IT people - a personnel question from an overburdened help desk

I work at a relatively small company on the IT Help desk. Our entire IT staff (until recently) was composed of five people: 1 help desk person (me), 2 programmers, the director of the department/systems administrator, and a VP.

For quite some time, the arrangement has been thus: I man the help desk solo, taking all tier I and II calls and forward networking/tier III calls to the director of IT/Systems Administrator.

Well, the sys admin/IT director (we’ll call him “Steve”) got a new position in another department. My position hasn’t changed, but I now report directly to the VP. Instead of promoting me and hiring a new help desk person, or hiring someone with an identical skill set to Steve, they took a different approach. They hired someone with virtually no IT experience to be our new sys admin. :smack: He either padded his resume or they over-evaluated his skill set.

The gist: the new guy (we’ll call him “Earl”) has almost no practical experience with Windows operating systems. He can’t ping test; he can’t restart the print spooler service; he doesn’t know how to add someone to the administrator’s group on their workstation; he doesn’t know diddly squat about AD/group policy/DNS/other fun SYS ADMIN stuff. in short, he doesn’t even have the knowledge base to work entry-level help desk. How the hell is he supposed to be the new systems administrator? Our network is almost entirely composed of PCs and Windows Servers, with a handful of Macs. He is used to working with Macs…but we have so few of them that I was able to take care of them on my own without any problem. The point of the matter is, he NEEDS to know how to not only use the Windows GUI, but how to use the command prompt, Active Directory, and whole host of things he is COMPLETELY clueless about. Until he learns these things, troubleshooting is completely beyond his capabilities.

On top of all of this, Steve can’t make a full transition to his new job because Earl is completely incapable of fulfilling the duties of his position. Steve and I have been picking up ALL the slack because our company is small and any hiccups are a bad reflection upon US, as many people in the company don’t even know Earl exists.

While picking up the slack, I have been learning many administrative things that I may not have had access to otherwise. This is really cool because I am learning a lot very quickly…but I’m not making any more money for the extra hours/extra effort. The educational part of things would also be MUCH cooler if I could focus on all of the sys admin projects without also having to address all of the help desk calls.

I am super frustrated. Earl got hired in at almost $15,000 more per year than what I currently make and he has NO practical experience. He’s only marginally more computer literate than the users who call the help desk, and that is being generous.

This is completely ridiculous. I am pulling double duty as help desk AND entry-level sys admin, while he’s getting paid for it! I’m supposed to be able to forward tier III stuff to him. Yeah, that will probably never happen in this guy’s career, as he’s already 51 and as far as I can tell, despite his prior “experience”, this is his first real PC support gig.

What do I do? Do I tell the VP that this guy has been here a month and is still completely incompetent? That it will be at least a year before he’s on the same level with me and probably several more before he’s able to do the work of a fully-qualified sys admin? What would you do?

I am trying bring him up to speed by forcing him to answer all the help desk calls, forwarding tricky ones on to me so I can gage what he considers too hard to handle himself. Right now I am plowing through this work, acing projects, and playing ra-ra cheerleader for this new guy, praying that I’m wrong and that he’s got some tricks up his sleeve he has yet to divulge. Unfortunately, all I see is a guy who swapped his PC keyboard for a Mac one and can’t answer anything beyond printer installation calls and computer resets.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Seems to me the one to say something would be Steve - as in “Mr. VP - you need to know that Earl keeps calling me back to do stuff that he should know how to do” or something similar.

But what do I know - I’ve never worked IT. Still, I agree that it sucks big time for you.

Forward it, let him sink or swim on his own, if he is supposedly this super experienced guy who makes more money than you, let him show it…or crash and burn spectacularly.

and make sure you ramp up the backup frequency so when he bricks a server you won’t need to spend 2 days getting it back together.

I think Steve needs to take point on this by bringing it up to the VP first. I also think that if Earl is as useless as he seems, then you two need to stop covering for him - quite so well.

Make Earl ask for your help in emails, and keep a record of them. When you reply, be very specific about what project or work you are currently doing that you’ll have to stop in order to help him. Make him take point on all the stuff he needs to be doing as Help Desk, and make him tell his customers that he’ll have to get back with them about (insert super easy IT shit that I don’t know about). Don’t make helping him a priority - do your work first if you can, THEN help him. If the customers have to wait a bit, shrug and say that isn’t your job, and you have to do the work you’re being paid for. (At this point, the VP may come in and inform you that your job is to train Earl. This is when you mention the necessary compensation or extra hired assistance for that workload and job change.)

