Friday, September 23, 2011

When I was a Lad*

After a few years of fumbling around in various jobs in various industries, it became apparent to me that the field in which I'd do the best was IT. Not because I had any coding skillz (I'm a French Major and the only coding language I'd studied was Pascal--with a soupcon of C) but because after a few small successes (learning HTML, learning Dreamweaver, figuring out how AppleTalk work) that I'd had incidentally while doing other jobs, it came to my attention that if I wasn't scared of computers I could learn to deal with them. It was certainly better than dealing with people.

I'd worked, in various administrative capacities**, for a Formula 1 team, a car company and web development company. While working for the Formula 1 team I learned to use Dreamweaver (at the time, I had to close all the other programs on my desktop in order for the computer to have enough resources to run Dreamweaver 1.0) type-setting the copy in the French, Engilsh, German sections of the website and checking the French and English portions. At the end of this project he told me "toi aussi tu peut ĂȘtre web-master!" (You can be a web-master too!) At the time, I wanted to be a Formula 1 journalist--unfortunately so does half Europe.

When I got a job as a receptionist at a web-company several people saw that I am bright and tried to develop me. I learned HTML, some time doing QA, and wrote a few business proposals. While it was nice of these people to try to help me out--none of them had any follow through. They had other things to do, and the firm needed a receptionist (best not develop her too quickly or we'll have to hire and train another one!) More significantly, I started in 2000--when they were still getting business all the time. But soon it was 2001 and the phone wasn't ringing anymore. The Patriots had decided to find a new web-developer and we weren't getting any calls from EMC either.

In the mean time I noticed that the Sys Admin--who was probably not any smarter than I was and who spent most of his time un-jamming the network printer (not something you need a CS degree to do) was probably making three or four times what I made in salary.

Because this was a geek firm, people installed their own software. At some point in time I decided to start installing my own software as well (if I screwed up, it was no more than was to be expected of the receptionist.) One of the desktop scanners got jammed. The only guy who knew how to unjam it was the CEO. Since this was my boss's scanner I walked in as the CEO was cleaning it and asked him to show me how to fix it. He did so.

By Fall of 2001 the writing was on the wall for the web company. We'd had two rounds of lay-offs and the founders had quit. It was a miserable place. I'd dyed some streaks in my hair blue an taken to playing the Clash and Black Sabbath on my PC. I figured that no one could object since we had no clients.

Clearly I needed a new job, the trick was to find one that would allow me to move out of administrative duties (at which I have always been terrible) into IT. There was a small financial firm in Back Bay that wanted an Office Administrator and Webmaster. They gave me an interview.

"We need someone to take on some of the tech support here--it's mostly my business partner who deals with it." Said my soon to be boss "Obviously, if I'd hired some grandmother who could barely use a computer this wouldn't be a consideration."

He also said, and this amuses one of my best friends much "Some of our clients are people who live in Cambridge or JP and are into Socially Responsible Investing." She (my buddy who was living in JP at the time--I was living in Cambridge) always says I should have said "Some of my best friends live in Cambridge and JP." Instead I stammered something about how please I was that in spite of being a financial firm, they weren't all right-wing assholes.

I took the job as Office Administrator/tech support/web-mistress/carpenter/gardener. The firm has grown to the point where I moved into a purely technical role 4 years ago.

I accomplished this by working 6 or 7 day weeks (before the company was well off enough to offer comp time or overtime pay) going to Bunker Hill to take classes in operating systems and SQL and generally busting my ass. I was really hoping to work my way towards Director of IT, but so far I've only gotten to the point of desktop support.

Along the way I've learned a great deal about how small business operate, Windows Server 2008, how to deal with other people, ACAT and non-ACAT transfers, 201 CMR 17, smartphone support (mostly I've learned that Droids suck) and how to give a PowerPoint presentation (strictly speaking, I learned most of that in Business School.)

So. Now what?

