Executive Information Technology Consulting & Development Services offered by Steve Diamond

I Am Not Your Company’s Computer Guy

06 March 2010

If you were watching Saturday Night Live during the 1990s, you remember Jimmy Fallon’s hilarious sketches as “Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy.” If you weren’t watching or if you’d like a refresher, scroll down to where I’ve embedded some examples, also featuring guest hosts Jennifer Aniston, Jackie Chan, and Calista Flockhart. (Darn it, those videos keep getting taken down! If anyone knows where they’re being shared at the moment, please say so in the comments. Thanks!)

Nick Burns was the help desk guy from hell. He could help with your computer problems, but you had to pay the price of being insulted and made to feel stupid. After taking care of your difficulty, Nick would always finish by asking “Was that so hard?”

So why am I writing about Nick Burns today? Here’s why. I’m trying to differentiate what I do for my clients from what Nick does. Most people see the phrase “computer consultant” or “technology consultant” and they think of Nick, the guy from the help desk, the only one who knows how to keep the computers and the networks running smoothly. Maybe they think of someone with a kinder, gentler attitude than Nick’s, but they do think of someone who performs Nick’s role.

Well, that’s not me. Not only do I have a better attitude than Nick’s, I actually do something entirely different. I don’t man the help desk. I don’t configure the servers or run network cable. I don’t install Outlook and connect it to your email account. No, that’s not me.

What I do is to supply a role that’s missing in many small and medium businesses – informed executive oversight for the use and management of information technology. This is the CIO (Chief Information Officer) role or the I.T. Director role, and many smaller companies don’t have such a person in their executive line-up.

In fact, most smaller businesses have little in-house expertise in I.T. There’s no expert oversight, no viable process for defining requirements, and in the end no way for the company to know whether or not a software or hardware vendor has really delivered the best solution for the business.

Yet they’re probably right not to have that expertise in house. They don’t have enough need for a full-time executive devoted that. But that doesn’t mean that they have no need for the role to be performed occasionally. They do. So what usually happens is that it gets shunted off in a direction that’s not optimal for the company.

Here’s how it often unfolds. The company’s executives realize that they have a need. They think it’s for some software and/or hardware to help automate their business processes. They decide to find a vendor or vendors to fill the need.

To make the decision, the company turns to someone they trust but who isn’t really qualified. This is often their accountant (how do you think the original Big 8 accounting firms managed to grow and spin off consulting divisions?) or their computer guy. The accountant typically knows little about the field, and the computer guy, paradoxically, may know even less. Adept at the nuts and bolts operations, the computer guy usually has no experience in optimizing business processes and their automation or in managing relationships with large vendors. Or the company may appoint an executive or committee to choose a vendor to meet a particular technology need. In any case the choice is made somehow, and then they turn the entire project over to the vendor.

This approach is gambling pure and simple. Sometimes the vendor will be willing and able to devote enough resources to find out exactly what the company really needs and to provide it. In other cases (and I’ve seen them, believe me) the vendor just puts in their standard product, assumes it’s going to do the right job, provides a little training, and walks out the door.

What’s missing is informed executive oversight, oversight of the requirements definition process, oversight of the vendor selection process, oversight of the project itself to make sure that the vendor delivers. This is the CIO role, and it can only be provided by someone who understands both the business and the technology. You can’t have one and not the other.

I supply that missing link. As a part-time, consulting CIO, I manage the requirements gathering, vendor selection, and vendor relationship processes. I also give advice on effective use of technology like accounting systems, marketing systems, online marketing campaigns, online customer relationship management, website utilization, and related fields.

And that’s why I am not your company’s computer guy. But I may be its part-time CIO.

Sorry, no SNL videos available at the moment! If you know where there are some (YouTube and Vimeo is where I’ve seen them before) let me know in the comments.)

673 Comments to “I Am Not Your Company’s Computer Guy”

  1. Debra says:

    One of the lessons I’ve learned is that a co-worker might be rude because he’s trying to assert his dominance, impact your morale or because he lacks professional and social skills. Regardless of what’s behind the rudeness, you don’t have to tolerate this behavior. Be proactive in how you handle rude colleagues and I would even go as far as to employ the help of your supervisor if necessary to curb this type of unprofessionalism.

  2. Preston says:

    I remember the skit you are talking about in your post, that was a funny show and the way he portrayed the computer guy was an exaggeration back then but it came to life after this show was aired. I wonder how many “computer guys started acting this way because they thought it was funny. Very interesting thought if you ask me.