If the VP doesn’t come in based on Earl’s frantic cries for help, the first few customers that call in to complain, the VP will likely ignore. After they become regular, he’ll start paying attention to them. That’s when you use your cache of emails. You want to send the VP a very professional letter, informing him that you’ve been acting as a trainer for Earl since he was hired, and you weren’t expecting that. Let the VP know that Earl’s training will need to last for a good while longer, and that you either need to be compensated for it, or the VP needs to hire someone to train Earl to do his job. Remind the VP nicely that all of this training has been interrupting your own work, and making you do Earl’s job, without any compensation or assistance. Attach all of those emails that you have been keeping where Earl asks for help or directions to do simple stuff.

Good luck.

See, that is the crux of the problem. My job title hasn’t changed. I am still the Help Desk. (Earls’ s job title is officially Systems Administrator, though part of his job description is to support ME on difficult help desk calls.) The help desk response times are a direct reflection of me and my overall stats. So, if it takes him more than 30 - 45 minutes to figure something out, I will swoop in so the help desk stats (IE - my stats) don’t suffer. It’s a tricky situation.

I very much agree with this. Most of the successful IT people I know received very little formal training. They were thrown into the deep end and forced to figure it out. They played around with this stuff in their free time because it was fun or challenging. They prefer the difficult obscure problems because it’s an opportunity to learn something new, so they don’t end up like the guys from the IT Crowd (“Have you tried turing it off and back on again?”):smiley:

I think I have to tell the VP a little about this situation and that I plan to do this on purpose. That way he doesn’t see the dip in HD response time/ticket resolution as anything other than what it is: sink or swim for the newbie.

The thing that really gets me about all of this is that this guy isn’t supposed to be training on entry-level support. I would fully expect to do this with a HD trainee, not a freakin’ sys admin. I actually didn’t think I’d have to do much training at all. Maybe just layout of the land type stuff - here are our servers, here’s what’s on them, here are some company-specific and antiquated software and/or systems that you wouldn’t have any prior knowledge of - and introduce him to people in the company. I never thought it would be this weird.

You have to break out your stats. When you assign the case to earl, your clock stops and his starts. This is normal best practices for escalation. Now, you want to make sure that you have a high first call resolution, you can probably google up a benchmark to exceed.

But honestly, I’d start looking for a new job. Market must be pretty good if they hired earl for $15k more than you make with his skills. Maybe he lied on his resume, but a knowledgable interviewer should have sussd it out.

I might take a united front of you and Steve to the VP. If you both explain to him that the new guy is learning basics, and using your time to do it, instead of coming in knowledgeable about systems and just needing to ramp up on company specific info, you’ll be in a better place. Be ready with specific examples. "I had to reconfigure the GPO and show Earl how to do that, that should be a basic sys admin competency for a windows admin, not a job the help desk guy does.

Ahh, I missed that. That does suck.

Perhaps make a note of every time you would normally “bunt something up the line” and instead had to take care of it yourself? That would be in addition to recording all the times Earl couldn’t take care of his own SysAdmin stuff so you did it also.

What are you using for an incident management system? Why aren’t the cases being assigned to him when they are transferred? He needs to be screwing up his own metrics, not yours.

It is likely that Earl doesn’t know enough to know how much he doesn’t know. So, he probably came off credible to management during the hiring process (I’m guessing there wasn’t a technical interview).

Management thinks that they’ve solved their vacancy through hiring Earl. I’m thinking that Earl isn’t going to go to management any time soon and say, “hey, I figured out that I don’t know my arse from a hole in the ground”.

I consulted for a small company (staff of 35) who had just hired a network manager that just wasn’t a network manager. He was in the same age range as your Earl. After our first couple interviews, it became obvious that the network manager had not clue that he had no clue. In a conversation with management, I explained the situation as I perceived it. They were not happy to hear about it and desperately wanted it to just all be okay. I advised them to let the guy go based on the 90 day trial and to either search again or promote one guy who, while not a network engineer, did have the ability to pick up the skills quickly. That fell on deaf ears.

