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Article: Easy

by on July 23, 2018

Like many who run sites like this one, I have a separate day job and it happens to be working in technology. While I enjoy what I’m doing, there are always ups and downs no matter what you’re doing or who your employer happens to be. For the past few weeks, something has been bouncing around in the back of my head and it got to the point I wanted to share.

There seems to be a notion from those that are not technologically-inclined that anyone who works with technology can easily do anything, be it a desktop support technician, network engineer, database administrator, programmer, designer, etc. I’ve always taken it as a bit of a compliment that my skill set is valued and that I am seen as a resource, but increasingly the expectation of more impossible demands from outside parties has been coming across my desk.

In my experience, there are certain ways to mitigate this, notably involving the proper chain of command, being honest and leaving emotions out of it, and directing individuals to the proper support channels (I don’t troubleshoot broken PCs, for example). There’s also the issue that if you helped someone with something, they tend to gravitate to going to you for everything, rather than finding the best person for the job (or contacting the main support area and being dispatched to the right person). However, what happens when there isn’t that level of backing? What if you’re deflecting more unreasonable demands that keep you from getting things done that you actually have to do?

I’ve been asked to help select a computer (often a PC) by friends in the past. While I certainly want to help people I care about, the two times I did it came back to bite me. Even though I steered them in a direction without explicitly saying, “Buy this one, it has my seal of approval,” I ended up fielding some of the support and blame for faults. Because I haven’t tested or used every machine out there, I really cannot speak with any level of authority on the matter (even with Apple’s Mac lineup). I made a rule that I’d offer some feedback, but stay out of the decision-making process. On the flip side, I feel like I can offer advice on which iPhone or iPad to buy and how to buy them, and that hasn’t bitten me yet.

I enjoy basketball and have seen plenty of times where fans will blame a close loss on a player’s missed free-throw, even if the player is generally flawless at the charity stripe. They’ll say things like, “That’s easy for anyone, even me!” when I’d cringe at thinking about their free-throw shooting percentages. Sure, there are players that are downright awful at this aspect of the game and need to hone their skills, but there’s also the reality that people are not perfect and able to do everything right all the time (the best are still hitting about 90%—men and women).

Still, the determination by an outside observer that something is easy for someone in another profession sort of sets up frustrations from the start. Not only is your current skill set unknowingly being trivialized, but the thought of, “Hey, you’re good with computers…” really diminishes any specialization. Think of it like asking a cardiologist friend why you’ve got a headache—they might be able to offer some ideas, but it also is a bit inappropriate and not something they deal with daily anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, the initial idea for this post was to put some thoughts down about something that was annoying me a bit, but I also got to thinking about how often this happens in this field. In a past job, I also had the unfortunate accident of word getting out that I had experience with HTML, so I became responsible for their web page—and figuring out content for it. It was a learning experience that caused me to avoid sharing and offering any expertise in areas that didn’t directly affect my role. I think really anyone can relate to this when you get dragged along to help when visiting relatives—I love them, but I don’t get joy out of my time off from work helping their friend figure out why their iPhone is complaining about iCloud storage.

And that’s the crux of it, I love technology, it pays the bills and gives me something to do in my downtime, but I mostly like it on my terms. I think setting boundaries is important, but the more important thing is how to delicately navigate that process. In a professional setting, it might be easy, using excuses based on roles, resources available, or policies/procedures. In your personal life, it may be harder, especially with friends or family members who think all bits of technology are in the same area. I certainly will help with trivial things for immediate family and close friends, but I’ve also trained them that I’ve taken time to visit, not work.

If anything, if your job is a technology role, take a few minutes and think about how these items have impacted you and what you’re doing with it. It might be a good way to keep from being frustrated.

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