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.

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