Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Choose SysAdmin

I've alluded to my career in IT here before. I experienced a sudden whim to elucidate on that, and since this is my blog, I'm going to take some time and do exactly that.

If I had a penny for every person who's asked me for help on their home computer, I'd never need to work again. I suppose if you're a doctor, you have to deal with all your friends asking about their runny noses whenever you go to a party: when you're in IT, you are swarmed with people asking about their computers whenever you go to church.

Now, for all my family and friends who actually read this blog: I'm more than happy to help you with little things like your computers. Really, I'm a rather useless person, when all's said and done. This is one small area where I can be of some use to someone, so I don't mind trying to help. But you need to understand a little about how this world works.

First, I don't do desktop support. When I say "I work on computers", I mean "I work on very expensive stuff that no individual actually owns." I'm not the guy in khakis and a polo shirt who walks around in your office, fixing the computers on people's desks. I'm the guy in ripped jeans, a t-shirt, and hiking boots in the refrigerated server room. No one sees me. That actually indicates I significantly out-rank the khaki-wearer.

I work on real computers, not the consumer-grade stuff you buy at CompUSA or Best Buy. The computers I work on generally lack any sort of graphics or a mouse: text-only interfaces and serial ports, baby!

Now, I might be able to help you with your home PC, but that's not what I do. In fact, I use Macintosh exclusively at home. I have no idea why your Windows PC is doing that thing. I am certainly willing to try and help you figure it out, but that's not what I do.

Second, I didn't write the software you're running. Most recently, I've been making a living as a programmer. No, I don't write video games, or even Microsoft Office. I write highly-specialized applications to help people in manufacturing plants get their jobs done quickly and efficiently. You've never seen a program I wrote, and you probably never will.

So I have no idea what's wrong with your video game or your word processor. That's not to say I won't help you, but I probably have no idea what broke or why.

Third, this is a highly specialized industry. Much like there are very few people who are both proctologists and dermatologists, there are very few Jack-of-all-trades people in IT. A lot of people just can't seem to understand that I have no idea what's wrong with their computer. I mean, they can't even grasp that I don't run Internet Explorer. The conversation goes something like this:
Other person: You know when you open up Internet Explorer and it... ?
Ox: I don't use Internet Explorer.
Other person: Really? Wierd. Anyway, you know how it... ?
Ox: I don't use Internet Explorer. I haven't used it in years, I have no idea what you're talking about.
Other person: Really? Wierd. Anyway, you know how it... ?
Ox: I don't use Internet Explorer. I haven't used it in years, I have no idea what you're talking about.
Other person: Really? Wierd. Anyway, you know how it... ?

Those conversations can go on for a long time.

Fourth, enterprise computer guys are expensive; please don't try to pay me for helping you. People insist on asking me how much I charge for my help; then they get upset if I tell them I can do it for free. Here's how it works: if you would rather get me to fix your computer than just replace it, you can't afford me. Let me re-iterate that: getting me to help you for an afternoon at fair market value would cost you more than just replacing the computer.

Please don't take this as boasting, I don't mean it that way. But freelance work pays very well. The rate's lower for a long-term gig (say working a month or more), and higher for more complex skills; but it's still expensive. I know one guy who stays busy at $250/hr, and there's at least one person in the region making more than $1000 per hour. Rumour places one individual at $3000/hr, but I can't confirm that number. If you buy the current Dell bait-and-switch offering, then you'll pay me more for helping you for 4 or 5 hours at fair market value than you would to just replace your computer.

Now the guy at Best Buy, CompUSA, or Geek Squad won't charge you that much; but that guy specializes in home PCs: he's in the low-end price range. The guy at CompUSA is the equivalent of a mechanic down at Jiffy Lube or Tire Kingdom: he works on low-end, consumer-grade stuff. I'm not a guru yet, but I'm in the class of people equivalent to mechanics working on heavy equipment: say Mack trucks and bigger. You pay the heavy mechanic more than you pay the Yugo mechanic.

The good news is, if I agree to help you, I understand I'm doing it as a favour. Please just accept it that way.

Fifth, this is "dressed up". I only wear ties to weddings: job interviews are a casual affair as well. IT is one of the last places in America that's roughly run on meritocracy. No one cares how we look, except to look on us with suspicion if we dress too well. I am expected to stumble in late with jeans, a t-shirt, and hiking boots. And yes, I've earned the right to wear a beard: that's a right not lightly bestowed by the Unix community.

