So I was reading Gizmodo a little earlier today and came across this article about a 20 something who still doesn't carry a smartphone:

I found it an interesting read and commented that it seemed to me the author was very young...that in the white collar world, the need to be connected at all times is extremely present. I received a wide variety of responses, but most were along the lines of "Dude, you are living to work"...and I can see that perspective, but I look at things a little bit differently.

First of all...what do I do?

So without mentioning specific company names or anything like that, I'm a mid-level manager in Business Technology for a large company. We're a spinoff, just 1 year into our existence as a separate company from our former parent. We're a growing enterprise but, as with most "new" companies, we are expected to do far more work than our current staffing model can really handle. We're the very definition of a skeleton crew. My corner of headquarters is known as "Hell Corner" to those in the know...because there's four of us here who, in essence, run the business technology organization. We're all on different sides of things (client productivity, site services, network engineering, and messaging) but it's safe to say that 99% of the things that non tech types are going to need will end up on on one our plates.

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My specific role (or rather the role for which I was hired) is to run our site services organization, and our executive support services globally. We have offices all over the plate from NJ, to California, to Africa, to Singapore and a whole butt-ton of countries in between. Managing a global organization has its challenges: when Singapore is working I'm sleeping, and vice versa. Site services (meaning desktop support, network support, and some facilities support work as well) is difficult to oversee...but executive support is really where those challenges come into play. We're talking about support for the top 13 in a global fortune 500. We're talking about folks who's time is LITERALLY money (as it is for an executive of ANY publicly traded company). I'm not an executive, but if they have a "Wizard of Oz" dude hanging out behind the curtain, that's me. You'll never see my name in the Wall Street Journal, but there's a pretty solid chance that whatever the CEO is talking about, I was the guy standing behind him making sure he has the facts right, the details correct, he could get onto the VPN to send it to his communications team, and that his grammar checked (at least well enough for a first draft...bonus of having a CEO who's native language is not English).

In addition, as part of this growing organization, I have responsibilities with our technology security group, application packaging and distribution, data center operations, meeting planning...and honestly, pretty much anything else that nobody else owns yet (I was recently designated to administer our corporate cell phone program as well...a role I greatly look forward to getting rid of when someone is finally hired to do it).

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I'm not puffing out my chest here - my job makes me a slave to a lot of important people. It doesn't make me one of them, it doesn't net me the rewards that they all get (or at least, not in the same quantity), and at the end of the day it doesn't make me anything more than a mid-level dude who's gray hairs multiple on a daily basis because of job related stress.

Yeah, yeah, so you deal with important people, so what?

So...you've gotten a little bit about the job that I was hired to do. Generally speaking, executive support for ANY company is a 24x7...but as part of a startup it goes way beyond that. Application servers need a reboot? Well somebody has to approve that right? Generally speaking it's not something that can just "wait until Monday"...and that, my friends, is where my handy dandy smartphone has given me back a life.

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Rewind....

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Let's go back in time for a moment here through the mists of time to an earlier age. We don't have to go too terribly far - let's say 8 years. Now 8 years ago I was running a helpdesk team of 6 folks located in two countries. My job was nowhere near as important as it is now to the organization as a whole. Relatively speaking, I was a total peon. But there were still things that had to be done, even if it was officially "off hours". If the applications we all supported were going through upgrades, it meant I was sitting at my laptop until it was done. If our application owner was flying to another country and was going to need help getting hooked in? Again, it meant I knew what time he landed and I was sitting by my laptop, ready to go "just in case". In short, life was incredibly difficult. Wifi wasn't as readily available as it is today, and if I was stuck someplace without it, my laptop was worthless (as was my dumbphone).

Fast Forward...

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So jumping back to today...the question will probably come up now: what the hell is your point in all of this? My point is that having a smartphone that I can be tethered to is actually incredibly freeing. I have citrix on my phone. I have my email on my phone. I can monitor application upgrades from my phone, and image updates on my phone. When the important people travel I can track their flights on my phone, and guess within a small window (I've gotten good at this part) when and if they'll be calling me for help with something. I can address emergencies from my phone. Just this past weekend I rebooted our PO system servers from my phone, then logged in on behalf of an executive, and approved a PO that would have impacted business continuity had there been any delay. All of that from my phone. Hell, I approved that PO while on a haunted hayride: it took 3 minutes and I didn't have to run to my car, grab my laptop (I don't even carry it with me on weekends where back in the day it was ALWAYS with me) and pray I could get on the VPN.

Does having a smartphone mean I'm reachable 24x7? You bet it does...but there's a piece there that folks aren't considering. For "multi-hat-wearing" types like myself, I'm now able to make the CHOICE as to whether something needs to be addressed, or whether I can ignore it. I can do the things that are urgent and ignore those that aren't. There's no more "surprise" when I get home from a night out - I don't have to check to make sure our new image ISO got pushed out, or that application XYZ was finished being packaged and loaded into SCCM. I don't have to do it because I already know.

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And as an added bonus, if the CEO needs something, or the CFO, or any of those folks who's IT success DIRECTLY impacts my pockets and those of every other shareholder, they're able to get me without my having to put my entire life on hold.

Slave to my phone? Hell no. I'm grateful to my phone because it has given me the freedom to hold a 24x7 job without having to be committed to it 24x7...and that, my friends, is fucking magical.

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Do I EVER unplug?

You bet your ass I do, and I don't do it halfway. I'm just about always reachable, but folks have learned to schedule important things (not the execs, but the other stuff) around my schedule a bit more. I tend to vacation in places where unplugging is not only recommended, it's just how it's going to be. Iceland doesn't have Verizon coverage and I spent 10 days there. I still hooked my phone to wifi at night just to "check in"...but I didn't even carry it with me, it sat in the hotel in a drawer. Just last month I spent 2 days in the mountains of Colorado on a motorcycle with absolutely ZERO cellular coverage (talk about unplugged...in 4 hours I saw one other human being besides my fiance...and it was a dude on a horse). If nothing else my "need to connect" when I'm "on" makes me really appreciate those times when I can put everything down and just enjoy!

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