April 25, 2019

What Does a Good IT Manager Look Like?

Ethics and Trust

  • January 26, 2011
  • By Carla Schroder

In the previous two installmants of this series (It Management Fail: Always Blame the Worker Bees and More Tales of Terrible IT Managers) I shared some bad IT manager horror stories. We could mine this topic forever, and I would be tempted to except Scott Adams already does it with Dilbert, and I can't improve on Dilbert.

So let's take a look at what a good IT manager does. Because there are such persons, and they make all the difference between satisfaction and pain, between feelings of accomplishment and feelings of time-killing soul-sucking despair.

Ethics and Trust

One of my fine Linux Planet readers brought up the key issues of trust and ethics. It's not quite as black and white as I had stated:


"I'd quibble with "All positions in any business require trust," preferring something like "... require some level of trust."

"The trick is recognizing what level of trust is appropriate for any given IT position. The smaller the IT staff, the larger the trust that must be placed in each employee. In a large staff, the situation is more subtle, and the company must be very explicit about the information and systems entrusted to each IT position.

"Interestingly, I've never been asked an ethics question when interviewing for an IT job. Prospective employers have been big on technical questions, but they had no questions concerning the trust associated with the position for which I was applying.

"Most experienced IT staff could spin up several questions off the top of their heads:

  • Mary's on vacation and Bob needs to see if she's received any e-mail from $BigClient. Discuss how you'd handle this situation.
  • You're in charge of several systems. How do you ensure their ongoing viability should you be unavailable?
  • You're on a team of admins. Discuss the ways you've found helpful for reviewing and auditing each other's configurations or code. If you find a critical mistake in someone else's work, how would you handle it? What if that someone was your manager? What if you had reason to believe the mistake was intentional?"

I'm not going to try to answer these; these are good questions to think about and ask ourselves, and discuss with co-workers and bosses. I do have one additional thought on trust: trust isn't just an issue of honesty and ethics, but also experience, judgment, and skills. When you give someone a task, are they capable of handling it? And any emergencies that might arise?

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