Martin Dwight slouches into the office. Fleshy and pallid with a mane of curly hair, he looks like he should be at a nu-metal concert, an image cemented by the Linkin Park T-shirt he's wearing under his shirt.
Those as far from client-facing roles as Martin is are asked only to 'dress appropriately'. He interprets this as 'dress like a grungy sixth-former'; but given that Martin works for IT support, he's probably right - it is appropriate.
Pushing back his hair, he removes an urgently blinking Bluetooth mobile phone earpiece and, without making eye contact, asks David, who placed an urgent call with the helpdesk two hours ago: 'What's the problem?' David says his e-mail won't send or receive. Martin's chubby fingers dance across the keyboard with surprising grace. With a flourish, he pulls a USB flash drive from his pocket and plugs it in (this is exactly the sort of gadget officially frowned on by the IT department, for fear employees will unleash viruses or illegal software onto the corporate network).
Muttering, he changes a few settings here, re-instals there. He reboots the computer and - voila! - the outlook for David's Outlook is rosy again.
Mission accomplished, he logs off and asks David haughtily if he is aware of the potential conflict between the antivirus software he is running and his version of Outlook. David - who has better things to worry about, like where his next order is coming from - doesn't have a clue what he is talking about. He shrugs but, still grateful, compliments Martin on his shiny new PDA, by way of conversation. Martin replies, bored, that the processor is inadequate and that he should have waited for the new model, which also has EDGE, GPRS and GPS. David gives up.
Martin's odd mix of on-the-job competence and social incompetence is par for the course among his helpdesk colleagues at market intelligence providers Nicholls-Ridout. His pal Ajaz may tend towards bling and rudeboy rap rather than West Coast metal, but he's a deep geek too and can hold forth on the arcane merits of competing WiFi standards for hours. Then there's the senior geek, Andy, who is good-looking, funny and, on the face of it, better integrated into normal society than his underlings.
But Ruth from FMCG Reports dated him for a while and his pulchritude palled in the face of a tendency to talk at length about Linux kernels.
So what is it with Martin et al? Why do they keep to themselves, speak in code and act as if they belong to a company within a company? Is it education? Background? Some sort of childhood trauma? No, Martin comes from a good family, was educated at a decent university and has a sister who's an artist. Perhaps it's the esoteric nature of his work? But this doesn't hold water either. People who work in financial derivatives do things that are hard to fathom and deeply jargon-ridden, but it doesn't mean that they are impossible to talk to or spend long hours in online chatrooms discussing hard-to-spot continuity errors in the latest Star Wars prequel.
No, the root cause of their otherness lies in the way they are regarded by those outside their own abstruse domain. IT may be a decently paid, interesting and entirely respectable career, but unless you work for one of the glamorous giants of the sector like Microsoft or Google, few outside the industry see it that way: IT is central to Nicholls-Ridout's continuing success, but no-one acknowledges the fact. Line managers and department heads see IT as a support service - or as a bunch of grungy nerds who spend their lives playing with computers without a thought for revenues, sales targets or the bottom line. Even the CEO tends to treat the requests of the IT director as costs and those of other directors as strategic investments.
So is it any wonder that, vital yet unappreciated, the IT boys are a little inward-looking? They know that dual-core processors are key to the future of the business - but no-one else does. In a company that talks a good recognition culture, IT is almost entirely ignored. Try and see it Dwight's way - if you were highly skilled, well paid and mission critical, but everyone treated you like a too-hard-to-understand version of office services, you'd stick to your own kind too.
DWIGHT - THE RAW DATA
1975: Born 12 July, Woking. Educated local comprehensive, Sussex
1995: Gap year (Thailand, Australia, NZ)
1997: General assistance, ChiTech, Guildford
1999: Call logger, IT helpdesk, Nicholls-Ridout
2001: IT helpdesk administrator, Nicholls-Ridout
2003: Technical support, Nicholls-Ridout
Any resemblance to a real person is coincidental and unintended.