  3. Tracy says:

    Prejudice is at times at the heart of incivility. I am a heterosexual and my parents and I are Christians. I am all for homosexuality and their rights. I understand and accept people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. But my mother is so ignorant and arrogant. I specifically asked her one time, to see her reaction, “Mom, what if I told you I was gay?” She paused and said, “I would absolutely not be okay with that.” I asked, “So you wouldn’t talk to me ever again?” She said, “I couldn’t.”

  4. Marcus says:

    Computers are an important part of everyday life in and out of the business world so just keep that in mind all of you computer guys that are so unhappy, you are important and you are needed but there are plenty to replace you as well so stop being jerks when you are asked for your assistance. Great blog bring them out into the light.

  5. William says:

    Civility in America continues to erode and rude behavior is becoming our “new normal. I myself have come across one study which found that 70 percent of Americans believe incivility has reached crisis proportions. With Americans encountering incivility more than twice a day on average. With numbers like that, I would say that this has reached a crisis level. How about what is going on with nation against nation? Obama just approved air strikes in Iraq. Is there no end to this madness?

  6. Nicholas says:

    Back when this SNL skit was popular, there wasn’t social media, but perhaps it is a contributing factor to the rise of rudeness. You express what’s on your mind. The problem is that Twitter, like most social media sites, does not censor posts, so anyone can post anything, including profanity. It’s not actually just Twitter, but other social media sites as well, such as Facebook. Social media encourages people to become attention-seekers, narcissists, and egotists. I know a lot of nice people who show their ugly behavior online

  7. Denise says:

    There has been many mentions of the term, incivility’, throughout the comments, but not every rude coworker behaves as extreme as the Nick Burns character. So what does bad office behavior look like in the real world? Well, there’s the guy who doesn’t say “thank you,” and the woman who won’t even say “hi.” Others bark commands, fail to make eye contact, and occasionally tell belittling jokes. The uncivil–dare we say hostile?–workplace that these habits create can do a pretty rough number on your team.

  8. Nicholas says:

    I recently interviewed for a small company without a human resources department. The owner made nasty comments about my appearance, my choice of college, my major and anything else negative he could think of. Hoping this was one of those interviewing strategies my father warned me about, I smiled through the blatant rudeness. But then he asked me about personal matters. It was awful. I didn’t get the job and wonder is there anything I could do about his behavior?

  9. Bethany says:

    Having worked as a bank teller for three and a half years before graduating from college in 2007, I came to a startling discovery: I found it easier to deal with the rare aggressive customers people who shouted and spat than people guilty of more subtle rudeness, such as not saying “please” or “thank you,” questioning my competence or talking on a cellphone instead of focusing on the business at hand. Some call this passive aggressiveness – something Nick Burns cannot be accused of.

  10. Gerald says:

    I think it’s important to stress that everyone personalizes things from time to time, and we all do it for different reasons. Who hasn’t gotten mad at another driver after being cut off in traffic? At certain times, any parent can overreact and take things too personally. And frankly, if your kid is standing there calling you names, it would be hard for anyone not to take that personally. I mention kids because maybe rude persons learn that behavior from their parents.

  11. William says:

    Have a computer guy in house can be a great thing but it can be a nightmare as well when it comes to things like this. I am surprised that they would post something like this because even though they are supposedly joking around about this it can be taken very seriously as well, I have known guys like this at places I worked.

  12. John says:

    I remember my grandmother telling my sister that if she were ever to marry, she should make sure he was kind. But she might just as well have said: “Find yourself a man who’s nice to waiters.” The way people treat restaurant staff is, I think, a kind of poker tell, revealing a person’s character in as long as it takes to say: “I’ll have the sea bass.” A man (or woman) who is actively unpleasant to waiters is best avoided. That could be a sign when you’re going on those early dates.

  13. Tonia says:

    Watching the SNL skits took me back to my best days, but it also reminded me of certain people I had crossed paths with in the past, and let’s just say that it wasn’t a positive experience. Negative people can be real downers in any conversation. No matter what you say, they have a way of spinning things in a negative direction. Some negative people can be so negative that it feels draining just being around them. I hope you don’t let them ruin your attitude.

  14. Francis says:

    We have all heard about random acts of kindness, whereby we do something nice for someone we don’t know. There are also random acts of rudeness, which are thoughtless behaviors inflicted upon someone we don’t know. Just yesterday I was in the grocery store and the cashier rang up one of my items wrong. I mentioned to her that the fruit was on sale and she looked at me and rolled her eyes, made a loud sighing noise, and proceeded to correct the price. I ask you, was it necessary for her to get upset?

