When I was a young man growing up, my father was an Army recruiter. He loved the Army and he loved helping men and women realize their dreams of going into his beloved branch of military. I used to sit and watch him speak with people about the military. He could sell them on the idea of patriotism, merit, honor and brotherhood. What he couldn’t do, was help them once they were in. They would call him from basic training and tell him they wanted to go home and he would then have to inform them that there was nothing that he could do. He would come home at night and feel bad because some young woman was having a really hard time in basic training and missed her parents. We lived in rural Iowa and some of these recruits had never been away from home and were unable to call their parents due to financial restrictions. My father would go out of his way to get the farmer to the phone so he could tell his son just how proud of him he was and how he looked forward to seeing him in his uniform soon. I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like my Dad. An honorable man who did the right thing all the time. A man who went out of his way to help people, to provide for his family and to make people feel special. So, when it became my turn to pick a career, of course I went straight into the Army. I had put Ranger in my contract because my ultimate goal was to go Delta Force. Many of my Dad’s friends had gone Delta and he had the most respect for these soldiers. They were elite, they were tough and they were “snake eaters”. I wanted his admiration and I wanted the respect that came with having such an awesome title of “Operator”. Wow! Of course, like a lot of things in our lives, my dream was cut short. Cut short by an injury in A.I.T. that forced me to close the military chapter of my journey. So, at this point, what do I do? Well, go to college of course. But, to do what? If I couldn’t be in the Army and help my country, at least I could choose a career that would allow me to help my fellow human. So, I decided on communications with an emphasis on public speaking. Growing up with a salesman grandfather and an Army recruiter father had worked to my advantage in that I had no fear of public speaking. To this, I decided to go into Radio Broadcasting. I loved the job and the people and the notoriety. What I didn’t love was the removal of being able to assist people. Sure, we had toy drives for the children and donation drives to help the community, but what we didn’t have was one on one interaction and the feeling of actually being a part of the fix. So, where does technology come into all of this? After I left college (I didn’t graduate due to an unforeseen bundle of joy), I was left with a couple of different avenues. I could go into the radio biz and still feel a little bit at odds with my career, or I could go into a market to actually help people. Which one to choose, which one to choose? Of course, with a baby on the way I chose the path of least resistance and became a stock broker (you want to talk about a hard, standardized test). I know, it just doesn’t keep with the rest of my training, but I have a tendency to do the odd thing every now and then. The money was great and was much needed to provide for my family. Still, I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything. I was young, but I still had it in my mind that I wanted to be a member of society where my children could look up to me like I did my own dad. I stayed in sales one way or another for so many years that I eventually just started calling myself a salesman. I felt ok about it, because I could lie to myself and say that I was helping people in my carpet cleaning business (one of my sales professions many incarnations). After I sold the carpet cleaning business, I decided to take some time off and be a dad. I wanted to get in touch with my children (2 by now as we added a lovely little lady to our brood). After a few years of just staying at home and being a dad, I decided to get back into the world of work. I just didn’t know where I could fit in. One day during this time, I was having a really hard time with my computer and I called technical support. The person I was connected to was obviously just a very tired and overworked human being. They were short, rude and acted as if I should know exactly what they were speaking about, the acronyms they used and what an ethernet connection was. The person made me so angry that I decided to literally figure out how to fix the machine on my own. I went online at a friends house and went straight to the forums. WOW! If I thought the person on the phone was rude, here was a whole worlds worth of that person with a little bit more sarcasm and snarkiness mixed in, along with anger and bitterness. These people believed you should know how to fix the problem instinctively and then, and only then, come to the forum to brag and boast about how you fixed the issue with as few keystrokes as possible and in no time at all. So, of course, they were no help. I did, however, vow to never be like those people. The type of people who hang out on a website specifically designed to help other humans with their tech problems, but are only there to ridicule and harass unsuspecting noobs by publicly shaming them for their ineptitude about all things technology. I gave them a piece of my mind and left. I also vowed that one day, I would understand computers to the point that I could be just like those dyspeptic nerds, but instead, I would be helpful and polite. So, I got started. Having nothing