I'm at the office right now in Vans, a t-shirt, and shorts. The CEO expects that of me, and would be concerned I was "job hunting" if I dressed better. I've earned the right to dress this way.

And if you think I'm coming in late, consider that you weren't at work at 3:00 AM when I was fixing your problems.

Sixth, if you ask me what kind of computer you should buy, at least have the courtesy not to tell me I'm wrong. I don't care what your 14-year-old nephew says about it. If you want his opinion, ask him, not me.

I recommend Macintosh, because my experience has demonstrated they are easier, cheaper, and more reliable to operate than a Dell, HP, or whatever else you're interested in. I know they cost more, but I honestly believe they're the best. I believe that based on experience and some level of expertise.

I personally run Mac because I got tired of fixing the computer every night when I got home from work. I want you to buy a Mac so we can talk about something else when we meet. You only think a PC is as cheap to operate as a Mac because you're not paying me for my time to help you; but you're wrong.

OK, so I ranted a little. I wasn't trying to get all aggressive or anything. The fact is, I'm more than happy to try and help you out if you're having trouble. But I'd really appreciate you not looking at me funny when I say I have no idea what's wrong with your computer.


Ames said...

You are, too, a guru. Don't let him fool you folks.

The Family Jewels said...

You just saved me from asking a friend who does IT work about my computer problems. Thank you!

clumsy ox said...

tfj, it's not the asking, it's the attitude. I would personally be hurt if I found out a friend had not asked for help when I could give it.

But the catch is, when your friend can't help, or doesn't know how to help, or says "I don't work on _____ ", respect that.

And if you get an IT person over to look at your machine, treat him or her with chocolate and coffee. Ice cream is good too.

Personally, I'll do a lot for a "Thank you" or some nice ice cream that I'd never do for money...

Gwen said...

You’re an awesome man, broski. Good thing you have such a cute smile or I’d be afraid to talk to you.

But I hope you don’t mind if I ask one teeny, tiny question. I just installed Internet Explorer 7. I’ve been using IE6 for a long time. But then one day Norton asked me if I wanted to do this update, I’m not sure what it was. So I just clicked on “OK” because it said it was recommended. But then after that, I couldn’t even connect to the Internet at all. So I uninstalled Norton, then I tried to reinstall it, but it said there was some kind of bug or something. So then I aborted that installation, then I upgraded to IE7 because I thought that might be easier. Then I installed Norton again, and now it’s all okay. But there’s this kind of error message showing sometimes when I open the window in IE7. It stays on there for a minute, then the whole thing crashes and I have to close IE and restart. Do you have any idea why this is happening?

Shan said...

Yessir, boss.

Also, though I have never asked you for computer advice, I am Canadian and I just want to say, I'm really really sorry.

Gwen.....hee hee hee. I have a feeling you will get a terse answer, something like "I have one word for you, moron: Firefox."

clumsy ox said...


On Windows, EVERY problem can be solved by: Start->Run->"Format C:\"

Tomorrow we'll discuss data recovery.

KingJaymz said...

Gwen, I have one word for you: Maxthon. Go to and download a browser that works. It is free.

FireFox is more stable than IE, but it is becoming less and less so, and it's taking up more available memory to run, which is meaning slower surfing and slower page loads. I switched from IE to FF about a year or so ago and loved it (pre-FF 1.5). It got "heavy" a little later and FF2 is just dreadfully slow. I switched to Maxthon about three weeks ago, and I won't go back. I think it's worth a least, for those of us who aren't Steve Jobs snobs ^_^

Gwen said...

hee hee! Sorry, I was just trying to make you laugh. I was going to go way farther with it but it was already getting too long... All is well in Gwen's computer land.

I like the "this is dressed up" bit.

KingJaymz said...

In that case, pass the bag of milk, please ^_^

The Family Jewels said...

Everything in my house is organic and sugar free, but you are welcome to it...I also pay in original artwork and handmade jewelry!

The trouble is that nobody wants to be in Nebraska or around the foster kids that God picks to be in our house...they are a little overwhelming. Come to think of it maybe they are why I am having computer problems...curious fingers and 12 year old boys that are filling up the storage space with lovely game downloads.