Blog

IT in the time of COVID-19

By Wendy M. Pfeiffer

IT people are a special breed. Sure, we’re technologists and engineers. But we have more dimensions than that. Right next to that “tech is awesome” streak we have a “process is cool” streak. And, trust me, after nearly 25 years in IT, I can tell you that we couldn’t keep showing up every day if we didn’t have a rabid desire to help people.

In fact, we’re the folks that the Marvel and DC epics were written for. We’re the people who attend Star Trek conventions to play out our fantasies of seeking out new life and new civilizations. We’re infamous for our desire to be heroes. We’re pitiful in our belief that someday our video game skills just might save the world from the inevitable space alien invasion.

If the space aliens invaded Corporate America this week, they’d find us a very strange lot indeed. They’d think they discovered a planet of overtly OCD creatures, rising at exactly the same time each day, heading into mazes of cubicles to sit staring at slowly changing pixels, interrupted only by seemingly random sessions of repeated handwashing while singing “Happy Birthday” exactly two times, to no one at all.

On my epic commutes home each night this week, I’ve heard some of the pundits speculating that those people in Silicon Valley, those techies and nerds, are blowing things out of proportion. That we’re sitting home scared, shutting down tech companies out of fear of the unknown. That we’re cancelling our conferences and ruining the hospitality industry and oil prices and the supply chain. Well, hey there pundits--speaking on behalf of my people, I can tell you that we are scared! But that’s not why we’re cancelling our conferences and that’s not why we’re working from home.

You see, we know the math behind “community spread”. We’re the inventors of those addictive social media apps, that ever-present smart phone, and every other digital transformation we’ve snuck past you while you were shopping at Tower Records. We know the science of making something “go viral”. And until there’s a vaccine and an effective treatment for our parents and our grandparents, we have something the world needs.

We, in IT, have the systems and tools and the processes already in place to enable every person in Corporate America, if necessary, to physically disconnect from the web of coronavirus contagion and work from home. And if everybody does that, then we’ll buy the medical professionals and scientists enough time to create and promulgate a vaccine. And that will save thousands of precious lives.

Working from home is a tricky notion. Remote from our managers, we can’t be watched. We’re sitting in noisy environments, with all of the distractions of children and video games and laundry. We can attend meetings naked and take naps. And, in stark contrast to the nirvana that is cubicle-land, we might fail to collaborate. We might struggle to keep our promises, meet our deadlines, be productive. We might discover that we don’t like the work that we are doing each day—that it’s boring and pedantic and one-dimensional when stripped of all the pomp and circumstance of “the office”.

What might happen to America, and perhaps the world, if everyone went home and all work had to be done remotely?

Luckily, IT already thought of that. And, because we’re not only thinkers, but we’re heroic doers, we built it too. Moreover, we’ve deployed it at scale and tuned it and integrated it and secured it. In fact, we’ve been running the company that way for some time. We’ve been enabling global conversations at scale for decades. We’ve agonized over interaction design, process adoption, user friendliness and collaboration since our first deskside services jobs. We’re the ones who built the public clouds and the private data centers. We make the phones work and we collect and provide the data that trains the machine. And we keep those old systems, the ones handling our back-office tasks, running too.

So go home, people! And check out what we’ve built for you. Need performance from a home computer over internet? Use Citrix or Frame VDI. Managed scale? Try Nutanix or AWS. Collaboration? We like Zoom and Huddl.ai, but you can use Webex or Skype too. And it seems to me that a tool named “Slack” was purpose-built for this moment! Chances are, we’ve already integrated our machine learning tools and processes with whatever tech you choose to use. And as usage scales, we’re monitoring and managing with tools like PrismPro and ZenOss, and taking automated actions using the capabilities we built in Splunk. Go ahead, use that softphone we enabled for you—you don’t even have to share your home phone number.

Look, I can’t claim that IT has beaten the coronavirus, or that we’re not just a little bit too paranoid. In fact, I’m sitting home right now wondering if the lady at the grocery store sounded a little congested when I went through the checkout line. I did feel a little short of breath climbing the stairs just now—how quick is the onset of this thing?

But although I may be scared, I know that when the history of this time is written, my people, the techies and nerds and social misfits, will be listed with the heroes. We’ll be the people who had the foresight to build our companies on a solid foundation of scale-out technology. We’ll be among the ones who bought society enough time to find and deliver a cure.

“The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.” ---Umberto Eco