I have had the fortune or misfortune of working under 10+ IT directors. As the years have gone by – I have found it difficult to cope with their ‘understanding’ of software development. Never mind the personality issues – it’s their own experience (or non-experience) of the IT industry that can be the real issue which defines their attitude towards the development team. To give any aspiring developer/programmer of what type IT director they may end up with– here are the different categories:-
The director who knows nothing about IT – yes this can sometimes happen, usually because the organisation creates a dual role for head of IT/Finance and so they end up hiring an accountant. What usually happens in this situation is the director buys in a right-hand man who knows something about IT and uses this one resource for all his insights into what the IT part of his responsibility is doing or needs to do. The problem is – this one hired gun can be either your best friend or your worst enemy and there is little chance of you winning if they are your enemy because the director will ALWAYS listen to him – why? – Because the hired gun will get paid more than you do. What can make it worse is that the background of this hired pseudo IT director may not have the necessary development experience to manage what you do and therefore can become an obstruction to your work.
The director with a no Software Development IT background – this can be the worst scenario you could experience as a developer. It is often the people in IT who have a networking/service delivery background that become the future directors. Throughout their meteoric rise to the top they would have had a number of engagements with developers and depending on how they feel about developers – the relationship can go smoothly or be a major disruptive force. If it is the later – you will find that you end up talking to a moron who knows nothing about what you have to go through in your job.
The director with Development experience – you may think that its great thing to have someone who understands what you have to go through in your job, and you could be right. But – there is always the chance (a high one) that the individual will be a control freak who just cannot resist interfering – mostly because he/she wants to impress upon you their experience, which in most cases will be out-dated methods of software development. You will find that they may not be even capable of understanding how development should be done as they can only see things by using their own out-dated past experience as a reference point.
It is highly likely that you will end up with one of the types I have just described – and from my experience the best IT Directors are the ones that don’t interfere with the development team and only find it necessary to interact when there are severe issues with a project. The worse type is the one that does not understand the process of software development and will often look upon the development team as an expensive resource that should ALWAYS have an answer never mind the overall picture or specific requirements. More often than not they will try and show they understand a concept when really they have NO idea – I remember specifically one such director who needed to get a SharePoint project out to the users and kept on telling the developers “It’s all about the web parts – you just need to put them on the page” – that comment coming at a stage in the project when the development team asked what the pages should look like. If you come across such a director, then my advice is just go look for another job – that way you will maintain your sanity and dignity.
Of course IT Directors are under pressure themselves from the board members – but there in itself is another major issue. Usually the IT division falls under the business unit that is usually the operational arm or corporate services, and usually the executive responsible for that area is the head of IT, Finance, HR, Law, and Facilities. But IT is one of the most expensive areas of a business and comes with a big budget requirement plus an understanding of technology which is different from having an understanding of the other operational areas that the executive needs to have a grip on. This is not to undermine the nature of the other departments like Finance and HR – but it’s safe to say that someone who is head of these operational areas will find it easier to understand these areas of the business than the technicalities involved in understanding IT. So the big question is why don’t these corporations give the head of IT a place on the corporate board ?