What we do

It’s nice that geeks are cool now. Now there are a lot of people who say they’re hardcore. Here’s some of them:


These stereotypes are not who I’m going to be talking about, though I do have some guilty pleasures of a few of those portrayed above. I’m going to talk about me and my kind. The high end technology workers. People who were geeks before the big money and the sexy arrived to geekland.

The tech industry, and information security especially, is rarely understood by outsiders. I was reminded of this recently when I came to realize that none of my non-hardcore-geek friends, all of my family, and also many different-interested nerds didn’t get what I do.

I thought that a bit of my history and example would be helpful by way of explanation.

Titles I’ve had in the past has included:

  • System Administrator
  • Network Operations
  • Information Technology Manager
  • Various consulting titles in Systems Management, Information Security, Risk Management and others
  • Chief Information Officer
  • Board membership of various associations and businesses here and there
  • Speaker and presenter

So what do these things mean? Well I guess that’s the problem. In themselves, they all basically mean the same thing but the responsibilities are a bit different. Really what people like me do is something of a business to geekland ambassador/translator, technology manager, risk manager, and court wizard.

We are the experts that you need to make sure the company, people, or organization is correctly driving technology. Without involving someone like us from time to time (at a minimum), you risk running your ship aground on rocks that you didn’t know were there.

People like us can do things like telling organizations:

  • Where they’re spending too much
  • Where they’re not spending enough
  • What risks they haven’t identified that threaten damage to their business or brand
  • How to manage what they have better and cheaper
  • How to break huge systematic/complicated problems into workable chunks

I’ve spent years doing the unlikely for employers who often thought what I was doing was impossible and many of the rest didn’t understand what I was up to at all. I’ve made jokes about operationalizing the black magic that holds the internet together, herding cats, and the usual fairly weak geek cliches for our industry.

EDS didn’t come up with the expression, but they did co-opt it. The cat reference speaks to the mindset it takes to succeed in the bowels of this beast.231207.jpg

So what is this job really? It’s a layer cake.

It is a stack of skills and concepts that build and commingle with each other. A deep understanding of how a large variety of technologies work and interact.

The complexity involved is what makes doing this job well difficult. There are usually hundreds (or many thousands) of ways to solve the problems that we work with, but usually only a few that are the best. The best being the greatest bang-for-buck, cost savings in efficiency and productivity, risk reduction, or a combination of these.

This is not something you can read a book about, go to a community college to be prepared for, or complete a training course in and expect to be equipped to handle. It is compounded mastery of difficult and frequently changing subject matter.

Qualities that everyone who is good in this field have includes:

  • That they never stop learning
  • They want to know how things work
  • They crave solving problems
  • They enjoy a challenge

It isn’t for everyone.

2 responses to “What we do

  1. I realize that you do the equivalent of something like steering a ship through an oceanic storm, using all the latest sonar, depth finding and satellite devices and apparatus and know what tools to use in your inventory to reach the destination or “win” the race safely and effectively. Yet the description is vague; I may never understand exactly what you do without knowing what you know. But I’ve heard to your (albeit one-sided) phone conversations and, although I do not understand the language, I can grok that you blend optimum operating procedure with what can be legally accomplished to bring about the most effective and secure method of doing business.

    You have unique writing style; it is bold, sure and, between the lines, it is clear that you care about the most important worldwide changes to humankind and other earthlings since, I suppose, television or space travel.

  2. Pingback: Specialists, Generalists, Incompetence, and Cognitive Bias « Bad Penny·

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