TagHistory

How far we haven’t come

Recently, my wife and I visited the Newseum. I revisited the Berlin Wall exhibit. Going through it, I also watched the video about the reporters responding to the 9/11 attacks. Seeing the antenna from the top of the World Trade Center and parts of the debris brought it home.

Our history is not that old. The Civil Rights movement is only 50 years old. And still ongoing. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The September 11th Attacks were in 2001. Our country’s pain is not old.

There was an extensive photo exhibit from John F. Kennedy’s photographer and a great video montage of his brief presidency. He was before my time. But he was not in the distant past.

Our history is real and living. It affects us today. We do not live in a bubble. We are influenced by our past. We get to build our future into what we’d like it to be. It’s a future that will have many amazing events and people. It will be filled with terrible times and people. It will mirror our past.

History doesn’t feel real from the pages of history books or television programs. History feels real when I can reach out and touch the Berlin Wall. I can imagine myself living beneath the watchful, murderous eye of the tower guards. To live apart from family and friends. To not see loved ones for decades. What would that feel like?

The Civil Rights Movement. It’s not a done deal. It’s the start to a long, hard road. A road being walked by those who want to love who they want. Isn’t that what everyone wants? Everyone wants to be loved and to love. Everyone wants to live inside their own house and their own lives.

There are lessons the past has to teach us. But instead, we insist on re-learning the same
painful lessons. We’ve done a pretty terrible job of allowing everyone to share the rights of straight, white men. I don’t remember anyone voting for my right to marry. Rights are not a finite resource.

Women have to fight for equal rights.
African-Americans have to fight for equal rights.
Gays have to fight for equal rights.

Our history is not a collection of old, dead stories from books. Our history is now. Our history is yesterday. And tomorrow is a new chance to write it.

What does it take to work in IT?

How did I get here?

I did not train to work in IT. I didn’t take a series of courses in computer science or even technology. I was a Creative Advertising student who holds a B.S. in Communications. I never planned to work in IT. I was going to be a designer. I worked for the college newspaper creating the print layouts and managing the website.

Then I graduated and realized I did not want to work in Advertising. I didn’t want to try to coerce people into buying things they really did not need. I wanted to help people. I have always been curious about technology and using it to make our lives better. So I fell into tech support directly out of school.

Into the trenches

I worked for a year on a PC roll-out contract with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. I spent six months working in Richmond swapping hundreds of PCs out in the headquarters and regional office. Then for the next six months I went on the road. I was at a different office each week around the state swapping PCs and troubleshooting problems that arose on the way.

From there I worked briefly for a print shop running high end printers and copies and managing the output of the shop. Then I went back to tech support working for Honeywell, General Electric, City of Richmond government. And very briefly for Wachovia Securities help desk.

When I moved out of Richmond I worked for the Atlantic Media Company, the parent company of The Atlantic Magazine as well as other publications. Now I work as a federal government contractor for the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

I’ve worked at city, state and federal levels of government. I’ve worked on help desks fielding hundreds of calls a per day and as a desktop support technician with over 100 buildings to support as a single technician. I’ve been part of a large team and the lone wolf.

Essential Skills

I got into this with no formal training and have since taught myself what I needed to know. What I’ve learned over the years is that every job is exactly the same, in that they’re all very different.

Each organization I’ve worked has its own set of rules and policies. Each industry had its own set of jargon, software, technology and systems. And as a support tech it is my job to learn them well enough to be able to explain and make them work for others.

I often have customers ask what I studied in school to do the job. They’re often surprised when I tell them I’ve never formally studied computers, technology or anything related to my current field.

The interesting commonality I’ve noticed is many of my co-workers all majored in all things non-technical. Sure, there are are couple of Computer Science or Information Systems majors. But there are just as many Mass Communications, Psychology and Criminal Justice majors. Somehow we all found our way to IT work. Whether it was where the job were or the better money or we just found we like the work more than what we studied to be. We found our calling in the IT support world. Formal training has much less to do with success in IT support than experience and soft skills.

Technical Skills

Being “good with computers” is a good start. But so is being able to search for answers effectively. You don’t need amazing technical knowledge to get a job. You don’t need to know computers inside and out. You don’t need to be an expert in anything. Knowing what to look for and how to look for it is just as important as knowing the answer.