Six month later (I’m still trying to complete my deliverables there), life has gotten really bad and the DBA melts down and quits. Same HR department hires a DBA that also has little clue. Over the next six months, the PRODUCTION infrastructure was like a freaking roller coaster ride. Eventually, the network manager was let go (with the local PD asked to have a guy parked near by ‘just in case’). And DBA wants to add NetMgmt to his list of poorly performed tasks.

I told management to be clear to him that would never happen and to consider replacing him. (In the mean time, I’m filling in as NM till they can find someone new). DBA climbs up my butt to ‘learn the trade’ and wants me to promote him to management. I play absolutely stupid about what management should do. Over next three months, DBA gets frustrated because the database is going to shit (because he’s trying to ‘second guess’ my every move), the programmers are on a daily rampage, the production system DB is wheezing and DBA can’t get it straight. And, at that wonderful point, management tells DBA that he’s never going to be the NM and asks him to move offices. The entire office watch this guy almost literally throw everything (computer equipment included) down a 35 foot hallway.

I asked management to consider asking the guy to stop moving and letting him go right then and there for damaging equipment. Management said “he’ll cool down”.

Next day, DBA accidentally re-posted the prior 24 hours worth of credit card sales while trying to fix the production DB (essentially, if you’d paid $50 on day X, you got billed $50 more dollars on day X+1). Tens of thousands of transactions made to a government agency! The company CEO had to go discuss the situation with the Governor’s office that day. The agency had to do a mailing to the customers about covering any overages, etc, etc.

Small companies are REALLY hard to work in when the environment is toxic. This is what I would recommend:

(a) Implement a trouble ticket system (as was posted above) that logs the problems and tracks who it is assigned to for how long. There are probably plenty of free or cheap ones on the internet. It is extra work and you have to commit to keeping it up (and management has to insist that everyone keeps it up to day), but that is the only way that you’re going to show just how bad the problem is. Change in personnel is a great time to do that.

(b) As soon as he gets a hint that you’re challenging him, there’s a good chance that he’ll

(b).1. Start covering tracks (my netmgr dude wouldn’t allow me directly on the Cisco, so printed out a copy of the config for me to trouble shoot. I couldn’t find a single thing to cause the problems we were seeing… turns out it was because he printed the stored configuration and not the ACTIVE one that he’d totally munged up. Management is starting to think I’m an idiot because I could not find any way the router could be doing what it was doing. Finally, management forced him to let me on the keyboard. It took all of 15 minutes to find the problem, but they’d paid me at an hourly rate for a full day to ‘troubleshoot’ the printed copy.)

(b).2. Start setting you up as a fall guy. So keep documentation. And yes, up your backup processes to multiple times a day if at all possible.

© It’s frustrating, but avoid trash talking the guy to anyone. Always keep your agenda in line with management. That means that the issues are the welfare of the company, the reliability of the network and services. Stick to the trouble ticket issue and facts. If you start to show a personal agenda (he sucks, it’s all his fault), then management has to ‘choose’ who to believe. If you stick to their agenda, they can see where the problem is (especially with a trouble ticket system) and make the choices that they’re paid to make.

(d) Look for another job. If management doesn’t react to a bad hiring choice, then it’s a toxic environment and you’ll learn more and go farther at a different employer.

I’m surprised that a help desk person has Admin privileges on the Network. Ours don’t where I work. They can talk someone through a problem by letting the user do it or submit a ticket.

That’s actually beneficial to the help desk staff. No privs mean they don’t get blamed for screw ups. They also aren’t functioning as pseudo admins. Admins make the bucks and their ass is in the sling if they screw the pooch.

Yes, tell the VP. Don’t make such specific estimates for the time until competency is achieved, “many months” is better than saying “a year”. But the important part, right now, is that the current plan is not going to work on schedule. After reworking that plan and taking necessary steps, then you can concentrate on getting this guy up to speed faster, or having him do something else, maybe something else like collecting unemployment. But the top priority is bringing the problem to the attention of management and coming up with, and implementing Plan B.

OP and all the above respondents seem to be missing a point that deserves greater emphasis!

