Suits v geeks

I think the suit/geek thing is inspired from stuff I have read on Joel On Software, but it might be from elsewhere. Also I’m talking trends here, no shooting for 100% stereotyping so if you know an exception, great, but what’s the most common?

Geeks is anyone who works with technology as a primary job role, so devs, sys admins, dbas etc.

Suits is pretty much everyone else, finance, legal, marketing (there is no Hawaiian shirt category)

Many organisations do away with a Chief Information Officer (CIO), or IT Director. Instead the IT/IS function reports up through the FD (Finance Director) (CFO). (geek reporting to board via a suit filter)

This leads to a few strategic issues, but from a power POV, who is likely to have the most sway, the finance underling (that the FD totally understands, has the same qualifications as etc etc) or the IS underling who talks about loads of stuff the FD doesn’t understand?

Its easy to say that tech companies should target the IS function, but actually large scale projects are likely to be better received if they are presented in a finance stylee. (IMO of course – no proof or owt)

I think this is one area where the suits have more power over the geeks, and I think the effect is the slow down of technology adoption until it is completely financially justified. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

The big downside of this structure is that the geeks get hammered any time there are cuts because they struggle to articulate what they do. Or at least the FD understands the value they add least, so shafts them the most.

I would love to claim those orgs without a CIO have an over reliance on spreadsheets, whereas those who recognise the strategic value of IT will manage their spreadsheet use more effectively. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least, but I have no proof. What do you think?



11 Responses to “Suits v geeks”

  1. alastair Says:

    don’t think it makes any difference – spreadsheets are like rats (in the nicest possible sense!)

  2. dermot Says:

    I think the real problem in many companies is that line managers don’t see the potential benefits of having better tools, and so IT gets relegated to a maintenance function on a minimal budget, and this leads to a tightly controlled authoritarian environment.

    Several times in my career, I, and others like me, have seen a business need and built tools to address it. They may not have been beautifully written, but they worked. A well run IT function would have actively looked out for the successful skunkworks projects, and developed them properly, while also keeping some control over all the other things that users do (eg giving power users some relevant training) . Instead, my IT department sneered at user development and tried to prevent it.

  3. Simon Says:

    squeak a lot and bite when cornered?
    Or never more than 8 feet from one?

  4. Michael Foord Says:

    Related tangent… as an IronPython programmer I go to both Python user groups and .NET user groups. At the .NET user group *most* people wear suits and are clean shaven. At the Python user groups *no-one* wears a suit and there are a lot of beards…

    We’re *all* geeks of course. :-)

  5. Biggus Dickus Says:

    To me the problem is that once again IT (or as it used to be called DP) has moved back into a centralized mode. Then thanks to people like KPMG, E&Y and Accenture, “Suit” management has been convinced that in the interests of Security and SOX compliance they must give control of the technology in their business (and unfortunately all to often the business itself) to IT with complete unfettered control of all technology from the Plant Floor to the Executive desktop. Just like in Y2K, where EVERYTHING had to be compliant (I once saw a Y2K compliance tag on a HOSPITAL BED – no kidding), IT now wants a piece of everything technical.

    This means that the savvy line managers are limited in their authority to fund and stage departmental application anymore. Even if the business need for an automated spreadsheet or an local Access database is compelling, the political battle to get it authorized would be a lost cause – not worth the fight.

    What I tell managers (even IT managers) is that in the future there will be MORE not less spreadsheets running businesses. It’s just that they will have to be user-designed, built and supported – and therefore they will mostly SUCK …. (sorry but it’s true).

    I find this is the standard in every major corporation (i.e. Multi-National) and since everybody seems to be selling out to the Multi-Nationals here in Canada (don’t get me going about me about economic soveriegnty) there are ONLY Multi-Nationals left over a certain size ….

    I think there is going to be a long period of continued devolution of the “Departmental Application” until it is discovered what has happened but by then there won’t be anyone left to call for help. I believe that Microsoft COULD do something about this but I find that they are totally Enterprise-centric and they are unable to appreciate or do anything about this reality.

