Three Immutable Truths of IT

  • By Jamie Duncan
  • Sun 27 November 2016
  • Updated on Sun 27 November 2016

Your point of view is painted by your experience

And my career arc in IT is probably a little different than most.

I was a history major in college. For three semesters. That didn’t work out, so I worked at UPS and a few other places that had health insurance and a living wage. I didn’t get into IT until 2007.

In 2007 I got my Comptia A+ and Network+ certifications in my spare time, and got a job in DSL tech support at a crappy phone company in Richmond, VA. I spent a little time telling people how to configure static IP addresses on Windows XP. It turns out this company was too cheap to buy the reporting engine for their Avaya phone system. So a guy who knew a little Visual Basic screen scraped the information, and I taught myself a little PHP and MySQL and made them a reporting website.

I left there for a startup that was trying to make draught beer monitoring systems. It was (and is) an incredible idea. Unfortunately it was run by really bad business people. On a Friday, they went from 50 employees to ~7. I was not among the seven.

From there I landed at Media General. I came in the door on a 90 day contract to fix a MySQL database. I ended up staying for ~20 months and worked to (attempt to) modernize their enterprise web infrastructure.

Then came 5AM Solutions and their bioinformatics work.

Finally The Mothership called me home. I came into Red Hat as a TAM, and was there for 4 years. I’ve been in technical pre-sales for emerging tech for just under a year now.

I have accumulated lot of scar tissue during this journey.

In my time and travels I have learned exactly 3 100% true statements about Information Technology, no matter the tech or the solution or the situation.

One. It’s a miracle the damned things ever work at all.

At some point I took a few IT classes at local community colleges. I can’t confirm if it actually happened, or if it was a story I made up that I thought was funny and it’s stuck. Let’s just assume it’s true. On the first day of the first Computer Science class I took at Virginia Western, it was written on giant letters on the whiteboard.

It’s a miracle the damned things ever work at all.

When you think about it, it’s amazing. The size of the circuits. The speed they run at. The number of them, and the programming we execute inside them. The fact that hitting the power button consistetly does something positive should all make us believe in something larger (smaller?) than ourselves.

Two. They always break.

All of the amazingness that makes you appreciate truth #1 drives you nuts when you encounter truth #2. No matter how well you plan you systems, no matter how fault-tolerant you think you are. Computers always break.

The best you can do is account for as many failure scenarios that you can think of. And then be good at your jobs when the ones you didn’t think of inevitably happen.

Three. It’s almost always the human’s fault

I know this one can seem a little wishy-washy, since I include always. I would qualify that by saying that it’s with at least 3 9’s of precision.

Sometimes cosmic rays do hit computers. Hard drives do fail. Cars do hit phone poles. And backhoe fade is an actual thing.

But the vast majority of the time, and I do mean vast, humans are the root cause of IT problems. They thought they were smarter than they actually were. Or they got lazy. Or they just were unlucky on a given day.

Corollary One

Humans are always human.

100% of the time, a human will act like a human. They have opinions and agendas. Things like this lead to Truth #3.

Corollary Two

Computers do exactly what you ask them to do.

This is incredibly similar to GIGO. But it’s more the idea of turning your monitoring system into a load-testing engine for your mail server than actual garbage.


I can only draw one helpful conclusion.

In IT, more often than not, we actaully are solving the humans more than we are solving the computers. We are solving human problems in IT syntax.

Once I figured this out, I became a lot better at solving problems in my industry.