Letter to a Young IT worker

Pursue technology that serves people.

Dear Ben,

Congratulations on your first job as an IT (Information Technology) worker! May your skills be put to good use as you seek to the serve the organization you are joining.

Unlike the more visible roles in an organization, IT work usually goes unnoticed. Many people are unaware that your hours will frequently spill into early mornings and weekends as you diligently apply security patches and update servers while users are blissfully sleeping. Although most of your work is done out of sight, remember that your job is crucial for the smooth running of your organization! In addition, IT work has become more demanding in recent years as malicious software threats abound, and dependence on computing infrastructures have increased. But your role is much more complex than simply keeping the computers humming and the green lights blinking. Permit me to give you some suggestions as you stand at the cusp of your new career.

A servant heart
Technical skills are only one aspect of your job; you also need to cultivate a servant heart. You serve your users and your organization, not the machines themselves. Administering the IT infrastructure in an organization affords power, but be careful not to let that power go to your head. Don’t forget the “help” in “helpdesk.” IT work requires a special touch, since users will often seek your help when they are in an emotional state of confusion or frustration. Remember that “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). When people come to you with questions, don’t view it as an interruption but rather as an opportunity to educate. Take every opportunity to teach users how to safeguard their data, avoid scams and ensure privacy. At the same time, recognize that you are not obliged to fulfill every request for help. Some requests from users will not be appropriate, helpful or even ethical, and need to be turned away gently. Avoid the use of computer jargon and techspeak, but strive to explain things in a friendly and non-patronizing way. Like a wise doctor, cultivate a good bedside manner that sets your users at ease.

Be realistic
Be prepared to receive, instead of thanks, considerable ire when problems arise (and they will!). Please avoid the temptation to blame users but rather take responsibility for problems that occur. In your communications, show care by reassuring users about issues and give them a realistic estimate of when they will be resolved. Rather than reacting to problems as they come up, seek to proactively avoid problems before they occur. To use a plumbing analogy, rather than constantly mopping up, look for ways to fix the leaky pipes!

Take time to keep yourself up to date and informed so that you can apply that knowledge to help your organization navigate change faithfully. For one thing, it will help you guide your organization to be stewardly with their equipment budget. Help them to understand that expensive, proprietary solutions are often not the best ones. Furthermore, help your organization to manage e-waste responsibly and to reduce power consumption where possible. Help people in management discern where technological solutions and automation are appropriate and where human beings ought to take primary responsibility.

Ideally your role is to be a steward of the computing resources for the purpose of enabling others to flourish in their work. Your job is a concrete way to show love for neighbor and to equip them to use their talents. Remember, your users are image bearers. Take delight in helping others to thrive as you open up new possibilities with the tools you provide. Pursue technology that serves people rather than the other way around.

Finally, I hope that your users will be considerate enough to regularly express gratitude for your diligent work and that throughout your career you will experience the satisfaction of a job well done.

Blessings on your work!

Prof. Van Wijs.

  • Derek C. Schuurman is a Canadian currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is professor of computer science at Calvin University. Prior to arriving at Calvin, he worked as an engineer and taught for many years at Redeemer University. He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and an Associate Fellow of the Kirby Laing Center for Public Theology. Besides his technical interests he is interested in faith and technology issues. He is the author of Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (IVP, 2013) and a co-author of A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers (IVP, 2022).

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