What Tech Professionals Can Learn from The IT Crowd
The Channel 4 masterpiece of The IT Crowd still has much to teach the world of tech administrators.
Credit: ShutterstockNearly a decade before USA's Mr. Robot uploaded us into the chaotic world of network professionals and the hackers bent on owning them, Britain's Channel 4 delivered The IT Crowd, a loopy satire of corporate culture that was, top to bottom, no less poignant in its observations about that curious world.
The show went off the air in 2013 with four seasons and a special to its credit, but that doesn't mean we ought to toss it away like yesterday’s jam — industry professionals can still benefit from its generally gut-busting conclusions about the stark differences between IT folks and the managers who oversee them, and the forces that can help bring these often-divergent parties closer together.
"I think The IT Crowd really hit on the frustrations of IT professionals. We've seen all the episodes. We love it," says Nick Antonelli, a systems engineer at healthcare technology firm Shadow Health.
"Quoting The IT Crowd is practically a pastime at this point."
Central to the show's comic madness are the two tech-illiterate CEOs of fictional London mega-conglomerate Reynholm Industries: Denholm, the vain and platitudinous patriarch, and Douglas, his unhinged, sex-crazed son. Each serves to illustrate the chasm that can exist between tech professionals and their upper managers.
It's important for those in all corners of the industry to note that "there is typically a sense of distrust of IT departments themselves, either from a previous experience of the department 'being slow', or misuse of data," says Elizabeth Miller, senior analyst consultant at Momentum Consulting Corporation. "Most of the time, companies don't like to spend a lot of money to have a strong IT department that can handle the demand from users."
More unfortunately, she adds, "The show itself only shows one facet of the IT world — the help desk — which is only a small fraction of what these departments actually do."
Though the dynamic isn't as ridiculous as that of Reynholms and their basement-dwelling tech stalwarts, Maurice Moss and Roy Trenneman, Antonelli concurs that IT and management aren't always speaking the same language, but has witnessed the solution firsthand.
"Some of the work that I or my colleagues do doesn't get recognized by the rest of the company. There needs to be a way with the company to highlight the value that employees provide," he says. "Shadow Health has had 'meet the team' meetings to show what people did in the company. Having that open line of communication is critical."
In essence, something as simple as staying mindful of all the moving parts that make up our office space is enough to overcome the disconnect. But if we are to zero in on the most singularly profound message that The IT Crowd has forwarded into our cultural inbox, the result may be even simpler than that: in the very first glimpse of the Reynholm Industries IT department from the show's pilot episode, we open on Roy answering his telephone and apathetically voicing what becomes a major refrain:
"Hello, IT, did you try turning it off and on again?"
"In some cases restarting the machine (or just the application) might address symptoms of a problem and not the underlying cause," Antonelli says. But "as goofy as it sounds, restarting does work."
Miller agrees that not overthinking these support issues can go a long way. So, is this really The IT Crowd's greatest megabit of advice?
"It is! People underestimate the power of turning their devices off and on," she says. "There's an expectation since it is not human it does not require any basic maintenance."
In the long view, the truthfulness of the show's observations, despite a raucous veneer of slapstick, gags, and farce, has awarded The IT Crowd a special kind of shelf life for those who have lived inside the IT bubble.
"I watched it well before I became involved with the IT industry so now I get little flashbacks of the show, and it makes me laugh when something comes up that reminds me of it," Miller says.
As a result of a show like this, adds Antonelli, "Nerd culture, whether you consider comic books, video games, board games, or whatever, is a little less alien and more open an accommodating these days."
"If anything, it's been beneficial to have so many people watching The IT Crowd."