People Skills

IT Support is customer service. Help Desk and Desktop Support roles appear to be nothing more than fixing computers. That is only half of the job. The other half is far more important. When I arrive at a customer’s desk, it is my job to take control and put them at ease. I am here to understand and solve their problems. I am here to sympathize. I am here to be play the hero and the whipping boy. I take the bad and the good. I am the problem fixer and technology wrangler. But in the process I’m also here to help them.

What else is there?

There’s still plenty to learn on the way to becoming a great technician and problem solver. Listening closely to your customers, communicating clearly (verbally and in writing), empathy, sympathy, acting, time management, and thinking on your feet.

Wow, that sounds like a lot! It looks like a huge, daunting list. But most of these skills work together and many of them are things you’re probably already doing. You just don’t realize it. I sure didn’t until I started focusing on how I interacted with my customers.

Stop Romanticizing the Past

The past is filled with what seem to be my greatest achievements. The past is when I got the job. The past is when I wrote the brilliant poem. The past is when I first kissed the girl. The past holds all the selective memories edited down into a greatest hits collection. The past is only the best parts of myself and my choices I’ve chosen consciously or not to hold on to.

I do not remember the longest day at work before the last longest day at work. I do not recall the long hours sitting in classrooms, taking tests, reading books, getting teased. I do not remember the low points and the sleepless nights.

I do not remember the worst that came with the very best. ((Exception being the **very** worst of the worst.)) Overall, I look back and I think of all my accomplishments. I still sit and kick myself everyday for losing the backup of my old Xanga.com blog I started writing in 1997. In my head, it holds a lot of great things I wrote when I was a younger, more idealistic man.

I wish LiveJournal had any decent kind of search so I could go back into the many years of writing I still have sitting up there. In my head, there are, again, some brilliant things I wish I could go look back to, revise, repost or at least remember.

But I can’t. The Xanga writings were exported to a now-lost ZIP file and the site closed. LiveJournal is a unsearchable nightmare though the writings still exist… Somewhere.

But the past is not all of our best work. The months and years of history have turned the memories of those great writings into fairy tales. My writing as a 15-year-old poet is not the writing of the 30-year-old geek. I have grown and learned.

We all have.

The people who look back on their high school or college days as the highlight of their life make me a little sad. I can see the appeal of the relatively care-free days and the ignorance of youth. But there’s so much more to life after school.

There are so many more opportunities for greatness and to make cool things. Life does not end at 18 or 21 or 25 or even 30, 50 or 70. Life does not end until you gasp your last breath on this earth. ((What happen after that is up for debate.)) But as far as what you can make and share and produce, you have many years ahead of you.

*Stop romanticizing the past.* Sure, you may have had some successes, but they are nothing to what you are still going to achieve. My past victories are always falling to my current achievements. We all think you’ve hit a pinnacle when we’re in our teens. The first kiss. First drink. ((For some)) Smoking. Tattooing. Voting. The Lottery.

Sure, there’s not a lot of age-based milestones once you get past 21. There’s still car rental and car insurance drops at 25. We don’t need the world to tell us how to be great and when we must accomplish things.

When I was in college I was convinced I knew what I wanted to do. I chose a major and immediately changed it because it was not as I imagined it. I completed my degree and went off into the world with a Bachelor of Science in Communications. ((Yes, I have a BS in Communications.)) I worked extensively for the school’s publications. I was the Production Chief of [The Commonwealth Times](http://commonwealthtimes.org) for three years. I headed the Millennium literary magazine and even dabbled in assisting other publications.

I went to school to learn what I did not want to be when I grew up. The last day I used my degree was the day it arrived in the mail. It’s not even hanging anywhere.

I work as a Sr. Desktop Support Technician now. I support those reporters and writers and designers and photographers just as I worked with their younger peers in college. I am still active in the media world but in a very different way. I am a writer. Something I have always had an interest in but never thought I could do anything serious with. I now write monthly for a publication my father helps to run. From that, I was asked to submit an article for publication in a print magazine in Ireland.

Do I still look to the past? Yes, very much. The past is who we were and dictates where we will go. Each day is open to new achievement and success.

Do not live in the past. Embrace the present and look to the future. Your best work is still ahead of you. Never stop working and never stop learning.

You may be surprised with where the world can take you, I sure am.