OP notes that he’s covering dumb-new-hire’s ass by doing a lot of his sysadmin work, and that he’s learning a lot more about system administration in the process! (Or network admin, or DB admin, or whatever he’s learning.)

Dude, make the most of it! Help the guy out all you possibly can! Learn all you can in the process! Take every opportunity to help the guy out, in particular where there’s something new for you to learn. If this helps you maintain your own metrics, great. But you have an opportunity here to prepare yourself (all the better, even more than you already are) to get that sysadmin job yourself (when dumb-new-hire eventually gets the boot); or, you’ll be all the better prepared to get a better job elsewhere.

If you’ve got the rare opportunity here to take on challenges beyond your own job description, go for it!

Your stats will look bad if you escalate too much stuff to him, right? While I agree that this should be tracked, it isn’t going to help your problem.
Earl does other stuff besides backstop you, right? Make sure that the VP knows what his first level of responsibility is, and make sure that there are metrics about how well he is doing on them, and don’t cover for what he is supposed to be doing without an email trace.
Unless the VP trusts your judgement, going to him first is not going to work because no one wants to hear that they screwed up in hiring.

I agree with others that it is great that you are learning things, but you can make use of that by stepping up and taking over Earl’s job (temporarily) when they bounce him. The best way of getting promoted is to be doing the job already.

In general this is a nice attitude.

But I’m assuming that their IT infrastructure is integral to the companies revenue streams. When an untrained person is turned loose with administrator privileges, they can do a lot of damage that they don’t even realize that they’ve done. That leads to a very unstable environment. Unstable environments lead to a lot of lost man hours for everyone. Not just the IT staff, but designers, sales, administration and (possibly) an eCommerce site. Heaven forbid if they’re a computer controlled manufacturer, then you can loose raw materials and have missed deadlines.

I’m not against helping the guy, but if his skills are as low as described, he is in a dangerous position.

I thought this was really great advice. I did talk to the VP on Friday prior to leaving for the day. He was actually happy that I spoke up. He said that he knew that Earl was green, but that he had no idea just how green. We are having a meeting about it with him on Monday. I don’t think it’s Earl’s fault, so character assassination would be really petty. He doesn’t know just how little he knows. He thinks that taking A+ classes qualifies him to be an effective sys admin…there is so much wrong with that…but I digress.

I framed it like a compliment sandwich. “Earl is really easy to work with…he doesn’t know basic tasks, such as how to open the command prompt to clear out the DNS cache…but he is eager to learn!” The VP (my boss) was able to identify immediately that if they were going to train someone on how to do this stuff from the ground up, that it might as well be me because I already know the basics of GPO and what stuff is housed on what servers running which operating systems, etc.

Thank you so much for your response. It seems like you have a solid grasp of what a strange, precariously perilous environment you can have in the IT departments of smaller companies.

Oh, I totally get that - and you’re right. Many people in my field get pigeon-holed to do one thing and have to fight for advancement opportunities. I am quite fortunate in that regard.

The big issue, as someone else pointed out, is that there are so few of us in the IT department, that one weak element can really screw up the entire way the company runs. We all wear multiple hats and have a lot of responsibility heaped upon our shoulders individually and as a team. I am eager to train in sys admin stuff…but we don’t have the luxury of time to train someone. We need someone who knows what the heck they’re doing to just plug and play.

I spoke with the VP on Friday and he has said that no matter what they want me to learn how to do that stuff. That way, I can cover for the sys admin if he gets sick or goes on vacation AND I get to learn a more valuable skill set. This is ideal, because it means that I didn’t have to sacrifice my career advancement by doing what I considered to be the right thing. He also gave me a big thumbs up for having the guts to speak up before this guy’s probationary period ended.

This, then…document everything, and after a couple more months, when you feel you can handle it, ask the VP to re-arrange your jobs. Have Earl be the help-desk guy, and you can get the promotion. win-win?

Have you ever heard of a situation where management made a salary adjustment as severe as the above suggestion would require in order to be fair?
The difference between starting help desk and starting sysadmin is an easy $10,000 at most places.
I’ve never seen management walk in, demote a worker 3 steps, knock down their salary by $10,000, and then promote a worker 3 steps and knock their wages up by $10,000.
I assume management never does that because one of the employees would be too ticked off to stay…