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IT and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Once in a conversation with some friends, They asked me the existential question: what do you do anyway?

Now I have a lot of cached canned responses that I use depending on the situation, time constraints and audience interest. The short answer is that I work in IT support. A longer version ponders on the concept of “Managed Services” as an evolution of the former. I also might add some sales pitch jargon like the concept of proactive support and fractional IT.

Nevertheless, I felt like going deep into my self and finding out a sincere yet witty answer. I said that — and I hope my boss doesn’t read this — I sell people the illusion of having everything under control.

So you just landed a new MS customer. You have done your homework and studied their network thoroughly. You start right away planning your on boarding steps and network enhancements you have in mind. Consecuetly, you, and your customer of course, image — or even daydream about — a final state where the customer’s infrastructure becomes a utopia. Once you have all your tools in place, did all the configuration changes based on the best practice recommendations, and implemented all the proposed procedures forcefully, you can rightfully pat your self on the back and count on your contracts being renewed as long as your customer’s business is going.

The problem with this is that, like everything in life, we are up against the second law of thermodynamics. This law states that entropy can only increase. You can loosely define entropy as the measure of disorderliness or chaos in the universe.

This will seem very obvious, and it is. After all, the IT people believe religiously in Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong! Murphy’s law is a simple elegant presentation of entropy. The above can be perceived as wasting readers’ time while restating the obvious, but I beg to differ.

Since humans evolved from hunter-gatherer societies, the concept of craftsmanship dominated the spectrum of human vocations. When projected into our domain, the craftsmanship conveys the idea of accomplishment accompanied with closure. Just like when a carpenter imagines joyfully the finished form of a piece they’re working on, the IT engineers, especially those in field services, crave the project closure and the sense of accomplishment it entails.

Unfortunately, when working in IT support, this cannot be the case. The typical accomplishment goal you seek is to close all your support tickets/cases, but guess what! New cases will always come along. I remember in my early years comparing myself to hamster on a wheel.

To put all this into perspective, it is good to approach the IT support role with an adequate mindset. I hate using cliches, but I have to say that we should enjoy the ride rather then concentrate on the destination. The best way to fight the second law of thermodynamics is to use it: simply spend enough energy regularly to make incremental enhancements in our work. And finally, embracing chaos and uncertainty is always a good advice.