Shadow IT: You, me and BYOD

Summary:BYOD and working in the shadows: A mandate for change or juvenile rebellion?

Did you ever know someone who just has to break the rules no matter how many times you warn him or threaten him? Did you also notice that he's the type of person who skips through life and work, often relatively undaunted, but his manager thinks he's the bomb? Sure, we all know the guy. A lot of people see him as a guru, as a quirky genius or even as a prima donna but we, his irritated coworkers, see him for what he is: A disruptive goon who makes life harder for us all.

That's the typical picture in your head when you hear the term, "Shadow IT" but that isn't always the case. Believe it or not, I could be talking about you.

There's a good chance that I am talking about you. But, there's an even better chance that I'm talking about you and a lot of people you know.

I've been there myself. I was once one of those renegade types who walked the fine line between acceptable limit testing and complete corporate IT anarchy. And unfortunately for me, there was always one of those do-gooder, dirtbag, tattletales* around who wanted to cozy up to the boss by exposing my innocent shenanigans.

An extra workstation

For example, back in 1995, when I worked at WorldCom (Yes, that WorldCom), I was the Lead Tech of a Desktop support team who supported several hundred Windows desktop computers. During my tenure in that position, I found myself in possession of an "extra" workstation on which I installed Linux. I setup the system from scratch, installed Slackware on it and used it for training and storage for support files for our group.

I gave our team members and helpdesk team members access to it so that they could all learn UNIX commands without using a production server. It was brilliant. Or so I thought.

I was told by my manager that we didn't need any Linux on our network and that it isn't an approved operating system. Of course, I ignored that statement. I was also told by a guy who was viewed by most as some sort of a guru that I need to get that system off the network because it wasn't approved. I also ignored that. They never did anything to me for having it except launch a little irritating dialogue every now and then in my direction.

My responses were centered around their shortsightedness and their lack of understanding of my need and my purpose for having it. To be frank, I didn't really care what they thought of it or me for having it. If I couldn't be fired for having it, then they needed to leave me alone about it.

During this time, I started the local Linux User's Group. I was also criticized for that by coworkers and by the head of the UNIX Special Interest Group (SIG) (That's what they used to call User Groups). He wanted our Linux folk to be part of the UNIX SIG. I said, "No." He was mad because we had more members than his group did. I think I might have also suggested that he visit the salad bar for all future meals. I digress.

About two years later, I, again, found myself in possession of a brand new Gateway workstation that I reimaged into a Red Hat server (4.0, I believe). Again, more rhetoric from the kingpin of my new group (Wintel Domain Administrators) about how we didn't need that system, blah, blah, blah. I think I might have suggested that he pay homage to my backside for his insolence.

What was particularly interesting about the Domain Admin group was that the entire group was a Shadow IT group built in part to snub the regular IT department. We ordered, imaged, deployed and managed our own separate domain. We operated outside the corporate rules. So, it was really a case of my team lead wanting to bully me for his own personal pleasure. He was never successful in making me give up my Red Hat system. In fact, I installed Samba on it, joined it to the domain and ignored his empty threats.

Experience and expertise

In the end, I was right. Linux is now an accepted operating system in the world's data centers. And, being a Shadow IT person, I gained experience and expertise that left the rest of those folks choking in the dust behind me.

My point is that operating in the "shadows" isn't necessarily bad. Often, the shadowy figures are the ones who make the real difference in an organization. However, instead of being praised for my ingenuity and resourcefulness, I was reprimanded. But, really, who cares? It's not like there's this great "ladder of success" that was being denied me for having a Linux system hidden behind my cubicle's desk drawers. And, insofar as the entire corporate mindset at WorldCom was concerned, my offenses were pretty minor. Especially compared to those who, you know, scuttled and destroyed the company.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

--George Bernard Shaw

Perhaps I'm unreasonable but my opinion is that there should be no need to work in the shadows. BYOD is not really a new thing. It is now a newsworthy thing but not really new. Employees have always brought in their own technology. But, now, it seems to be more acceptable to do so. At least in some companies it is.

BYOD is about productivity

Frankly, I don't like working in the shadows. Bringing your own devices into a corporate network isn't a blatant disregard for security nor is it insubordination. It has to do with productivity. Employees feel more productive with their own devices. I've said that many times before. Employees are also more productive with operating systems with which they're familiar. Hence, the messing about with Linux, even though it wasn't the "corporate standard."

Standard Shmandard. Let me be productive. Let me be happy where I work. There's nothing wrong with employees who're happy in their jobs. There's nothing wrong with employees who feel empowered in their jobs. And, there's nothing wrong with employees who are more productive by using their own devices. I know it sounds crazy to think that an employer would want to hinder productivity but you'd be surprised to know that there are.

Often, the unknown makes people afraid. The unfamiliar makes us uncomfortable. Linux made people nervous at WorldCom. It still makes some people a little edgy. The thought of an employee bringing his own device into the company network seems scary too. In some cases, it is. In most, it's not. You do have to have some rules. You have to have standards. But, remember there are always those, like me and you, who will work between the lines of the rules, who will walk the fine line between what's accepted and that which is unacceptable and those who make progress by being unreasonable.

*Not that I'm still angry about it or anything.

See also:

Topics: Operating Systems

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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