The Traumas of a (Former) IT Professional

in computers •  7 months ago  (edited)

I like to think that I made it rather transparent that I have at least tiny modicum of skill with regards to computers. Some of my previous posts involved dual-booting Windows and Linux ( and macOS and Linux ( Considering that I spent 15 years in the industry (full- and part-time), and specifically 6 of those years in the field in both the public and private sectors, I can honestly say that I am exceptionally proficient in my field. I do no say this from a place of ego or arrogance - frankly, when I looked at CV's and resumes that had comparable experience, I was able to objectively view them and make that claim. It also means this:

But wait, @phoenix32, what do you mean that you don't have money? Wasn't it always said that "math and science professionals can write their own paychecks?" or things like, "Oh, you're good with computers, so you must be making bank!"

These phrases were often followed up with statements such as:

  • "Hey can you perform this {super-complicated-random-computer-task} for me? I mean, you're good with computers, right?"
  • "My computer's not working right, could you take a look at it for me?"

Let's clear up a few things here. (1) No one can ever "write their own paychecks." I always enjoyed the movie Jurassic Park - dinosaurs, adventure, a John Williams soundtrack, Jeff Goldblum and Samuel L. Jackson and Sam Neill in the same darn movie with dinosaurs! The movie is packed full of lessons, and the one that has my attention is this:
This was in 1993.

Nineteen. Ninety. Three.

Blast us up to now, December 2018, and that is still echoed by corporations. But moreover, it is echoed by individuals. I have TONS of IT tales to share. So here are a few that will just make you go:

IT Tale of the Day Number 1
This is, by no means, a horror story. Instead, I present to you a rather sad and short story of belabored and bedraggled teachers. I began to work in my home school district in New Jersey in late 2011 as a member of the IT team. Having surrendered my graphing calculator, protractor, and gradebook, I was done with teaching but I had not given up on my colleagues. Shifting gears meant shifting districts, and I was closer to home, which was good because I took a pay cut. As I began to investigate my territory - I was assigned to three of the schools in the district - I encountered teachers who were just fed up with the district IT stuff. There was a policy that had come down from the superintendent, and he had basically dropped a ginormous technological mess on the district. Most of the staff had never used things like Smartboards and document cameras. And the Voice Over IP (VOIP) phones were new - in fact, many classrooms only had call switches and not even landline phones. There was a massive amount of retrofitting for some of the school buildings as well. And it was dropped on all at once.

The head of IT (at the time) was a great guy - excellent tech, good with people, and a good supervisor. In fact, outside of the Church, he was one of the two best supervisors that I ever had. He was well-liked, and the rest of the team was well-liked. However, their response time was severely limited, as there was entirely too much for them to all handle themselves and in a timely manner. The IT supervisor pushed and pushed, and that is how my job was created. The hiring process was typical for a NJ government job - interviews, processes, and then months go by and finally a letter stating that I was the chosen candidate. So when I finally started, the teachers were tired of the IT nightmare that had descended en masse upon the district, and it took me some time to win over their affections. We began the process of untangling the mess, even adding classroom computers for student use, upgrading some labs, and dual-booting some iMacs for OS X and Windows 7. We were able to enhance the lives of the teachers and the students. So it turned into a nice and happy thing... until the new superintendent decided that she did not like the IT supervisor. But that's a whole 'nother tale...

IT Tale of the Day Number 2
So I spent 3 years at the district, and during that time, my father's parents moved to the next town south. We have never been close - and frankly, they never had a use for me. God knows that I tried to be a good grandson. I showed up for things, and I was genuinely happy to be there. The years of neglect took their toll on my psyche, and I eventually resigned myself to the fact that I would never achieve more in their eyes, and that I would forever remain the stupid, angry teenager that I had ceased to be years ago.

Despite their lack of use for me as a grandchild, they still would call me routinely when their computer would stop working. I kept them going in Windows XP for years, up to and through Service Pack 3. The weird thing was that I found myself in a sort of Cold War with one of my cousins - she would mess up the computer, and I would have to fix it, and while it never reached any sort of confrontation, there was the constant back-and-forth of ruin-and-restore, destroy-and-repair. I didn't mind being called up for a fix - honestly, it was really the only time that they paid genuine attention to me, even if it was just to use me. My frustrations with it all sprung from the fact that the Old Man would, as a matter of routine, let the machine sit and sit until he absolutely needed it, and then he would call me and say it was an emergency. Well, I can't drop what I am doing, even for my parents who love me unconditionally; I have an adult life and responsibilities and all. So the Old Man, being retired, did not seem to grasp that, and then would get frustrated when I could not put my entire life on hold to fix a problem that had been ongoing for weeks.

