Last week, Farhad Manjoo, the technology columnist for Slate, published a piece highlighting the control many large organizations, including the US State Department, exert over their employees’ computers. He argued that such restrictive policies were often misguided. His reasons, in a nutshell:

The restrictions infantilize workers—they foster resentment, reduce morale, lock people into inefficient routines, and, worst of all, they kill our incentives to work productively.

My only real quibble with Manjoo’s article is that “modern” companies have already recognized this; it’s only the crusty behemoths whose IT departments have decades of legacy policy that continue to treat users like infants. Of course, such behemoths still represent a huge fraction of the economy and the work force, so his point stands. Some people don’t realize that IT has moved on since the 80s.

What I did find interesting, however, was a direct response from John C. Welch which he emailed to Manjoo and also posted publicly on his web site. Mr. Welch has been in IT “for around 20 years, from $bigCorp to higher ed, to small companies”, and from what I can tell he intends to speak for the industry. Let’s see how he rebuts accusations of infantilizing workers:

…New Media Douchebag…

This person was an idiot.

…you don’t care about that boring stuff like security or infrastructure, do you? You just want the new shiny, and if you get told ‘no’, then obviously, it’s just because IT are mean poopyheads.

FIGHT THE POWER!!! Yes, yes, I like Public Enemy too, but as it turns out, they aren’t a reliable network administration methodology. Who knew?

IT however, doesn’t live in the land of magical ponies and unicorns, where the internet is run by happy fairies and it’s all free.

Every time some nimrod PHB gets his panties in a bunch because someone was on MySpace, it’s our fault for allowing it, and word comes down from on high, block that site. What, you think we like having to run the idiotic reports about web usage and maintain the block filters?

…why would you bother to do any research? You’re leading a revolution!

As well, the implication that somehow, you know more about the advantages and use of things like Gmail than every IT person everywhere? Can you even sit within arms reach of a computer, with your head all bloated like that?

…rather than learn, you instead run the New Media Douchebag playbook, and assume that only you, Farhad Manjoo, is able to really understand what’s going on.

…a dead wombat knows more about IT than you do.

I’m sure what you’re doing is completely different. I bet you could even explain how in under a decade…once I’m in a coma…and deaf.

…we do what we’re ordered to, and take the blame from idiots without a clue…like you.

You don’t think it hasn’t occurred to us that if you just teach someone about what not to do they won’t do it? Do you think that kind of shit ever works? Maybe for 1% of people…

I’m pretty sure that no amount of reality will change you from your mighty crusade against the ebul that is IT.

Oh, you didn’t think you were the first one to write this kind of tripe, did you?

See? Not only are you wrong, but you’re not even original.

Welch’s attitude towards his users, his bosses, and any critics of the IT industry is clear.

He does, of course, also include some unsubstantiated claims in his rant. It’s mostly just transparent hand-waving and misdirection, but I’ll make an attempt at a few of them:

  • When employees need to beg the CEO for help getting around IT policy that makes it hard to work, the IT department has failed at its job. Disastrously.
  • An IT worker who considers the cost of disallowing any and all software to be zero needs a better understanding of “cost”.
  • We all know you don’t need intimate familiarity with every last detail of a network, “down to OS versions on routers and servers”, in order to install software. If you think that’s necessary, you don’t understand modern IT. And your security policy sucks.
  • We also have some idea of what it takes to keep computers and networks running. Most of us do that at home these days. Vague claims that “[it’s] not easy. No matter what your Googleh.D in computer science tells you”, are not good enough any more.
  • If management is making IT decisions, then they are running your IT department. Blaming bad policy on internal politics isn’t really a defense.
  • We understand how email works. Forwarding a message to GMail doesn’t force you to delete the original. Really. Even if you throw acronyms like EAS and BES at us.
  • If anybody wants to intentionally leak confidential data they can. Spending your time blocking IM and Twitter won’t change that.
  • We install applications on our personal machines all the time, yet we do not “spend hours a day dealing with application/OS/network interaction”.

When big-company IT is no longer dominated by pathetic and incompetent despots then maybe the profession will regain a little bit of respect.


Mr. Welch responds. And has apparently read (one line of) my bio. And believes that shell scripts figure prominently in computing research.