- Everyone has brand and product preferences based on experience, emotion, and environment.
- Pick the right tool for the job, even if it’s outside your personal preferences.
Marketing teams talk about brand perception and brand loyalty. They talk about mind share and name recognition. As individuals, we try to act as if we don’t have brand loyalty, but instead loyalty to quality, price, utility, or some combination of those factors. Despite everyone having a bent towards economic rationality, its clear that emotion, experience, and our peers and self-identified group play a much larger role in our buying decisions. As individuals, this is not really a big deal. But in the IT workplace, brand or technology preferences can have negative consequences. More surprisingly, these preferences are extremely strong and take on the aspect of nearly religious belief. If you find that to be an exaggeration, find your local expert Linux system administrator and ask them what they think of Microsoft. More often than not, you will be treated to a sermon on the evils of the Beast of Redmond.
In IT, we have developed loyalties around various technology vendors or OSS products. Some of it is personally understandable. If you have spent time getting Cisco networking certifications, you are going to be inclined to go with Cisco. Not only is that human nature; it’s a career path and your value to the company is directly related to how much of that vendor’s products and services you use. Other factors come into play. The brands you’ve had the worst experiences with become the enemy. Brands that have a bad reputation around fair play and pricing become the enemy. Leaders and senior executives at those companies become targets, for everything they say and do both personally and in the corporate context. Lastly, there’s also tribalism and the sense of belonging to a given community of like-minded individuals who all use the same vendor or product. Phrases like “We are an Oracle shop” crop up. We all have this tendency.
These attitudes can do damage to an enterprise and in particular to smaller businesses, particularly if they lead to yo-yoing between technologies because the administrator or IT manager has a strong preference. One example would be Windows Server shops moving to Linux and Linux shops moving to Windows Server, not for business, financial, or technology reasons, but because there is active dislike that even strays into hate. And Linux vs. Windows is just one of the most visible examples. It happens in database servers, storage, networking, really anything in the data center.
The way to combat our natural tendencies is to first recognize that the visceral reactions experienced against a product or company we don’t believe in are not entirely rational. Then, with that check firmly in mind, ask, “Is this the right tool for the job and for our business?” Resist the urge to find only data points that support your preferences. The choice must be right for the business, even if that means using products or services you don’t personally like or believe in. Keep in mind the idea that the business you work for needs the right tools for the job. Sometimes that means holding our noses and making a conscious choice to go against our own preferences. It’s not religion, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s amazingly freeing once you embrace the idea of the right tool for the right job. Plus, it will add to your resume and make you a more rounded IT professional.