  15. Rose says:

    Now that nearly everyone on earth has a cell phone, they have become ingrained in our everyday lives. We carry them with us all the time, use them all the time, and run into people using their cell phones all the time. While there are no hard and fast rules for using cell phones in public, we sure know what we don’t like, don’t we? Now that we are in the midst of the mobile revolution, there seems to be new forms of incivility.

  16. Preston says:

    We are so unaccustomed to polite behavior that we are actually frightened by it. In addition, we have become cynical, believing that a kind act has a hidden agenda. Rudeness is fueled by stress. Consider road rage which turns a regular person into a potential killer because his or her stress has spiraled out of control. Many of us go through life in a perpetual road rage, running over people’s emotions, especially those we love.

  17. Jerry says:

    It seems that rudeness has reached epidemic proportions, from celebrity meltdowns to excessive cell phone use to obnoxious drivers. Rude people don’t always dial in to the impact their behavior has on others. Whether you’re dealing with an aggressive coworker or family member, or you’re the one with a rude attitude, there are ways you should deal with those people so their poor attitudes do not infect your outlook on your day or overall life.

  18. Preston says:

    In colleges we hope that we will no longer be hassled by those mocking our appearance or quirks. Perhaps the scars of being ridiculed may be permanently airbrushed out. Yet, I marvel that when I Googled “bullying in college I accessed more than 5 million hits, and on Google Scholar alone, 49. And I was taken aback – and disappointed – when one of my classmates of a certain age said that when he speaks up in other classes, sometimes students laugh.

  19. Tonia says:

    Some English find the loud-American stereotype to be true – and loud can be rude. I was speaking to friends of mine and they were talking about this cruise they took in the Caribbean and how there were these super loud Americans in the room next to theirs. I had to laugh because one of these two friends who were complaining about the loud Americans has to be one of the loudest people I know, lol. So sometimes other people’s perspectives aren’t necessarily in perspective.

  20. Kendrick says:

    I have a very high threshold for what’s considered rude or not. I also rarely get angry at people, unless they’re highly unreasonable. Even when others think of a certain behavior as rude, I tend to see it as neutral. Back in my previous workplace, I experienced many communications and exchanges which would easily be regarded by outsiders as “rude, but I never thought they were rude. I saw them as direct and frank, but no, not rude.

  21. Roger says:

    I’ve heard some say that rude, thoughtless, inconsiderate behavior has become a national epidemic that reflects badly on each of us as individuals and collectively as a society. I realize that it is all but impossible to explore the sad state of discourtesy in America without sounding like a grumpy old person, but it is pretty bad. The Clint Eastwood movie, Gran Torrino serves as a reminder of this. When you see it, you’ll know what I mean.

  22. Ella says:

    Courtesy means a lot to me. I am keenly aware when someone fails to say please or thank you. Waiters or clerks who ignore me or respond snippily do so at their peril. My friend’s children know well their parents’ glare when they fail to give their bus or subway seat to an elderly person. I think that they set a good example and standard for how to treat people.

  23. Mary says:

    These kinds of posts make me angry because they are so inaccurate I am in the industry of working in computers and we are not all like this, by posting something like this it makes us all look bad. The IT industry is difficult enough without people coping an attitude with you because of what they think you are like.

  24. John says:

    One thing is certain: we live in a culture of casual cruelty. I hate the way people online can be so rude about strangers; the way we’re gleefully horrid to everyone on reality TV, the way people don’t seem to have any manners any more. Maybe shows like that 90’s SNL skit and more recent movies like “Mean Girls encourage tees to imitate art and from pop culture. We’ve got to change the culture and get back to old fashion manners.

  25. Nicholas says:

    Many parents in blended families talk about the subject of disrespect. In some cases, their stepkids didn’t respect them, and in others, their biological child did not respect their new spouse. The truth is a child may never respect his stepparent, but he does have to know that he can’t get away with being rude or obnoxious to them. The only way to achieve the desired behavior is to be certain you and your spouse are united in making sure that your kids treat you with respect.

  26. Tonia says:

    The 90’s SNL Nick Burns skits are essentially art imitating life, and a reflection of office life in the decade that saw the emergence of computers and email in the work force. It has and continues to be a sign that workplace incivility is commonand on the rise. Workplace incivility to me is just a clinical term that means “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect.

  27. Kendrick says:

    Some managers can demonstrate qualities of manipulative behavior. This is particularly common where there is a large power difference with regards to education or authority. The subordinate is anxious to make the boss happy and to prove worthiness – saying yes to things without really wanting to. The problem is that this type of boss may not be looking out for the subordinate’s best and so the underling runs off in multiple directions, not focused career goals.

