behaviors and issues. I think doing so would be unfair to individuals (and their families, friends, and coworkers) who are dealing with the very real and very serious impact of real addictions every day. I want to avoid trivializing something that has caused so much real trauma and pain, stolen years, and lost lives.
At the same time, I recognize that the obsessive behaviors we’re discussing can be remarkably similar to true addiction. Therefore, traditional conversations about addiction may be a source of guidance and wisdom for us.
In this post, I hope it's clear that this is a line I'm treading sensitively so that it's clear I'm not making light of a serious topic.
That said, over the course of my career I have noticed there are certain behavioral traps and anti-patterns that IT professionals fall into.
Let’s start with the IT pro obsessions that everyone thinks of that I have no desire to talk about, because they are well-known and have been chewed over thoroughly:
- Everything to do with your phone (duh)
- Communication channels (email, slack, work IM, etc.) (duh)
- Coffee (duh)
Those are the obvious ones. Now let's look at some that are not so obvious:
Checking that screen one more time
What “that screen” is differs for each IT pro, but we all have that one thing we compulsively check. It could be the NOC dashboard; it could be the performance tracker for our “baby” system; it could be the cloud statistics. One would hope that for many, it’s the monitoring dashboard.
The latest and greatest
This refers to the compulsive need to update, whether we can make a valid financial justification for it or not. Again, the specific manifestation varies. It could be the latest phone, tablet, or laptop, the newest phone service (Google Fi, anyone?), the fastest home internet service, or pro-sumer grade equipment.
(The hardware kind. I wouldn't ever say you could have too many SolarWinds monitors!)
There are very few IT pros who would say "no" to adding one (or four) more screens to their system, if they had the option. Better still, this desire does not hinge on how many screens one already has. More is always better.
As strange as it sounds, some IT pros have to be on top of the latest learning. That means lifetime subscriptions to online courses, obsessively upgrading certifications, and more.
Many IT pros are hopeless news junkies. It may manifest in a single area (politics, sports, tech trends, entertainment) or a combination of those, but the upshot is that we want to know the latest updates, whether they come on our mobile device, the third screen of our main computer, or good old fashioned wood pulp dropped at our front door each morning.
Once again, this obsession has a nearly infinite number of variations, including LEGO sets, watches, comic books, figurines. and more. Many IT pros have “that thing” that they go out of their way (and often break their budget) for.
(It should be noted that SolarWinds, with our ever-expanding array of buttons and stickers sporting unique ideas, happily feeds into this obsession.)
Contrary to the stereotype of the nerdy loner, IT pros tend to be very dedicated to building and being part of a community (or several). While these communities often have an online component, most focus on (and culminate in) an IRL meet-up where they can share stories, offer support, and just bask in the glow of like-minded folks. These communities might be vendor-supported (SWUG, CiscoLive, Microsoft Ignite, etc); vendor-agnostic but professionally oriented (SQL Saturdays, DevOpsDays, PHP.ug, etc.), non-professional but infinitely geeky (D&D conventions and Comic Cons rank high on this list, but are by no means the only examples); or otherwise focus on cultures, medical challenges, car ownership, and more. The point is that IT pros often become deeply (some might say obsessively) involved in these communities and seeing them thrive.
The sharing corner
So what are YOUR compulsive IT distractions? Let me (and the rest of us) know in the comments below. Based on feedback, I may even pull together some thoughts on how we all can address the negative aspects of these behaviors and become better for the effort.