The Application/Desktop Engineer: The Face of IT

Applications and desktop management is deployment and support of the operating system, applications, settings and customizations to workstations, always balancing security with ease of use. No other department is so directly responsible for the employee’s computer experience than the applications and desktop department.

A sample of an application engineer’s day may involve:

  • Reviewing the WSUS console,
  • Checking desktop security logs like anti-virus reports,
  • Packaging an Adobe font
  • Calling a vendor and wading thorough the sales-speak
  • Taking a call that was escalated from help desk because Word keeps crashing on multiple PCs
  • Preparing for a meeting about Windows 7 issues during deployment
  • Create and ADMX
  • Write a VB or PowerShell script
  • Research a print spooler crash issue
  • Researching new software like profile managers
  • Creating change requests
  • Documenting changes
  • Updating the knowledgebase

And at any moment the entire day interrupted because every computer in the enterprise was automatically updated with antivirus signatures that created false positives on every PC.

When problems become untenable the engineer will opening tickets with product vender like Microsoft and Symantec.  They may need to call the vendor not because they don’t know how the software works or it’s not performing as expected. From experience I can tell you that Symantec’s Enpoint Protection’s policies to lock down the USB port or prevent software from being installed is anything but intuitive. A Symantec technician can better explain how the settings are applied rather than me going round and round while other problems pile up.

The applications department. is logically adjacent to every other department in IT. No other department is so closely linked to other departments because all data eventually hits the endpoint.

Desktop Support Engineers (Hardware)

If a DVD won’t load, it could be that the codecs are corrupt, but it could also be the hardware controller on the box itself which will require a visit from desktop services. Similarly,

Web Applications

If secure websites are taking 20 seconds to load, it could be that the privilege elevation software is misconfigured or it could also be a firewall/perimeter issue. If IE can hit the intranet, but chrome is having issues, both applications and the web-applications need to work together to understand the bottleneck.

Network Operations

Network operations most resemble the applications department, because the desktop and server have the same behavior and respond similarly to virtualization, a firewall, installed applications, patching, and upgrades. Applications works closely with the network team in the planning and deployment stages for both departments. A successfully deployed and managed desktop requires that the perimeter is protected, servers are patched, network shares are stable, a web filter is in place and proper rights are assigned. This is all outside the control of the applications team, yet affects everything from application performance, integration, browser speeds, and security.

Help Desk

Help desk regularly escalates problems to Applications. For example, if help desk cannot fix an Outlook addin that is refusing to load, or a caller is requesting to install an app of her own it is escalated to the applications engineer for troubleshooting and approval.

Because applications works with so many other departments — as well as directly with the computer user, team member’s days are filled with meetings because — though it’s clear to us — there is still some mystery that surrounds applications and on what exactly they do. Also few know the OS as well as an application engineer.

Ideally the application engineer spends their day packaging and testing applications making them bulletproof. And if the application needs to be repaired, apps provides an easy way for help desk to do it.

During all of this, we’ve got one eye on Windows 8, which will be a game changer the way WindowsNT was a game changer with profiles, a registry, NTFS and 32 bit architecture. Tablets bring new opportunities and new challenges to IT and apps in particular. Though Microsoft doesn’t call it a Metro interface anymore, the HTML5 apps and RT environment will hit all of IT hard but none more than applications. What is the apps role in a Windows 8 world?

The future of applications is one I think about a lot. Like so much of IT, the applications department is seeded for change. Once the dust settles from the Windows 7 deployment and the workforce becomes mobile first and less desktop centric, what role will applications play? Will there be an applications department in a world of Apple Apps Store, Google Play and Office and SharePoint App Store?

That’s not for me to answer in this column even if I could. Instead it’s just one of the many subjects I want to discuss with fellow application and desktop engineers in this Dice Talent Community. Let’s discuss work from the trenches like why Word is crashing with an ntdll.dll error, to how to steer resources to your department for a WSUS replacement, to Applications very existence.