The Loneliness of the Late Shift IT Worker

The Loneliness of the Late Shift IT Worker


Today we are not alone, we have the great social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and we have thousands of “friends”. Well, this is not true; I think that we are more alone than ever.

Last millennium and last century (1997- 1999), as an exploration geophysicist I spent a few years on seismic vessels, trying to discover the elusive oil hidden under the sea.

We worked on the five weeks on – five weeks off deal, twelve hours shift, no weekends and after that five weeks of holiday. I was lucky working together with my wife so we had our five weeks breaks together.

A lot of our colleagues were young, in their mid-twenties. The pay was good, they learned very quickly that swearing is an important part of the crew vocabulary and then they went home for the five weeks break. Now, all their friends and family were working during the week. These young guys spent their days drinking, mainly alone, because their social skills were kind of limited too, and after a few years spent working on the boat, they slowly became social rejects.

We left that job, mainly because we had enough of jumping from little shitty plains to little shitty helicopters every five weeks.

Early 2000 I started my IT career as a UNIX administrator. For several years I built a few hundred UNIX and Linux servers in Sydney, Melbourne, Seoul (South Korea), Wellington (NZ), just to mention a few cities benefiting of my skills as ‘Ilie the server builder’. After a while, I was so good (and bored!) building servers that was enough just to look angry at a server and the operating system will install by itself, the network ports will auto-configure and the root password will be off course: GOD!

When you do IT support for a major bank and the year is 2000, you have to physically be in their data centre for any change, upgrade, build etc. let’s not forget that the approved change window for Prod environment was normally Sunday morning from 00:00 am to 4:00 am. It was a very wired feeling to be alone in that huge data centre, the only other people being the two fat security guards at the reception. I will always remember the humming noise made by all those hundreds of servers, it was like you were listening to the “ghost in the machine”, or to the UNIX God!

In 1997, while in Houston, Texas for 6 months of training for the exploration geophysicist job, I started jogging influenced by one of my colleagues, Roberto, the Italian from Perth. In a few months I was jogging 9 miles every morning and enjoying it a lot. I kept that habit for many years everywhere we went.

So, for a few years I combined the loneliness of an IT support guy with the loneliness of the long distance jogger and, for reasons known only by me, I liked the second one better!

Today, the IT support area is totally changed, remote connectivity is getting better every day, virtualization, cloud computing and mobility are evolving at a frightening pace so the support guy role can be done almost 100% remotely, the approved change windows are more relaxed. Yes, you can perform your change from home using your laptop, yes you are not physically in a data centre and yes you are still alone!

Unlike the long distance runner, who has the forest, the park, the beach, the sky and the sea, an IT “runner” was alone in a data centre and is alone is his own home. I believe that the IT companies badly neglected this very important aspect of their employees’ social life.

In order to heal that IT induced loneliness and stress, the companies should start by acknowledging this issue and by looking at ways of fixing it. It has to be done professionally; picnics and barbecues will not do. My suggestion is to have a team of work psychologists, together with the HR and the IT guys coming up with a proper solution. No, I do not know the solution, I wish I did… I only work here!