Friday, October 15, 2010

IT Personality Types: 8 Profiles in Geekdom

Forget Myers-Briggs. Here are the true archetypes that underlie the IT breed

In the workplace you'll generally meet three kinds of personalities: Type A, Type B, and Type IT. The last are a breed apart from the rest.

We're not sure what it is about technology that draws certain types of people while repelling others. Maybe it's all those electrons spinning through millions of miles of circuitry; maybe it's just the lack of sunlight and human interaction.

In any case we've identified the eight classic personality types you'll find in virtually any reasonably sized IT department. Some are suits who've been exiled to IT against their will or sharks who would happily sell ice to the Inuits once they got done selling sand to the Saudis. Others are of the more typical geek persuasion -- from scary system administrators and angry support drones to those who'd rather blend into the shadows or do their best to shoot down any project that ventures inside their crosshairs.

We bet many -- if not all -- reside in a nearby cubicle at this very moment. Consider this your field guide to the flora and fauna of your work life.

IT personality type No. 1: The Empty Suit

Job title(s): Department manager, business analyst

Profile: Hired to be a liaison between top-level management and the techies -- with whom top-level management, or anyone on the business side, would rather not deal directly. Acts as a go-between during client visits to keep the geeks at a safe distance. Has memorized most of the important acronyms and mastered the art of nodding knowingly in meetings and then surfing Wikipedia afterward to find out what everyone was talking about. May possess an MBA from a dubious online university.

"This guy may not be the most detailed thinker, but he's the most popular guy on the team -- and he would agree," says Tim Jewell, CTO at Data Deposit Box, which provides online backup services for SMBs. "If you're looking for some fun, ask him a complex technical question and watch him wiggle around the room. Despite this, he's the only one who can talk to customers because he has verbal ability and may actually care about what the end-user has to say."

Despite making him the butt of inside tech jokes, the geeks at times flock to him because he's the only one in the department with a remote chance of picking up chicks, Jewell adds.
  • Hobbies: Picking up chicks
  • Last book read: "The ClueTrain Manifesto" (Cliff Notes only)
  • Greatest accomplishment: Consistently losing at golf to the C-level executives, despite possessing a single-digit handicap
  • Identifying marks: Cheap knockoffs of Brooks Brothers suits
  • Role model: Michael Dell
  • Most resembles: Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) in "The Office"
IT personality type No. 2: The Scary Sys Admin

Job title(s): Network administrator, database administrator

Profile: Your company can't run without him -- and he knows it. Fortunately, he likes dealing with machines far more than people, so you can rest easy, confident that he spends way more time keeping your systems up and running than may even be necessary. Friends? Who needs friends? That's why God invented computers.

"This is the person on the team who will agree to do the 48-hour server upgrade on the weekend and have everything up and running by 6 a.m. Monday -- all for two extra-large pizzas and a case of Red Bull," says Jewell. "He's very helpful around the office because people interact with him -- unlike his dolls at home."

But get on his bad side, warns Jewell, and you'll find yourself swiftly locked out of all your computer accounts -- and possibly your home and your bank accounts as well.
  • Hobbies: Getting certifications; writing network security subroutines in binary code to safeguard logic bombs or surreptitious SQL queries to the HR database
  • Last book read: "Get Even: The Complete Book of Dirty Tricks"
  • Greatest accomplishment: Holding the network hostage by refusing to release passwords to the Empty Suit
  • Identifying marks: Handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit
  • Role model: Terry Childs
  • Most resembles: Terry Childs
IT personality type No. 3: The Human Roadblock

Job title(s): Software developer, enterprise architect, systems administrator

Profile: No matter what task or project is presented, the Human Roadblock responds in exactly the same manner: It can't be done. This is then followed by a painfully detailed list of all the reasons why this task or project will cost too much, deliver too little, and can't be implemented in anything resembling the proposed time frame. And, oh yeah: It was a stupid idea to begin with.

