My wife and I watch very little television. We have not had a cable subscription in over ten years, and though we subscribed for a while to one of the newer streaming services which resemble the “basic cable” plans of old, we recently canceled that as well, deciding that watching the occasional sporting event was not worth the monthly subscription price for the entire package. At the moment we have only an Amazon Prime membership, Netflix, and a new service, BritBox. The latter, as the name suggests, offers exclusively British programming, which appealed to us since, for reasons I’m not sure I entirely understand, we have developed a predilection for British shows over the past few years. My wife has watched every available season of The Great British Baking Show multiple times (I keep pulling for young Martha, even knowing that she doesn’t win), and our entire family recently enjoyed the four-episode crime series Maigret, with Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”) delivering a surprising and wonderful portrayal of the title role.
Another show that my wife and I have enjoyed watching is The IT Crowd, a sitcom centered upon two IT workers, Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd), and their computer-ignorant manager Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), all employed by the fictional company Reynholm Industries. Like many British comedies, The IT Crowd is sometimes relatively clean but at other times surprisingly vulgar and even purposefully offensive. I’ll therefore not recommend it without serious reservations, and for a time I wasn’t sure why we found it so entertaining. After a text “conversation” a few weeks ago with a friend who works in IT, I put my finger on some surprising similarities between how IT workers and music teachers relate to their colleagues in other departments as well as their friends and acquaintances outside of their professions. Here are a few of those:
1. Both music teachers and IT workers choose those professions because of unique skillsets.
Although computers are ubiquitous in modern society, it wasn’t that long ago that their frequent use was the domain of a select group of nerds. Those are the guys (and they are mostly but not exclusively men) who ended up learning how to code and became the stereotypical “IT guys.” Likewise, music teachers are those who as young people found meaning and belonging in a particular group of usually-not-part-of-the-in-crowd folks participating in an activity not always considered “cool.” Thus both groups developed skills and ideas that placed them on the fringes of the mainstream at best.
2. Both music teachers and IT workers often feel that others do not understand their work.
Twenty years of conversations that both my wife and I have had with folks in other fields, even other educators, suggest that few outside of our profession really understand what we do all day. I don’t mean that they are intentionally dismissive of our work, but not everyone gets that performances don’t “just happen,” that lessons are not planned “on the fly,” and that quality music instruction requires hours of solitary planning, reading, thinking, practicing, listening, and evaluating on the part of the teacher. Even from my vantage point as an outsider I have observed IT workers similarly frustrated by clients who seem to believe that “computer stuff” will “just work” without notification of staff and consequent planning and setup.
3. Both music teachers and IT workers are often socially awkward.
This has to do, I suppose, with the social self-selection earlier in life to which I alluded earlier. While neither musicians nor “computer folks” have social difficulties among themselves, our unique professional cultures do seem to generate certain awkwardnesses when we mix with others.
4. Both music teachers and IT workers keep bizarre hours.
While music teachers have somewhat more “normal” schedules than full-time performing musicians, even in the teaching profession the need for after-hours rehearsing and performing leads to schedules that don’t always jive with those of our friends in other professions. Church, civic, and social activities organized around the 9-to-5 schedule typical of middle-class Americans don’t always work for us. Likewise, computer issues do not always conform to the predictability of the usual workweek, as both regular and emergency maintenance of always-on computer systems often has to occur after hours, especially when massive software updates need to occur during periods of minimal system demands.
5. Despite these and other problems, both music teachers and IT workers like their jobs.
Every profession has its problems, and the ones I’ve examined today are no different. The old joke, “How do you get a musician to complain? Give him a job!” didn’t emerge out of nowhere, and I know enough folks in IT to have heard my share of grousing from them, as well. And yet, for the most part we like our jobs, despite the social awkwardness and assorted eccentricities that they seem to engender.
Granted, I have here constructed an opinion of a large class of employees based upon their portrayal in a television series, and I am certain that people working in information technology do not constitute such a monolith. Music teachers certainly do not. For my tongue-in-cheek purposes today, though, these comparisons do seem to hold true, as my wife and I, both music teachers, find it very easy to identify with the hardworking, genuine, but often humorously misunderstood Moss and Roy.