Another Geeks and Suits Rumble

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It is a truth held to be self-evident among IT professionals: geeks are from Krypton, suits are from Uranus. The antipathy between members of the code is poetry tribe and the non-IT managers for whom they often work is so common and all-prevailing that it has even become a marketing cliche-like the obnoxious propeller head in the CDW commercials who is always one-upping the guys from the Dilbert cubicles.

It’s all good natured, of course. Or is it?

The proximate trigger for these reflections is the rough treatment that a summary of Andrew McAfee’s Harvard Business Review article Mastering the Three Worlds of Information Technology has gotten from the local heroes at Slashdot.

McAfee’s piece is one of those noble attempts to put a framework around enterprise information technology that goes beyond technology to show how IT fits within the broader landscape of organizations and to help non-technical managers understand how to apply it to the business. It is the kind of bridge-building effort that you would assume would be welcomed by the both sides of the corporate digital divide.

Not so, apparently. The Slashdoters were inflamed, offering such useful ripostes as “Lucky we have commentary Academe to put us people that actually work in IT onto the proper path. Possibly he would be equally open to our suggestions on how universities should operate” and “I am not the only ubergeek that thinks the IT people should be the high paid personnel and the management asshats should be the underpaid paper pushers that we all know they are. If I had a company all the managers would have to have undergrad degrees in CS or something before they were allowed to get their MBAs.” There were a lot more comments, most of them negative.

So much for detente. As fellow Enterprise Irregular Thomas Otter puts it:

    There is something rather teenage about how software developers of a certain type react to those from outside the clique who dare stray on their turf, even unwittingly. They are mean, cutting, churlish, they think it is cool to be abusive and rude, but in fact, it is merely a poor guise for insecurity. I have lots of respect for people with deep technical prowess, but little respect for those that use that prowess to insult others.

The reasons for the resentment between the two camps (and frankly it comes mainly from the IT side) are not hard to guess. Suits make more money and can go further up within organizations. Many geeks are indeed brighter in pure IQ terms but they tend be smart in an abstract, mathematical, reclusive sort of way which, translated into corpspeak, means that have “poor people skills.” Not all, but many.

Can the geeks and suits ever get along? Sure, when utility computing becomes the norm and the geeks are working and competing with each other for promotions instead of accountants and marketers.

As for McAfee, the man who inadvertently started the latest saga in this never-ending war, he seems somewhat bemused:

    I was eager to see what progress could be made around my ideas after they were put in front of the Slashdot community. And I’m sorry to learn that the answer is not much,’ apparently because the article’s ideas aren’t novel enough to merit consideration or debate. If that’s the case, I hope I’ve at least done the world’s IT professionals a service by writing something they can give to their colleagues on the business side to facilitate communications with them.



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Jerry Bowles has more than 30 years of varied experience as a writer, editor, marketing consultant, corporate communications director and blogger. For the past 20 years, he has produced and written special supplements on new technologies for a number of magazines, including Forbes, Fortune and Newsweek.


Another Geeks and Suits Rumble
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