“We need to call the bomb disposal unit.” – said the police officer. “In the meantime, we need to evacuate this pavilion.” – he added to his people. “It is really bombastic to work as the head of the IT department in this hospital.” I thought to myself, trying to stay calm.
Today we are going back in time where I worked for one of the biggest hospitals in southern Poland. My boss just quit as he needed to travel to another country. I took his place. How excited could it be to run the IT? I learnt a lot during this time. But one day was incredibly rich in lessons. It was the day when I learnt to respect my users and give them moral support, even if I cannot provide any technical support as the ask is out of my scope.
Handyman for all electronic things
Being technically savvy in a place where people’s domain is far from technical is an exciting experience. I officially worked in the IT department. The primary duties were obviously to make sure that all medical staff in the hospital could do their work. It mainly meant to implement and maintain a system that was based on modern information technology.
However, we – the IT people – were utilised on many other fronts. We also managed alarm systems, CATV systems and anything to do with any electronic devices in the hospital.
Getting hands dirty with cutting-edge technology
It was an excellent opportunity. The public sector has its pros and cons. One of the most significant advantages was that when the budget was secured, we got it and we needed to spend it to the single cent. I was lucky. Thanks to my boss exceptional skills, we were able to have a grant from the government to modernise the hospital network.
I was able to design and implement one of the first fibre-optical networks in southern Poland. It sounds trivial now, but it was exciting and cutting-edge for a young IT adept like me back in a day, decades ago
The call for help
It was lovely, sunny September morning. I was in my office trying to organise my work. The main task for weeks to come was to install and configure desktop stations for all medical staff. They were able to input the data quickly. Thanks to the network, everything was available from any station and saved on backup servers. I was late, and many people should have had their stations already and were calling the IT department to chase us.
Here we go, there is another call.
– “Hello, IT department here, Piotr is speaking.” – I said, trying to be official.
– “Oh, thank God. Hello. I need your help. This is Anna, the principle nurse from pavilion 11.”
– “Helloooou Mrs Novak. I know, I know. I am late with the computers for your pavilion. If all goes fine, we should be ready in a few days.” – I said, trying to be proactive and answering the inevitable complains.
– “No, no. I am not calling you about computers. There is a bomb!” – said Anna lowering her voice like she said something forbidden.
– “There is.. what!?” – I wanted to make sure I heard it fine.
– “There is a bomb in the main hall, and I need some help.” – she said uncertainly like she realised she is probably calling the wrong person.
– “This is the bloody IT department, not the sapper squat.” – I thought to myself.
But I’ve never seen a bomb. And I also heard how stressed the calling person was.
– “I will be right there.” I quickly answered.
– “I think you should call the hospital director office too.” – I promptly added and rushed to the pavilion 11.
About 15 min later we were evacuating this pavilion. The police came, and they called the special sapper unit. It turned it was a fake bomb. However, it looked entirely professional. It had the “explosive” bit (turned it was just a big package of matches wrapped with black duct tape). It had the “electronic trigger” (it turned it was a modern for that times Casio wristwatch with a calculator). And obviously, it had blue and red cables. The fake was so good that the regular police patrol that came needed to call the special unit to check it.
Why do I tell you this story you may ask?
When all adrenaline came back to the lower level, we were able to go back to the pavilion and started completing paperwork, the principle nurse who called me that day came to me and said:
– “I would like to thank you, Piotr. I didn’t know who to call. You guys always know what to do with electronic stuff. So the first thing that came to my mind was to call the IT department”.
I stood there, flattered, trying to collect my thoughts.
– “Now I see how ridiculous it was to call you, but I appreciate your help.”
I said something like “no problem, any time”. But it made me thinking how bad I sometimes treated the “users”, “lamers” and “digital illiterates”.
How do you treat your users?
Working in the IT department is sometimes an entry job for people who want to jump to IT and technology careers. It is sometimes a very tough job. We need to work with demanding users, fix the issues that we may know how to fix. There is a natural tendency to draw the line what we can and cannot fix. To make sure that there are services that we support and we do not help. It is all needed to make sure we can provide the best service with usually limited resources.
Having this said, we should always go beyond and make sure that at least our users feel like they have been taken care of. Usually, they call us, because they cannot do their job. They are in stress, and they are aware they know less than we do when it comes to technology. It puts them in a vulnerable spot.
I learnt a lot from the bomb incident. A lot about myself and how I treat people. It was early in my career, and it impacted the way I look to my users till this day. I learnt to respect my users and give them moral support, even if I cannot provide any technical support as the ask is out of my scope. And I still believe it is bombastic to work in IT!
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