  28. Lessie says:

    There are instances where zero tolerance is mandated. There are times where discretion is the better part of valor. There are times to fight and times to flee and fight another day. These dispositions must be considered, especially in the work place. But if we feel the obligation to act with civility toward our coworkers, how much more so should we act toward our loved ones? The bottom line is we should strive to be kind at all times.

  29. Jack says:

    Let’s admit it, there’s a lot of truth to that SNL skit. Take a look around you and it’s not hard to find examples of rude, crass, disrespectful behavior. We bemoan the fact that kids today seem to be bolder than ever in their disrespect. But how did it get that way? Well, it may hurt to admit it, but the problem starts with adults. Kids are only mimicking what they see around them, and adults are worse than ever in their treatment of each other.

  30. Nancy says:

    When it comes to rudeness, incivility, and disruption in a classroom, it is often distinguishable even though they may intersect. In most instances, it’s better for a teacher or administrator to respond to rudeness by example and suasion (e.g., advising a student in private that he or she appears to have a habit of interrupting others). Rudeness can become disruption when it is repetitive, especially after a warning has been given. It needs to be managed in school just as much as in the workplace.

  31. John says:

    The Nick Burns SNL skit of the 90’s was not joke. It was a prophetic parody; art imitating life. Across the U.S., workplace bullying is on the rise. The trend has some obvious negative consequences in the form of stressed and unhappy employees. But the ramifications of workplace bullying go beyond tearful staff members hiding out in bathroom stalls. Incivility apparently takes on all sorts of forms including passive aggressive behavior and other kinds of conflict.

  32. Robin says:

    Americans are working longer hours as wages stay stagnate and the job market remains weak, so it’s not surprising that tensions in the workplace are running high. The problem is these tensions can often result in frustration and interpersonal conflict leading to toxic work environments. And those 90’s SNL skits were a funny take that captured a changing work place when computers began to become widely used. The skits also expressed the frustration many in the workforce felt because they weren’t computer literate in a changing world.

  33. Andrew says:

    Why hasn’t the webmaster embedded the videos of the Nick Burns SNL episodes? I wonder if there are any legal ramifications with embedding intellectual property on one’s website. I don’t even know if SNL material even has copyright protection any longer. Isn’t there a statute of limitations on copyrights? It’s not a big deal. I’m sure it is rather easy to do a search for these classic episodes and find it on one of the popular video sharing websites. It’s just more convenient to have at least some links to a floating window.

  34. Mary says:

    The computer guy is a big position and you should be glad to have a job in the industry because there are so many people trying to get into this industry that you have to take what you can get and quit griping about it because there are others that will take the job that you don’t want. Keep up the good work posting these they are funny.

  35. Mark says:

    One of the strangest examples of incivility in the workplace comes from our neighbors down under. Police in Australia charged a 36-year-old man after a passenger was attacked on board a Qantas flight from Manila to Sydney. The victim was attempting to get some sleep on the eight-hour flight when he was repeatedly punched in the face by a stranger. On the third strike, the victim attempted to block the punches and yelled to the crew for help, according to the Australian Federal Police.

  36. Jeffrey says:

    Every law office I’ve worked has had several lawyers that are bitter, nasty people. When I first started in this field there were two persons in that office that were just mean for no reason other than their own notion that they could be. Now, I work with a control freak that has to have everything done her way or all hell breaks loose. I’ve had to bite my tongue on so many occasions. I know attorneys can be horrible, but I’ve noticed that the staff can be equally as awful.

  37. William says:

    You are going about your day, steadily moving from one task to another and then suddenly, the unexpected happens; someone pulls their car abruptly in front of you, causing you to slam on your breaks, interrupts you repeatedly while speaking, gives you a condescending look, bumps into you without apologizing, or outright blurts something to hurt your feelings. If it is someone you know, you can usually call attention to the transgression and get it resolved fairly quickly.

  38. Sonya says:

    Over the last 14 years, thousands of workers have been polled on how they’re treated on the joband a whopping 98% have reported experiencing uncivil behavior. These startling facts were published in “The Price of Incivility, a January-February 2013 Harvard Business Review article by Professors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson. I find these facts to be disturbing. It really says something is wrong with people in society. Thank goodness there are a few professionals like Steve that you can count on.

  39. William says:

    It seems to me that Americans’ fast-paced, high-tech existence has taken a toll on the civil in society. From road rage in the morning commute to high decibel cell-phone conversations that ruin dinner out, men and women behaving badly has become the hallmark of a hurry-up world. An increasing informality flip-flops at the White House, even combined with self-absorbed communication gadgets and a demand for instant gratification have strained common courtesies to the breaking point.

