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How to Ask IT For Something

By Ryan Lambert -- Published July 29, 2014

Have you ever wondered how to ask the IT department for something? Maybe you want to switch from ASP.NET to Python, or you want to ditch your RDMS (such as MS SQL Server) and go with NoSQL for an upcoming project. Maybe it's something as simple as wanting software installed but you don't have admin privileges on your work machine. Whatever the situation, you just know that you need the new widget or technology to do your job. What's even worse is that you must go through the company's IT gatekeeper who only has two sentences in their vocabulary: "What do you want?" and "No." This person could be at the IT help desk, a DBA, a SAN admin, etc., but I'm pretty sure at least one of these people exists in every company.

Buy me Dessert

I worked as a waiter in a number of restaurants throughout my time. A few of those places require servers to promote certain items to every guest, regardless of how ridiculous it was. I was working at one place that expected us to offer dessert to every single table, even when the customers were obviously stuffed and waiting for a wheelbarrow to come roll them away. One night, I asked an overly irritable couple "Would you like any apple crisp to finish off the night?" I knew they didn't, but I had to...

"Does it LOOK like we want dessert?!"

I reflexively answered "Well, I have a special deal for you two tonight. You buy the dessert, and I'll eat it and tell you how good it was."

That was the first smile I saw from them that night, so I started using that line on a lot of my tables. About a month later a gentlemen actually DID buy me dessert! That was the night that I truly learned that if you don't ask, the answer is already "No."

Justify Your Need

If you're planning on rocking the boat, do your research and be able to answer the barrage of "Why" questions to justify the need. Remember, you're asking someone to do extra work that might not be necessary, so not having good reasons becomes annoying quickly. These reasons should be relevant to the work at hand and there must be an advantage to switching to make it worthwhile.

Imagine you're trying to make a case for using Language X on your next project instead of the de facto choice of ASP.NET. Ok, why do you need Language X? What is missing from ASP.NET? What's the business cost to NOT switching vs the business cost if you do switch? Will you be more productive? Write better programs? Or is it just because you want to learn Language X? If you can't make a case to support the why, there's no incentive to change.

Why should you buy me dessert? Because I'm required to offer it to you, you don't want it because you ate too much dinner, and I haven't eaten dinner yet at all!

Getting Told "No"

Until you get a solid "Yes", consider the answer a no. Typically, an answer such as "Maybe" is used as the non-confrontational way to say No, so should be treated as such. How you react when you get told no can make the difference between a) sometimes getting what you want, and b) never getting what you want.

Step #1: Ask Why... politely!

Guess what - your company has a history. So does the person or people making decisions. They also have prejudices, misconceptions, partial truths, gut instincts, and sometimes brilliant reasons with all the facts. Asking why the answer is no can help you glean important information about any underlying issues. Maybe they have heard all sorts of security concerns with using Language X and that's why your idea was shot down.

If you can't get a straight answer, you might be out of luck and instead of using Language X at your current employer you might want to start job searching. A company that blindly holds onto outdated systems without entertaining the idea of new technology won't last too long. Even if it does, do you want to be a part of that?

Step #2: Learn Something New

By now you've done some research to support your original request, you've been told no, but you're armed with the reason for the answer. Now is your chance to research the security concern you just learned of to see if the concern is valid. Essentially you're back at the beginning, trying to justify your reasons again but this time your armed with your new knowledge.

Step #3: Discuss and Ask Again

IT people love talking about their technology of choice. Chances are, if you go back and say "Hey look, I researched that security issue you told me was a concern to you, and it turns out they fixed that two releases ago." You might still get told no, but you've now created a stronger relationship with this person. They now know that you're capable and willing to do the research to support your cause.


Hopefully you can celebrate complete success because you were able to discuss the pros and cons with the admin in question, they loved your idea and it is being implemented. But, even if you don't always get what you want, you should celebrate that you have strengthened a relationship with a colleague. Chances are that they will remember you in a positive light, and your professional network has grown a bit stronger. If all else fails... Chocolate is a good "bribe"!

By Ryan Lambert
Published July 29, 2014
Last Updated July 29, 2014