Help Save Your Local GUI Jock

We all know at least one GUI Jock. That one guy who knows how to, say, run a complex query on the content management system, or export data from the annoying sales database front-end or actually get new data into what qualifies as "the system" where you work. He is a master of tools that appear obscure, but are in fact just a pain in the neck. He is not writing firmware for the space shuttle; he is changing the background gradients in your marketing dashboard.

The GUI Jock is a paradoxical figure. Indispensable and yet undervalued, he owes his livelihood to the ferocity of the beast he tames. The sheer number and complexity of pull-down menus, check-boxes, obscure options, software bugs, and poor user interface choices created by an external software vendor. The GUI Jock conquers them all—he is a human compiler who receives requests in the loose and informal language of the outsider and compiles them to the standards demanded by expensive enterprise software.

But how did he find himself in this position? Ironically, he may have fallen into this unfortunate role by being good at a few ad hoc requests which he likely completed under the assumption that he would soon be moving on to more interesting work. But now he is stuck in a trap that he helped build and of which others are afraid. He is there to fall on the grenade that is lousy software, poor documentation, and bad process so the rest of the organization can go about its job without another hassle. The GUI Jock suffers so we do not.

What can be done?

In my experience the GUI Jock is usually not happy with his lot. If you know him you are probably aware that he can be a grouch and he has probably sighed in your presence more than once (if you don’t know him, he might be you). But can we set him free?

A typical response is training. Grab a conference room for a few hours, set up a projector and show the junior staff just how to hold that chair while taming the beast known as the "InsiteDynaMetrix CollaboStream(tm)". The juniors sit and nod, happy to have such a big block of their day accounted for. In my experience, the success rate of this approach is woefully low. It can backfire, basically serving to train attendees to know who exactly the GUI Jock is and that they should funnel all relevant requests directly to his inbox.

To protect itself, the organization demands that the GUI Jock stay in his role. He is the only person who will save himself. He has a few options:

  • Sucker a new employee into the role. New employees are eager to please and crave the recognition of value that comes with being a GUI Jock. They are also too naive to see the quicksand.
  • Increase the friction for people who lean on him. Ask for forms to be filled out, demand detailed requirements, and delay in delivering results. With enough process, these people may decide to serve themselves.
  • Apply to graduate school.