  40. Roy says:

    In a case of incivility, a clear intentionality is no longer necessary or present. For example, an employee says “hello to a coworker, and the coworker does not respond in kind. The employee might be considered a victim of the coworker, who might be considered the perpetrator of incivility, though it is not clear that any harm was meant. The perpetrator might have pent up feelings because he or she feels slighted by some incident from the past.

  41. Vaughn says:

    Incivility must be an epidemic as the Apocalypse approaches. Business people are even being rude toward pets. If you’ve been watching the news this week, you’ve probably come across the story about the video of a food distribution company CEO kicking a dog in an elevator; it has gone viral and has some Bay area companies reviewing their relationship with him. The video shows Desmond Hague, CEO of food distributor Centerplate entering an elevator in a Vancouver apartment building with a dog. Then he kicks the dog, a 1-year old Doberman named Sade, multiple times in the ribs. Later, he lifts the dog off the ground by its leash.

  42. Bethany says:

    Rude behavior is tolerated less in the Middle East There was a report in the local press about the suspension of a security guard found standing in an inappropriate manner at the Holy Kaaba. The picture taken by a visitor went viral on social media. Many tweets asked for immediate action to be taken against the man. I personally agree that people have every right to be upset by the man’s improper behavior at the sacred site. However, do we have to tweet to force the authorities to address the negative phenomenon of the rude behavior of some government employees?

  43. Tracy says:

    I too laugh when I watch Nick Burns berate his poor coworkers. But in real life, most of us aim not to be rude in the workplace, but sometimes the line is thin between adorable quirkiness and just plain annoying. How many times have you wished an office mate would go away – simply because of their rude behavior? The office is a confined space that easily breeds contempt when the right ingredients are available. Be it something totally innocuous, a pet peeve, or a completely inappropriate action.

  44. Francis says:

    If you think office incivility is rude, you should see some of the things people do in church. The list I compiled got me thinkingand asking othersabout rude behavior in church. I asked some of my Facebook friends to chime in on some of the rudest things they’ve witnessed during Sunday morning worship services. The responses were troubling and indicate a sign of the times we live in, where, in many cases, the Word of God being preached is no longer revered.

  45. Sharon says:

    I suppose incivility is funny in satire. But don’t you just hate it when people are mean? Some people are just flat out mean. Nothing comes out of their mouths except negativity, gossip and rudeness! Worse still, these people can TOTALLY ruin your day…week…or month. I mean, people can be total [Debbie] downers. It doesn’t matter if they are strangers, peers, coworkers or even family members. Some days it’s like they’re EVERYWHERE. Then again, if they seem to be everywhere, maybe the problem is your own attitude.

  46. Leonard says:

    It’s no secret that salespeople at upscale shops can be a little snobbish, if not outright rude, the researchers note. Consumer complaints recently have pressured some luxury retailers to train their staffs to be more approachable; Louis Vuitton even went as far as decorating the entrance of its Beverly Hills store with a smiling cartoon apple in 2007. But if luxury retailers want to continue to rake in the dough, they actually should do the exact opposite. The ruder the salesperson the better.

  47. Jack says:

    Why not encourage corporations to reinvent themselves in order to be “employee-friendly” just as they are always exerting themselves to be “consumer-friendly”? Why not encourage corporations to “invest” in their workforce in order to strengthen the consumer demographic base that they covet to make their sales quotas and profits? This would be a start to a better economy. Invent a new form of corporate stock that enhances the value of every employee and prospective employee that would enhance the whole market value of our economy.

  48. Jeffrey says:

    At least that’s what a recent study shows. Shoppers appear to want to buy more of the high end brands after being treated badly, according to research conducted by two professors. They said this kind of behavior is driven by an inherent human nature of wanting to prove they belong in an exclusive club. As upsetting as it is to be condescended to, in a luxury environment it appears to work in the brand’s favor.

  49. Cecil says:

    Is it crude to be rude? Unfortunately, Americans are increasingly seeking to get their way with rude behavior, this according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. You may not have much control over the lame, inappropriate words and actions of adults you encounter at the Mall, in the bank, or walking the aisles of your local supermarket. But what about the youngsters in your little hemisphere of influence? Can you take a stand to become a teacher and practitioner of civility for the young ones?

  50. Vaughn says:

    I am afraid that if this was my computer guy I would have to fire him just for the simple fact that obviously he doesn’t want the job that so many other people would like to have. In an economy like we have right now you can’t be picky and just because you think that you are better than others doesn’t mean that you really are.

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