chessIn IT, as in Chess, sometimes you have to play the long game, sometimes the short. You can try to come out on the offensive, but far too often you find yourself playing defense to stay in the game, forced to react to your opponent’s moves. Although you want to be proactive and stay ahead of threats, new ones are cropping up all the time and you just can’t get ahead, let alone anticipate what’s coming next.

Castling is not an option, so you need to ensure your defenses are strong and layered, and your data, like your King, is well protected from both the threats you can see, and those you cannot.

The attacker may seem to have the advantage in this situation, but as long as they remain outside the reach of the law, they have no King to check. If you mount a strong defense, and keep your eyes open for new threats, you can play to a stalemate. And since the game of IT security is like chess when playing Armageddon rules, consider that you are playing black. That means a stalemate on the board is a victory for you.

Let’s look at each of the IT pieces on the board, and see how they compare to the Chess roles we play each day.

The Pawn

pawnOften considered a throw-away piece, but that is a gross underestimation of this workhorse of the board. Pawns may start off strong, only to then be restricted to move one square at a time, but they have plenty of tricks up their sleeve. They can be very effective blockers, serve as defenses against all but suicidal attacks, can surprise opponents with en passant moves, and as they move slowly but surely across the board, they can be promoted up the chain of command. Sounds like plenty of folks I know in IT who know that slow and steady wins the race, and are often underestimated and underappreciated until they save the day. These are the workhorses who come up with the answers when everyone else despairs, catch what was missed before it becomes a disaster, and can work their way up the ladder until they are in charge. They may start on the Helpdesk, but you can just tell that they have untapped potential, and given the chance, will shine.

The Knight

knightMany players fail to understand the Knight, and all of which he is capable. The Knight can think outside the box, and come at problems from around the corner or across the board. It can be hard to follow their logic sometimes, but no one can argue with their results. IT admins who play like Knights are the ones that you go to when you need some unconventional thinking. You present them with a problem, then you get out of the way and watch them solve it. Just don’t ask them to explain it; and they are rarely any better at filling out paperwork either.

The Bishop

bishopI liken the Bishop to the PMO. They move in very straight lines, will not change their color, can cross the entire board in a single move, can be both devastatingly effective and completely useless depending upon the need, and are often the first pieces sacrificed when things are going against you. Don’t underestimate the Bishop though, as they can be so far across the board that you don’t realize the threat until they slide across and remove a key piece. Don’t understate the impact removing a key resource from a project, or killing a project outright, can have on you. Keep your eye on Bishops at all times.

The Rook

rockThe Rooks may move like the Bishops, but since they can go laterally rather than diagonally, they are much more flexible, and useful, and the best ones may castle with the King to save the day. A good IT manager is like a Rook in this instance. Able to move in straight lines but change direction when needed, a good player knows how to leverage a Rook’s strengths, avoid its weaknesses, and play the piece to maximum advantage. A good IT sys admin will do just that – use their manager’s strengths to recognize the weaknesses, and work to avoid them – to their advantage.

The Queen

queenThe most powerful piece on the board. Every IT team has at least one Queen – the player that has all the moves, can cut across the board and objections to get things done. The Queen can remove obstacles with a single move or phone call. This kind of sys admin ‘Queen’ can “get it done” and nothing can stand in the way. Many IT teams consider the Queen irreplaceable, but she’s not. Many a game has been won even after the Queen is lost. Always remember, there are plenty of Pawns on the board who can make it to the other side and be promoted. Guard your Queen, use your Queen, but don’t let your IT Queen overdo it. They may be all-powerful, but they are not invaluable.

The King

kingFixed to single moves save only castling as a defense, the King is the crown jewel of the board, and the piece all others must protect. In IT, the King is less a person and more the combined data, IT assets, reputation, and trust all rolled into one. Any piece may be sacrificed to defend the King. You must always move keeping your King in mind, just as every IT taken must be made while considering the security and reliability of your data. Lose the King and you lose the game. Losing data means that someone could lose their job. Protect your King and you protect yourself, and that, as they say, is the point of the game.

Keeping your systems running and data secure are daily tests of cerebral fitness. Just remember, think at least three moves ahead at all times, and watch out for what the other side is doing. There’s not much between despair and ecstasy, but this game is definitely one worth playing to win.


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