*From HMS Pinafore

**because if you have a degree in French Literature you have to start out as an administrative assistant or a receptionist. Not because you're particularly suited for the job, but because it's an entry level position.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On writing

I have many friends who write poetry and fiction that actually gets published. They write professionally--I write for fun.

Part of why I write is that my Mom was a consultant for the New York City Writing project. She believed in "never a day without a word." I'm pretty sure that none of my mom's creative work has ever been published, but that doesn't matter in this context. What she did for a living was encourage people to use their verbal skills better ("If you're stuck on a math problem write down what you are thinking")

What she did as a mother was encourage me to write. Because. What would she have done if I'd been dyslexic? Luckily for her I am not. I started my first journal in second grade. I decided that all of my entries should be in rhyme. That didn't last long. I discovered that poetry didn't have to rhyme. And then decided that poetry wasn't my thing*

I am a verbal. I like reading and I like writing. I write letters (e-mails) to friends I don't see and I write blog posts. I am happy to have the brain-space to do so much. What I'd really love to be able to do is write fiction. I haven't been able to do that for years.

I don't want to be published (although that would be an amusing thing to put on my CV) I just want to write creative fiction because nothing (with the possible exclusion of sex) is more fun.

Yesterday, I stopped by my buddy's place because we were supposed to have dinner together. He had Word open and was clearly working on a piece of creative fiction. He said he hadn't written much today--he got started late. But later, when I spoke with him I could see that he saw where his story was going. I am very surprised that the green envy leaking out of me did not dissolve the chair I was sitting in. I thought "he has no idea how lucky he is." And then we went to dinner.

Last night after I left the dinner party I went home and, much to my surprise, started to write a short story. I looked at what I had written last night. Yep, it was terrible.** But I don't care. Being able to write creative fiction is not my priority this fall--there are five other things standing in line before that. But, since I'm a professional desktop support analyst/network administration who needs to get into another graduate degree program, creative fiction is not likely to float to the top of the list any time soon (unless application essays count as fiction.)

So writing a bad short story amused me for an hour. This gives me hope that when I have the time I might be able to write a good short story one of these days.

In the meantime I'll just do my push-ups on this blog. Like my mom taught me to do.

*My parents friends had a baby. I didn't get to see the baby because small children who attend public schools are typhoid marys. My parents gave me a few particulars about the kid "She has brown hair and eyes." And I wrote a poem about the baby, because my parents suggested I do so. "You are not a pastel baby...bees bring you sweet, dark honey." The parents were ecstatic. They loved my metaphors. What metaphors? I'd never set eyes on the kid. This was my first lesson in how the author's intentions don't always count.

**The driver's ed teachers at a rural highschool have taken to smoking pot before their classes. The Assistant Principal's secretary keeps seeing them walking out of the same closet and assumes they're having an affair.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Tonight I called one of my former colleagues at home. She's got friends visiting Gloucester and, since she lives in North Reading (also on the north shore of MA, for those of you who are not from around here) I didn't know if she was staying with her friends who were visiting or staying at home and seeing them during the day. Her husband answered the phone. Yes, she had decamped to Gloucester to hang out with her Besties--she was having a Women's Weekend Away and Away means Away.

I talked to her husband, who I had missed talking to since my colleague left the organization, for a few minutes about work and how his oldest son had gone away to school. It was a good conversation in fact. I said I was wicked busy and he asked whether it was the good kind of busy ("yay! I have projects! they are fun! I'm getting help from other people!") or the bad kind "It's killing me me. I can see the end of my rope just barely because it's half a mile behind me.") He's an engineer--therefore he understands both kinds of busy.

Then I called my friend to recommend restaurants in Gloucester. I figured it would be easier than texting her, but also, after talking to her husband I realized that it would be nice to actually talk with her. I missed her.

We talked for a few minutes. She told me about where she was staying and took my recommendations of where to eat and shop and then she had to go to dinner.