That computer eventually died, as all technology does, and I was unable to sustain its function. With the assistance of my aunt, who knows enough to purchase a quality machine, they bought a nice little Dell CPU with Windows 7. Horror of horrors, it looked absolutely nothing like anything that they had ever seen in all of the history of Windows ever.
Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 10.31.03 AM.png

The Old Man and Gma were practically demanding that I install XP onto this new box, which would have been impossible to have a functioning machine. So I offered a compromise: an Ubuntu host with a Windows XP virtualbox client. I told them not to unplug or move anything, that the system was fragile, and that remoting in was impossible, as they were using DSL. Enter my cousin - literally, as she moved in with them for a spell. Things were going great until she moved in and started to play around with the cables on the back of the machine. As if I wouldn't notice or remember. As if, after a confrontation about this, I would not reset the cables, get the system working again, and take a gorram picture so that I had proof that she was moving the cables and then compare it to what I saw the next time I went over for the same gorram problem once again.

Of course, to my grandparents, she was an angel.
Of course, to my grandparents, I was the devil for not dropping everything for them at the last minute.

This went on and on until my cousin moved out. And one day, I receive a phone call from Gma, and she tells me that she and the Old Man are not happy with the way the computer is running. I offer to come over at my first opportunity, and she declines, saying, "I think that we are going to hire a professional computer tech to handle it from now on."

Hire. A. Professional. Computer. Tech.

IT Tale of the Day Number 3
It is getting to be the time of year that is proper for this type of story. So here I am, working at the school district in IT in December 2013, sitting in my office. It is a few days before Christmas, and my workload was winding down, so I was using my time and pulling a Scotty:
Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 11.02.06 AM.png
The phone on my desk rings and it is the head of another department, a guy I know from Church. His words to me were as follows: "Hey, buddy, was wondering if you could do me a favor. If I email you a picture of me, my wife, and my kids, could you photoshop some Santa hats on us? I mean, you're good with computers and all."

Using a computer is one thing; using Photoshop is another matter.
Using Photoshop is one thing; being good at Photoshop is another matter.

Well, I had to go on my break, as I could not do a personal project on district time. As it was, I was in grey territory, as I was utilizing district resources for this. However, it was at the request of a department supervisor, so I was not the one who was going to get in the real trouble, had it come to that. I took a stab at it, using GIMP on my workstation - the lone Ubuntu/Linux-with-a-GUI workstation on the entire campus. And, naturally, I missed the mark. I called him after my break was over and he insisted that I should be good at Photoshop since I was good at fixing computers. Meanwhile, I found it hysterically amusing that the art teacher in that school was on her lunch and was a certified expert in Photoshop, despite being completely incapable of making repairs to her system and she would routinely call me when something went wonky.

IT Tale of the Day Number 4
I love what I do with computers. I love what I have done, what I can easily accomplish, and what I have discovered along the way. I love doing things for friends: when @blewitt asked me to mind the store (literally) a few years ago while he was in San Diego, I took advantage of the time to run a new wireless access point to the back of the store to increase their WiFi range, and to set them up with a used system hooked up to the TV to show nerdy movies and whatnot on special occasions, such as Free Comic Book Day, Black Friday, or when they have special releases. @reeseshara hit me up a few weeks ago for some advice on purchasing a new laptop. I don't mind any of this, not one little bit. Labor of love and all that. I also had a (one-sided) working arrangement with an old acquaintance who I mentioned in my aforelinked article "Dual of the Fates" [not linking twice, that's tacky, kids!]. I have teched for free. I have teched for food. I have teched for the love of the task. I have helped friends with home builds, upgraded systems and updated hardware, and done all sorts of stuff for the love of the game, so to speak.

The worst is when I'm doing a favor, a "friend of a friend" type of thing - doing the work for free, not charging a single dime, and I find a bad component or recommend an upgrade for better performance. I say, "I can help you get the part at cost. No finders fee." And then I get the look, the rolling of the eyes, and the huff: "Don't you just have these parts lying around? What do you mean, I have to pay for the parts?"

Yes, because I have a 16 GB DDR4 RAM stick sitting in my back pocket, waiting just for you. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight...

My first professional IT job was back in my home town, working for a guy who, whether he meant to or not, taught me much. My game stepped up tremendously in terms of teching, and definitely in customer service. One rare day, I was actually in the shop instead of being on the road, and a guy walks in with a laptop. He wants to know how to fix it. So I said, "Well, you need to, ideally back up your files, then you can format the hard drive and reinstall the operating system." He asks me how to do that, to which I reply, "Well, come on back and I will show you - but I'm gonna have to charge you." He proceeds to ask further questions, such as how to back up his files, what antivirus to use, where he can get said antivirus, et cetera. My response each time was the same as what I had previously said. Finally he grew frustrated and he said that he might as well throw the thing into the bay. I advised him against that, as the computer needs to be disposed of properly so as not to impact the environment negatively. That only angered him some more, but the lesson here is this:

My education cost me money. My education cost me time. My education cost me on a personal level sometimes, as with my grandparents. If I give you something for free, it is because I freaking care about you and you are part of my chosen family. Please remember to be good to your buddy who is in IT, or to the IT people at work. And for pity's sake, don't lie to us - full well we can tell that you have not rebooted the computer in 3 weeks, despite you saying that you just rebooted it a few minutes ago.

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I expect you to have everything lying around. Failure.


Only for the select few that are brave enough to be my friends... LOL : )



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