When Your Only Tool Is a Hammer, All Your Problems Start Looking Like Nails


What do IT people and London buses have in common?

This was the start of a joke, that I had heard, quite recently, when I was in amongst a crowd of hoteliers at a night out.

When you need one, they’re never there.

The crowd laughed with haughtiness, but I remained impassive at what I thought was the most unfunny punch line coming from a man who epitomized the word “challenging”. And not in a positive way.

“And…. When you don’t need one, FOUR turn up.

The crowd of people laughed even more, bellowing with belligerence. I, along with some fellow IT colleagues could not believe it. Utter fabrication. When has there ever been 4 people in the IT department of a hotel?

By trying to do the decent thing, as all IT people do, the actions being based on the noblest of intentions, one of the IT guys had tried to find out about his colleague’s technology issues. But he chose a forum where intoxicants flowed and so did the veil of decorum fall, insanity prevail and an abundance of blissful ignorance gather. Well, my colleague was never one for reading his audience.

The man who narrated the unfunny joke, worked in a department hidden deep in the bowels of a hotel, where he churned out, what he called “life saving, money making, guest engaging, ‘important’ work”. I’ve known his kind and I’ve also known this particular person firsthand. There was always a time when the affable machine became the victim of this blithering idiot. And with more of a crowd around him now, he began confessing to his crimes, publically, to the detriment of my IT colleague.

Never” he began, to abating laughter, with what looked like a Farage-esque painful cerebral thought, “has there been a more challenging and a more needy tool, that’s been so involved in the day-to-day work, that is so utterly frustrating and loveable at the same time.”

I could say the same thing about him. But what amazed me was his vocabulary and intonation. I hadn’t realized that he was that eloquently expressive, as my recollections of this colleague and his challenges were more akin to no more than “it doesn’t work”. While shrugging his shoulders. Pleading for help. As he had left his work to be completed at the last minute. And his failure to plan would somehow become my emergency.

Isn’t it time that computers should now just,” he looked around at everyone encircling him, “just work.” The oration began gaining traction, “I mean, I don’t expect to get on a train and hope it gets me to my destination,” he pauses for effect “it just does.” Pause. “It works.” Pause. “I don’t even have to pay attention.” A few of us IT guys rolled our eyes. “When I stand at the platform, it arrives and I get on at the stated time.” No pause but now in full drunken stride. “It is like clockwork. It does what it intended to do. Without making me wait. Efficient to the minute.”

Foolish imbecile. And I was starting to think he was arriving at a rational point. Trains? Really? I thought of a rather ghostly character who lived in a fictional school and quite aptly, in a girl’s toilet. I thought the comparison quite fitting indeed. “Moaning Myrtle”, rambled on.

In my experience, some IT guys just blame the user.” I wonder who he could be talking about. I certainly would never.  “Take for instance, every morning I start my computer and then go to make a coffee. I turn the kettle on. Get the grains into the mug and pour hot water over it.” He then takes a gulp of his drink for added effect. “I talk to someone else who enters the kitchenette, with the same apparant problem.” And that is a great start to a productive morning I muttered to my circle. “I let the coffee percolate before it touches my lips.” Oh dear God. “When I come back to my station, the wonderful computer is still restarting.” He huffs and puffs with animated arms and his drink sloshes onto a person next to him. I think it may have been the IT guy. “Can you guys never fix a slow machine?” Gesturing to my area accusatorily.

Yes, of course I thought. Bill Gates gives us all the keys to his Kingdom so we can reprogram his closed Operating System. It’s like saying, Can’t you just make Boris Johnson more presentable so that he doesn’t look like he just got out of bed? Impossible. However, I stood proud. Some of my colleagues, not so. But incredulously, this man carried on.

And then as soon as it starts, there is a security update pending, being the 15thtime it has asked me,” He adds for emphasis, “which I delay as I have very important, life changing, guest engaging and pressing work to do. But then, when I’m working on an important document, right in the middle of it, it decides to restart itself.” Sloshing more drink while pointing at us with his flailing hand. “You guys create problems for us every day.

And there we are. By his own admission, the weakest link had been identified. His mistake. The 15th time he delayed the pending update. This was the 15th time he delayed the inevitable.

I don’t have this problem with my beloved Apple.

Just then, I felt like a bird had relieved itself from high above and it landed squarely on all the heads of the IT people in the crowd. I could say that I tried to be professional, wipe off the poo and carried on being attentive, but I couldn’t. I could say that I changed his misconceptions and made him see the light, but I can’t. I could have tried to clean the dung out of his brain and reinvigorated his thought process like a good anti-bacterial toilet cleaner where everything would start to smell very medicinal, but I didn’t. And I could also say that it was a fruitful outing, it just didn’t end up being civil. Well, at least not for my IT colleague, who bore the brunt of more outlandish slurs, standing right next to the loud moaning buffoon.

However, the next day, someone couldn’t log on to his computer and another deadline was missed. And IT were no where to be found. But there was a reason for this. Apparantly, the IT guy was stuck at Acton Town. Train signal failure. Such a shame really. The trains in London are so efficient, usually.

Make what you will out of this little fascinating human snippet. There is a lesson in there for IT people and end users alike, not least being that there is a time and a place. And of course, for those of you that don’t recognize it, there is irony in there too. And when one must explain irony, it’s like explaining why we drive on the correct side of the road in relation to everyone else in the world. As hard as you might try to hammer the point, there comes a time when you just abandon the hammer altogether.

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