"This individual presents this feedback under the auspices of being the only 'rational voice' in the room," says Travis Van, co-founder of ITDatabase, a research tool for IT professionals. "The points may often be valid, but typically lead to 'paralysis by analysis' for the development group -- when a more optimistic look at 'what's possible' would have been preferable to their predictable laundry list of 'why this is not possible'."
  • Hobbies: Complaining
  • Last book read: "I Hate This Place: The Pessimist's Guide to Life"
  • Greatest accomplishment: Not accomplishing anything of note since 1979
  • Identifying marks: Knit shirt with collar, khakis; still carries a slide rule
  • Role model: Eeyore
  • Most resembles: Marvin the Paranoid Android from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"
IT personality type No. 4: The Angry Support Drone

Job title(s): Support tech (what else?)

Profile: Hired to schlep from desk to desk fixing the computers of people deemed unworthy of their time. Will do what you ask, and not one iota more. Know more than you do about computers -- a point they manage to work into virtually every conversation -- but not really interested in sharing useful information. Might otherwise be flipping burgers if they could be trusted to handle sharp instruments around other humans.

"The IT support position in a startup is invested with near magical skills from the perspective of peers and yet manages to consistently disappoint 90 percent of the people he deals with," says Don Rainey, general partner at VC firm Grotech Ventures.

So they'll install that printer you asked for, but they won't test to see that it works correctly. Why not? Because you only asked them to install it. And if you question their abilities or work ethic, prepare for the consequences.
"These people are like the Energizer Bunny of anger," Rainey says. "Maybe it's the line of work, or it's because they're the starting point of a feedback loop for whatever is going wrong with the product or customers. But in any case, the Angry Support Drone can create a special kind of crisis."
  • Hobbies: Guns, shooting, random acts of violence
  • Last book read: "What Color is Your Parachute?" (unfinished)
  • Greatest accomplishment: Halo triple kill
  • Identifying marks: Permanent scowl, pair of Nikes circa 1982
  • Role model: William "D-fens" Foster (Michael Douglas) in "Falling Down"
  • Most resembles: Milton Waddams (Stephen Root) in "Office Space"
IT personality type No. 5: The Übergeek

Job title(s): Software engineer, senior programmer

Profile: Fiercely intelligent, stubbornly logical, and disturbingly anti-social. In other words, what most people think of when asked to describe a techie. In Myers-Briggs nomenclature, the Übergeek would be classified INTJ -- an introverted, intuitive-thinking, and judging person -- says Beth Armknecht Miller, co-founder of Executive Velocity, a professional coaching service. If the Übergeek absolutely must communicate with beings of inferior intelligence (i.e., you), she would rather do it by e-mail. But if she can avoid all human contact, that's OK, too.

"I call this type 'Mr. Artiste,'" says Don Rainey. "He is creating software -- sometimes the company's core product or hope for future success -- and he isn't limited by the contents of the requirements document. He isn't limited by it because he isn't reading it. He is creating, damn it, and brings his own vision. Plus, staying consistent with his vision keeps him closer to his imaginary specification with its imaginary time line -- and yes, he's on schedule."
  • Hobbies: What are these things you call hobbies?
  • Last book read: "Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software"
  • Greatest accomplishment: Completely rewriting and debugging every line of system code without anyone noticing
  • Identifying marks: Sometimes confuses real life with Second Life; unconscious "air typing"
  • Role model: Mr. Spock
  • Most resembles: Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) from "Big Bang Theory"
IT personality type No. 6: The OS Fanboy

Job title(s): Help desk, support tech, programmervista

Profile: There is only one true path -- and, more important, only one true operating system -- for this person. All nonbelievers are heretics whose tech needs will be quietly ignored. Though most commonly associated with Apple products, often aligned with Windows or, more likely, Linux -- the more obscure the distro, the better. Every conversation ends with a discussion of why their OS of choice is superior, despite the fact that your company doesn't use it. Actually solving your problem with the OS at hand is an afterthought.