to lose, I rummaged around Craigslist and found a tech job working in a Data Center that required me to have no experience. I have always had issues with sleeping through the night, and since this was an overnight position, we fit together like a custom made glove. I quickly learned Centos, Freebsd, Debian and to some extent Windows. I learned about RAM and hard drives, about pins and monitors and motherboards. I learned as much as I could, as fast as I could. My trainer went from taking as many as 20 phone calls a night, to calling me to make sure everything was OK, because he “hadn’t heard from me in a while”. I loved my job for the first time in my life! I loved the fact that I was actively involved in the fix and that people would actually tell me “you just saved my business” when I would rescue their data. I loved helping people. I loved the pats on the back (hey, I never said my love of tech was completely selfless). I loved the fact that people trusted me with something so personal and so much a part of their lives. I promised to be a good steward of their trust, to always keep their secrets (and believe me when I say EVERYBODY has secrets). My father would go out of his way to make people feel comfortable, a trait that I inherited as well. I can recall just one time in my almost decade long career, where I was not 100% professional with a client. He called me at 3:00am with an issue that I had never been apprised of. He screamed at me, at the top of his lungs, for 5 straight minutes, so loud that I could literally not understand what he was saying. When he was finished, I reminded him that I was a human being and that I was just there to help, but that I refused to be abused. My father may have been a very ingratiating man, but he taught me to stand up for myself at all times. The gentleman started screaming again during which time I fixed his issue. When he realized that the issue was fixed, he simply stated “great, now you’ve gone and woke my kids up”. That was the last straw. I said “Sir, you are a bad person” upon which time he simply hung up on me. He, of course, took the time to write a very angry and bitter letter to my boss. My boss was a very deliberate man who listened exceedingly well. He listened to the audio, weighed the situation and then posed the question “How did you keep cool for as long as you did?”. I remember telling him “I just wanted to help him.”. I just wanted to help the guy, because I know that being awoke at 3am by a monitoring alert is aggravating and that all people want to do is to get back to their warm beds and catch as much sleep as they would be able to get. We left that issue there, to go quiet. In my quest to help people no matter the circumstances, I had failed to remember that I have a unique role to fill. My job in tech is to be what you need, when you need it. If you are feeling the frustrations of not knowing, my job is to make you feel comfortable with the fact that not everyone knows everything. You don’t have time to learn how to code in php or use a linux command line. That is why you have me. Yell at me, thank me, pat me on the back, but I can promise that I will still give you the exact same amount of my time as I would anyone else who sought it out. My job is to help, not to hinder. My job is to know what the problem is, and if I don’t know, taking the time to learn it. My job is to be the professional you can count on, when you need a professional you can count on. I truly love my career. I’m not rich, but I am fulfilled! At the end of the day, I believe that is all that matters.
A Holiday Note From Me
As a side note, this is going to be printed during the Holiday season and I just wanted to remind everyone to relax and enjoy their neighbors, friends, family, clients, customers and co-workers. We can all get stressed from time to time, say the wrong things, act different than normal and it is all just because we love our family and friends so much, that we work on little sleep, little time and have so much to get accomplished during this time of year that we sometimes lose sight of the really important things in life. I leave you with an excerpt of one of my favorite country comedians, Jerry Clower. Speaking to his friend and first boss, Owen Cooper, who was upset that when asked if she could go back in time and do life over again, a lady responded only in the materialistic, such as winning lotteries and buying things. When challenged by Jerry about what would he do, Owen said this:
“If I had my life to live over, I would love more! I would especially love others more. I would let this love express itself in a concern for my neighbors, my friends and all of whom I came into contact… I would love the unlovely, the unwanted, the unknown and the unloved. I would give more. I would learn early in life the joy of giving, the pleasure of sharing and the happiness of helping. I would learn to give more than money! I would learn to give some of life’s treasured possessions such as time, thoughts and kind words. If I had my life to live over, I would be much more unconventional, because where society overlooks people, I would socialize with them. When custom acknowledges peers at best with whom to have fellowship with, I would want some non-peer friends. Where tradition stratifies people because of economics, education, race or religion, I would want to fellowship with friends in all strata! I would choose to go where the crowd doesn’t go, where the road is not paved, where the weather is bitter, where friends are few (and) where the need is great…”!