Friday, June 14, 2024

Above and Beyond

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IT security shops are running on tight budgets these days, and operational departments are getting by on even less. Given that resources are spread thinner each year, managers and personnel alike are getting very creative when it comes to finding solutions to their problems. If you’re not careful, you can be led away from your responsibilities and suddenly find yourself labeled as the “go-to guy or gal.”


If you’ve been in IT security for more than five minutes, you’ll recognize the following scenario. Marie, the nice lady in accounting, is having a printing problem and she can’t seem to get any resolution in her own department. She goes on to tell you that she called the helpdesk, but it was more like dealing with the helpless desk. Marie is desperate and needs to get her balance sheets printed before 4 PM and so she begs you to please have a look.

In a matter of minutes, you discover that a wrinkled slice of paper is stuck in the feed and Marie is off printing again. You’ve gone above and beyond to help out a fellow employee and you’re filled with a nice warm feeling inside.

But should you feel that way? Well, on the surface you may ask, “Why wouldn’t I help someone who is in a pinch?” While not apparent at first, you’ve done a disservice not only to yourself but also to the organization as a whole.

How? Let’s return to the office and find out.

The next morning you have a glowing e-mail in your inbox from Marie. She can’t thank you enough for helping her out. She goes on to say that she doesn’t know why they bother to waste money on the helpdesk when there are people like you around. You chuckle and prepare to go about your normal duties when the phone rings.

It’s Pete over in finance and he has heard through the grapevine that you’re the go-to guy for printer problems. Pete explains that when he changed the toner cartridge, some sort of black powder poured out and now all the documents emerge covered in smudges. Pete is also in a tight spot and needs to have his budget forecasts printed for the board by lunch. Reluctantly, you agree to help him. He, too, mentions that the helpdesk would have taken hours to get to him.

It’s now 2 PM. Turns out that your little quick fix for Pete turned into a four-hour adventure of cleaning every last part inside the LaserJet. Your boss walks in and asks how the risk assessment is coming along. Uh oh.

Because you’re an IT security expert, most people know that you have a very broad skill set and detailed knowledge of technologies used in the enterprise. Thanks to these traits, you’re going to be a very attractive candidate for those in trouble.

The more crafty folks will even disguise their problems as security issues because they know you’ll solve them quickly. The dilemma is that your own responsibilities suffer and you’re directly contributing to the circumvention of an established business process, namely, the helpdesk.

This is just one example of things that can impact your performance. There are other indirect consequences of being the go-to guy that may not be very evident. Let’s continue.

For months now, your reputation has taken legendary proportions. You get calls and e-mails all day from far and wide with questions spanning the entire IT universe. You’re successfully solving problems for these poor workers, yet your own projects have started to suffer.

Fast-forward to annual raise time.

You sit down with your boss and he writes up a rather mediocre review of your performance. Insulted, you ask him how he could do such a thing! You run down the list of people and departments you’ve assisted and all the time and effort you’ve saved them when your boss abruptly interrupts you with, “Do you have helpdesk tickets documenting all of this?” Ouch!

This can also come back to haunt you should there be a change in management and your performance is under evaluation by someone who isn’t familiar with you. While your old boss may have been aware of all the wonderful hard work you’ve done for others, on paper it looks like you do little more than drink coffee and leave at 5 PM. Talk about a career limiting move.

As you can see, being a Good Samaritan can easily harm your career in the form of a giant boot to the rear. While I’m quick to joke, this is a serious issue that you must be careful to avoid. Here are a few things to remember that may help you out along the way.

Squeaky Wheel? Keep Rolling Toward the Helpdesk

First and foremost, delineate and advertise the services you offer to the enterprise. If you simply perform risk assessment and VPN administration, stick to those duties. Clearly defined roles tend to ward off wandering help seekers, and more importantly, also help guide the right tasks to your desk.

If a rank and file worker comes to you, explain that you sympathize with his plight but he needs to follow established procedures for resolving technical issues. A good tip is to contact the helpdesk manager and alert him to a gap that may exist in their services. Typically, they are quick to ratchet down problems like this if they’re made aware of the situation. A better run helpdesk and faith in the business process for technical issue resolution means that most of the heat will shift to where it’s supposed to be handled.

When you do take on a task, be sure that it is documented in the form of a ticket. Working on helpdesk tickets in and of itself may seem like a task that draws you from your duties. But tickets are invaluable in verifying performance and covering for you should something go wrong.

Documentation, although it slows you down, is ultimately your friend. It’s also a valuable tool for decision makers, especially when it comes to requesting more resources. And in the end, hard proof speaks louder than the squeakiest of wheels.

I’m certainly not advocating turning your back on every single cry for help. In the real world, personal, political and economic factors tend to weigh heavily on our actions. The key to providing aid that falls outside the scope of your services to the enterprise is to recognize where that line lies and prioritize from there.

This article was first published on

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