MY Hines

Knowing Your Coworkers’ Tech Type

Posted on: January 21, 2010

As a follow-up from my last post – Warning: Tech Dangerous – I felt the need to explain something that I listed in one of my responses to a comment. (Note that I love the comments and I want to interact with other tech people – hopefully in the nonprofit sphere, but even from – gasp! – the for-profit sphere.)

I must also admit something, if you haven’t caught on from my blog – my first instinct is that “Glass Half Empty” view – but often I can see the “Glass Half Full” view a bit later. But in this post, I want to focus on both views – the Pros vs. the Cons of each type of tech type that I have created in my mind. Just like any tech project that you are going to be doing – there are pros and cons to every single decision. With technology some of these pros and cons are just magnified a bit larger.  Either way, let’s get to these Tech Types.

IT Staff – Some may argue that IT staff shouldn’t be listed as a tech type, but from experience, this is far from true. At least in my agency, there is a big difference between the IT staff and the regular employee.  Our work is in front of a computer – it’s written all over our job description, it isnt’ just one line in a job description. Motivation of IT staff are different and IT staff have different pressures and consequences for not completing work. Plus, again at least at my agency, there are lots of ‘hats’ that the IT staff hold, not just the traditional roles IT staff have in a for-profit (i.e. web design, employee newsletters, agency newsletters, social media, video production…….)

The Pros of IT Staff – These are the staff members that are going to know technology. It is their life. Most find technology interesting to learn, will learn/explore on their own, and will bring new ideas and thoughts to the table. When you get really good IT staff, they know when to ask for help, where to go for help, and know when to stop what they are doing because they are about to become dangerous to your network. Without IT staff, you probably don’t really use technology in your agency strategically.

The Cons of IT Staff – I believe IT staff are usually don’t respond as well to traditional motivation that may be in place in an agency. Some IT staff can get big egos and lose that trigger of what may be dangerous to the network because they know it all. IT staff usually tend to be the social minority in an agency and that can cause communication issues between departments, especially if the IT staff don’t have a firm grasp on the tech type of the person that they are communicating with to resolve an issue (i.e. need to speak “English” and not “geek” when talking to a novice user).

Power Users – These users are comfortable in using the computer, they love to learn the new products, and often volunteer to work on projects that may involve technology. These are the people that understand what is trying to be accomplished by the tech department and they show respect back to the tech department. When there is downtime on the network, they understand that this is part of the nature of computers and often will defend technology decisions.

The Pros of Power Users – This is where you can find those people who can champion a technology change without it being just a ‘tech department project’. They can also be leveraged to provide additional support and these are the staff members you would select to be the trainer in the “Train the Trainer” situations. IT staff find it easiest to communicate with these power users and often these end up being the friends of the IT staff.

The Cons of Power Users – The number one con of Power Users is that they can start seeing themselves as the IT staff.  When this occurs and they start troubleshooting beyond their abilities, their coworkers may become confused over the role of the IT staff and they may cause additional problems (beyond just those problems that may occur by fixing something incorrectly). IT staff will have to monitor Power Users to make sure that the proper policies and procedures are being followed and that Power Users remember the role of the IT staff.

Tech Dangerous (a.k.a. Tech Savvy) – Think of the staff that you immediately think about when someone comes in with the newest tech toy because you know that they are going to want it and they will do anything to get it. These might be the ones that you know will go out and get the said new tech toy without a care if it will work with your network – or if it is even allowed on your network. They talk the talk with IT staff and Power Users – usually very well and can often be confused with a Power User.

The Pros of Tech Dangerous – As commented in my post a couple days ago, they can cause change in the agency. Their desires for the new tech toys that may be useful for their job can cause the IT staff to change network structures to allow for the new tech toys to become new tech tools. They are forward thinking, often will bring new ideas to the table about how to use technology, and they can talk about technology without it being translated from “geek” to “English”.

The Cons of Tech Dangerous – To some, the Tech Dangerous sound, act, and feel like a Power User. My distinction between the two is that the Tech Dangerous does in ways disregard established rules and regulations (which as pointed out a couple days ago by Holly could be a good thing, but I think it can be a negative thing especially if the rules and regulations are just being established within an agency). The Tech Dangerous can take up a lot of time and energy of the IT staff by causing the tech toys to become the focus instead of other projects or support issues. They are not firm supporters of the IT staff and if there is a conflict between IT staff and the Tech Dangerous, the Tech Dangerous can stop supporting all tech projects. It is difficult for the IT staff to have the Tech Dangerous in a working group that is formed for a tech project.

Novices – The biggest percentage of staff fall underneath the Novices section (hopefully!). These are staff members who are comfortable using technology for the purpose that it was given to them for their job and they can do these tasks without much assistance.

The Pros of Novices – These are the ‘steady-as-it-goes’ staff. Sometimes IT staff don’t even interact with these staff members often because they go with the flow and don’t need much assistance beyond fixing the more difficult fixes. They understand that they have to use technology to complete their job and for the mission of the agency to be reached.

The Cons of Novices – These staff are not going to go out and seek new ways to learn technology. They are going to usually only do what they know how to do for work. If they learned something a while ago but haven’t had a need to use it, they are not going to remember how to do it any longer and may need retrained.

Non-Techies – These staff members are easily to identify. When they start to work with the agency, they may have trouble identifying where the power button is located (and yes, this still is happening!). They are comfortable in all non-tech parts of their job. Their eyes will glass over if any type of geek term is used in explaining something and often believe that IT staff are from a different world.

Pros of the Non-Techies – These staff require the IT staff to communicate differently and in “English”. They can bring the IT staff down to earth and can think things thru differently. When IT staff fix problems for them or complete “computer magic” they usually heap great praise on the IT staff (and sometimes rewards with gifts of gratitude).

Cons of the Non-Techies – These staff require lots and lots and lots of training. Hands-on training with training guides are not going to be enough for these staff. IT staff are going to spend lots of time hand holding these staff and assisting them. They are going to be vocal against changes and would rather have old versions of software than the newest versions. IT staff are going to need to communicate using simple terms about the technology and need to give Non-Techies lots of advance notice of changes and/or outages.

Tech Indifferent – If you hear the phrase “why can’t we just go back to paper and the typewriter?” then you should know that you are talking to the Tech Indifferent. There are probably two different types of this type – the ones who are passively indifferent (they just do not seem to care about the technology) or aggressively indifferent (or also known as those against technology entirely in a whole). These are probably the biggest minority of all types.

Pros of the Tech Indifferent – There are pros to the Tech Indifferent. I believe that because these staff would rather use paper, they often are organized and know how their work flows (getting those work flows to the computer then is the IT staff challenge). I find that they are the historians and they have a good sense of how paperwork should be completed.

Cons of the Tech Indifferent – Counting on what type of Tech Indifferent you have, IT staff can spend lots of time and energy addressing why technology should be used by these staff. They can easily go back to paper solutions and may even do this without regard to what the network can give them. Although they need the training, they also tend to have the most reasons not to attend a training.

Now that I have outlined these types that I categorized on, I think the focus is to move the staff one step up from where they are (except those Power Users). If that can be a focus of the IT staff and if this type of tech adoption would help the agency achieve its mission – big changes are there to be had.

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