    It’s too bad not just personally (of course), but also businesses everywhere will lose, MS will lose. Generally there will be a lot of missed opportunities to apply technology in a productive way. It will lead to a world once again where the only way to get advantage for the use of technology will be gained by the BIG corporations who are willing and able to pile TONS of money into automated business solutions. Is this progress? Hmmmm….

    Excuse me while I breathe in some more of this exhaust ;-) …….


  6. Simon Says:

    Interesting point Michael – check out the next post for an interesting .net dev v others link.
    I hate dress code stuff, they are on about one for Eusprig this year, I think its truly petty.
    I don’t have suit, and if I did I would only use it for weddings and funerals.

  7. Simon Says:

    All hail the rise of the sucky spreadsheet!
    (and the opportunities that may offer in the future)

  8. Biggus Dickus Says:

    “All hail the rise of the sucky spreadsheet!
    (and the opportunities that may offer in the future)”

    Yeah – in an odd way that’s true….But it kinda sucks when you’re brought in to fix a spreadsheet that is unfixable (“Should be put down !”) ….. where the client has expended all their budget in time and money and goodwill with their staff….

    It’s also a fact that if it gets bad enough companies will start banning spreadsheets …. then we’ll see an interesting battle between the business and IT. We just have to try not to get caught in the cross-fire and be around to pick up the pieces ;-)


  9. Ken Puls Says:

    Hi Simon

    It’s been a while since I’ve been able to drop in. :)

    I come from a slightly smaller (Canadian) organization than what you’re talking about. To give you an idea of the size, our company has about 50 users on the system. We (as of last week) run VMWare on our servers, and run 9 MS Servers on top of that, delivering our applications to users via Citrix. Based on the structure and many facets of business that we’re in, we are a small business with big business needs in many ways.

    In my role with the company I actually wear both the IT and accounting hat, so I’m the geek in the suit, I guess. My formal title is Controller, although I’m actually working on getting that changed to recognize my IT function as well. I plan the new IT initiatives, coordinate and assist in deployments, develop applications, and support the end users. (And that in addition to the preparation and delivery of financial statements and many other accounting tasks.) It’s a fairly big, challenging and rewarding role, really.

    Interestingly enough, when I put in a job ad recently to try and get someone with both accounting and IT skills, I had one application. We hired her, and she quit after three weeks as she was in way over her head. My personal feelings about IT and accounting is that the roles should be set very closely together, but trying to find someone who can fill both positions is virtually impossible… at least in my job market.

    I agree with your point on pitching new technology to the suits, not the geeks. We’re always evaluating new software here, and it is put to the departmental managers first. They tell me what they need, and what software will give it to them, then I evaluate it to make sure it will fit into our infrastructure and actually work, as well as serve the financial and qualitative benefits that they are after. To me, this is the way it should go… ultimately, it’s about getting productivity out of the software at a reasonable cost, not empire building. Being in a small-medium business though, I guess we may be a little more nimble that some of the larger enterprises. (I can’t believe I said that, as we’re owned by a pension fund, and don’t feel nimble at all!)

    I’ll also tell you that our reliance on spreadsheets is fairly deep. We have a couple of Access databases that I designed (they won’t win any awards, but they work), but a great deal of our work is in Excel. In fact, many of our Point of Sale solutions are glued together by spreadsheet applications that I designed. Should they be? No… preferably not, but then we don’t have the budget to have a geek come in and custom build a piece of software for us. We are always looking for solutions to eliminate some of these pieces though, providing that it makes financial sense to do so.

  10. alastair Says:

    both! Rats are very intelligent and mostly misunderstood!

  11. alastair Says:

    Hi Ken. I’m an accountant, and employed as a systems accountant in the finance department. In which role I regularly develop stuff in Excel with VBA and Access. And probably equally regularly upset the IT chappies. Don’t think I am unique in this, but there are not many around. Perhaps we should start a club?

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