Twas lovely. I had a happy glow in my stomach because there were people who were happy to talk with me on the phone (even if the cell phone reception in my apartment sucks.)

Here's the problem-by tomorrow morning I'll be obsessing over those conversations. Did I say the wrong thing? Were they just humoring me by taking my call? I could feel the obsessive worrying start, which is part of why I'm writing this.

I said out-loud to my apartment "What will it take for you Cantabridgienne for you to accept that..." I wasn't sure what came next. That it's okay for me to call my former co-worker and her husband (with whom I had gotten on well)? That people might be okay with talking to me on the phone? That if I was interrupting something they wouldn't *answer* the phone?

Hell, the husband actually called *me* back. If he didn't want to speak with me he wouldn't have done that--right?

I asked myself this question because I'm tired of being afraid of people. It really is tiring being so very anxious. While many of my metaphors and similes are computer related (i.e. "I feel like a processor.") clearly my brain is not a logic engine. People, friends, colleagues and former colleagues do in fact answer my e-mails, and agree to have lunch with me. Some of them even call me on the phone-and not just because they're having trouble installing Adobe Acrobat.

So what does it take for me to believe that people who haven't gone to college with me, aren't related to me by blood, or doing graduate school project work with me at the moment might want be willing (happy even) to take my calls?

Does everyone have this problem? I am sure that everyone has to deal with a certain amount of awkwardness when transitioning people that they worked with and liked into friends. Some of it involves deciding whether your former colleague is still friends with you "for business reasons."

I don't actually think any of the former colleagues that I e-mail or have lunch with occasionally are friends with me for strictly business reasons. They are still friends of mine because they are nice people. They ask my advice occasionally and I ask theirs occasionally. That's what friends do.

I guess the question I really meant to ask is "What is it going to take for you Cantabrigienne to accept that you're good enough, you're smart enough and dog-gonit people like you?"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dork Dork Dork*

It all started with guacamole. One of the women I work with was asking me where the best place near where we work is to get guacamole so that she could snack on chips and guac. I told her to go to Trader Joe's

"Their guacamole is called something like "Avogadro's Avacado." I said (I looked it up just now--it's actually called "Avocado's Number Guacamole.)

Another guy walked into the kitchen and, overhearing our conversation said "Oh-Avogadro's Number."

"What's that?" asked my guacamole-seeking colleague.

"It's the number of molecules in a mole--right?" I answered looking at the guy who had just entered the kitchen.

"Yeah--6.02 something..?" He replied.

"Well I know it's not 273.."

"Right because -273 is 0 in Kelvin-absolute zero."

"They actually know how many molecules are in a *mole*?" Asked Ms. Guacamole looking perplexed and a bit horrified.

"'s a constant." I said. "We don't mean a *mole* as in an animal--not one of these." I said putting both hands up to my nose and wiggling my fingers to imitate a star-nosed mole.

I laughed and so did my other colleague.

"You do realize that you are laughing about a *number*!?" said Ms. Guacamole as she pulled her soup out of the microwave.

"Well yes." I said "But he has a CFA and CFP and I work in tech support. *Both* of us work in financial services. So by any definition we're already dorks, so we might as well laugh about numbers."

I don't think she got it, but as I pulled my own lunch out of the toaster I heard the conversation propagating itself down the hall. I heard someone else say "Avogadro's number--that's the number of molecules in a mole."

This is the thing I like about working with smart (dorky) people--none of us has had to know what Avogadro's number was since we were undergraduates (or high-school students.) As far as relevant knowledge for what all of us do for a living, or what we're going to make for dinner or whatever our current hobby/obsession is it's as unimportant as Lady Gaga's latest alter-ego (although most of us probably have an opinion about that too.)

But yet, when Avogadro's number comes up in conversation we can all find it on the back shelf in our heads, where we've left it since the last time we had to take a Chemistry class.

*This title comes from Strong Bad's Haiku in this