"The 'I'm really an Apple fan' is misplaced in the IT world," says Kevin Lightfoot, vice president of Affiliated Computer Services, a managed services company. "He or she really should be focusing on Apple products but, because of poor career decisions, is forced to support your desktop needs. Their lack of aptitude always leaves your computer performing slower and with more bugs than it did when you first called the help desk."

"The Serious IT Guy wants nothing to do with your toy Macintosh or Linux machine," counters Brian Dunning, technical editor for FileMaker Advisor magazine. "He's a Microsoft-certified engineer all the way, and he'll stand for no tomfoolery. If you're experiencing any kind of a problem or you have a question, it's your fault for not following strict Microsoft security guidelines and published Best Practices. Since nobody actually does all of those things, nothing is ever his fault."
  • Hobbies: Posting angry point-by-point rebuttals in the comments to online articles criticizing his/her OS of choice.
  • Last book read: None; only reads blogs about his/her favorite OS
  • Greatest accomplishment: Jailbreaking an iPhone, sticking with Windows Vista, taking complete editorial control over the Ubuntu wiki
  • Identifying marks: White ear buds, non-ironic Microsoft Bob T-shirt, stuffed penguin
  • Role models: Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Linus Torvalds
  • Most resembles: Genius Bar lackey, Steve Ballmer, a stuffed penguin
IT personality type No. 7: The Promiser

Job title(s): Outbound sales, business development

Profile: There is nothing this person won't say to close a deal. You want features the original product was never designed to deliver? Done. You need it within six months? The Promiser will get it to you in three. Of course, he or she doesn't have to deliver anything -- that's a job for the developers. Delays, cost overruns, and impossible feature-set requirements are all someone else's headache. On the Insights Discovery Wheel, the Promiser would fall into the "Fiery Red" quadrant.

"The Promiser does not appreciate erratic emotional outbursts if they get in the way of getting things done," says Jewell. "A master strategist, he is a born leader and doesn't like to be told what to do; instead, he'll tell you what to do. He's the guy who will tell the customer the code can be written flawlessly in two months when he knows it will take six -- and then work the team until they drop and do it all over again on the next project. But you're thankful he's on the team because if it wasn't for him, you wouldn't be the star team you are."
  • Hobbies: Golf, Michelob Ultra
  • Last book read: "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu
  • Greatest accomplishment: Closing a multimillion-dollar enterprise software deal using a demo downloaded off the Internet
  • Identifying marks: Starched button-down blue oxford, used car salesman smile
  • Role model: Blake (Alec Baldwin) in "Glengarry Glen Ross"
  • Most resembles: Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) in "30 Rock"
IT personality type No. 8: The Shadow

Job title(s): Unknown

Profile: It's not my problem, it's not my job, it's not my fault -- that's the mantra of the Shadow, who somehow manages to take up space in the IT department (and on the payroll) without actually filling it. No one's sure what the Shadow does, mostly because he or she has become expert at doing as little as possible. Over time, the Shadow may be handed management responsibilities, at which point this individual morphs into the Human Roadblock.

"The Shadow knows everything that's happening around the office, ignores it, and is very happy that way," says Deborah J. Graham, senior programmer/analyst for a teaching hospital in Massachusetts. "This person doesn't report anything bad happening for fear of the paperwork and making it his or her 'responsibility' to fix, and avoids additional responsibilities by declaring -- so everyone around can hear -- that the job/task/problem is not his or her job."

And when things go wrong, says Graham, the Shadow is quick to point the finger elsewhere: "They're always able to find someone else to blame, no matter how shaky a relationship between cause and effect. The Shadow is never the one to take the heat."
  • Hobbies: Selling decommissioned company hardware on eBay during "breaks"
  • Last book read: "Ninjutsu: The Art of Invisibility"
  • Greatest accomplishment: Taking a month-long vacation without the boss noticing
  • Identifying marks: None, because the invisible don't have any
  • Role model: Sergeant Schultz (the late John Banner) in "Hogan's Heroes"
  • Most resembles: An unidentified cell in a payroll database

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