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Farewell to the Help Desk

For the last 18 years I’ve been working on computers in some capacity. About eight of those years were server engineering and data center operations, but the rest has been help desk. I’ve always preferred the help desk because it’s more hands-on with people. I have the great privilege to make people happy, one person at a time.

Help desk obviously doesn’t pay near as well as the server side of things, but it’s always been enough to support my family and me. And you know me – I’m not greedy. I only want to make enough to cover what I need, plus a little allowance for toys and beer. I have no desire to drive a fifty-thousand-dollar luxury automobile, or have a summer cabin in the mountains. Though that does sound quite nice now that I think about it.

But I much prefer coming to work every day getting to interact with other human beings – much as I hate humanity. Oh, and the women. You wouldn’t believe… Working on servers is so unrewarding. You go entire days without seeing another soul. Spending long hours locked up in the data center repairing a SQL cluster or replacing platters in the jukebox. It’s loud and cold and lonely in there. It’s a great job for someone who has no personality. Or someone who has no desire to be around other humans. And that actually sounds quite nice now that I think about it too.

But no, really, I do like interacting with humans on a one-on-one basis. It’s when they get together in groups and turn from person to “people” that I stop liking them. People are idiots. Self-serving, money-hungry, lusty, arrogant animals. I want no part of that. Well, but I’m also kind of getting sick of help desk now. After eighteen years of working with technology, I’m kind of sick of the rat race, to be honest. Keeping up with all the latest software, issues, knowledge bases, tips, tricks, tweaks and service packs… Brother, it can get overwhelming.

But what can a man do when he has no other real relevant experience? Well, you teach yourself something else. So after eighteen years, I’m finally hanging up the geek shirt. Actually, it’s quite stylish, so I’ll probably still wear it occasionally. But I’m finally moving away from the support desk and doing a complete career change. Starting next week, I will formally be a Junior UI/UX Designer. Woot.

When I first began exploring this career change, I was pretty surprised by how much these guys make. If you look up the median income of a Junior UX Designer, it will probably make you clear your throat. So I went to New York a few weeks ago for a training class taught by one of the top five designers in the world. Pretty intense stuff. And it fits so well with exactly what I want to do for a living that I’m surprised I didn’t think about it earlier.

Anyway with all that said, I’m saying so long to the help desk. I will always be technically inclined. I’ll still keep a thousand dollars or so in my Amazon account so I can buy new stuff that comes out. Oh, I’m sure you read my column about the Rubik’s Touch Cube. Dude. Twisty Puzzle meets Technology? How could I not buy one? So yeah. I will always be a gadget freak. I will probably always support my Pop when he calls and asks why his printer isn’t working. And of course, I won’t be getting rid of my home network. Or my website. I just won’t be doing it for a living anymore. So. With all that said, I’d like to leave you with some help desk stories from over the years. I’m not sure why I’ve never told you any of these before, but I guess I just wanted a collection of them to present all at once. These are all completely true. I have only changed the names to protect the guilty.

  • When I owned my own business (MoonCom) I had several pretty good-sized clients, and a whole bunch of residential support. I actually supported everything from the router to the keyboard. I built their website, managed their network, their servers, their mail, their PCs – everything. I charged $60 for a trip fee, and that included the first half-hour of labor. Every half-hour beyond that was $45. Owning the business gave me the freedom to charge what I wanted – or take services instead of cash, et cetera. Well, one trip was to a woman’s house who said her speakers weren’t working. Sadly, I walked in and moved the cable from the microphone port to the speaker port. It was literally less than five seconds’-worth of work. Well, I felt bad, so I gave her a free cleanup and performance booster. But seriously? Why call someone for something like that? Speakers don’t work? First thing you do is trace the cable.
  • Yes, there was sex. Just like any pool boy or pizza delivery guy will tell you, it does happen. If you hit enough houses, eventually one will contain a woman in a robe who’s drunk on the wine. I had a client who had recently divorced and was having computer trouble. I don’t even remember what was wrong. Why would I, after what happened? I just remember that when I made the fix, she said, “Oh my God! You are so awesome! I could just make love to you right now!” I also remember thinking, “Who says that?” Make love? In this case, with what you’re talking about, it’s hardly anything to do with love. But whatever she wanted to call it, I had no professional or ethical vision against it. Her grand piano made a grand bed. And she ended up having “weekly” problems with her computer for the next several months.
  • Client calls saying his server keeps shutting down. Immediately I think it’s getting too hot. So I drive to Lewisville to investigate. I walk into the closet that served as their network room and am immediately overwhelmed with a powerful smell of burnt fur. Yeah you think you know where this is going. Trust me, you don’t. I notice immediately that one of the drive bay covers for the server has been popped off. Most likely it has fallen inside the server. So I think I know what’s going on. A mouse or rat has gotten inside and burned itself up on the motherboard. So I begin taking the server down and open up the side of it. Sure enough, a small animal has crawled inside the server and lit itself on fire. A lot of the fur was burnt off and the animal was blackened. Disgusting. Only it wasn’t a mouse. It was at this point that Jane finally tells me they’ve been missing the office cat.
  • One client, a man who spent a lot of time on his laptop looking at porn, called me out because his laptop keyboard wasn’t working like it used to. I’ll let you figure out the math on that. I didn’t even touch it. I told him he needed a new laptop.
  • Another client had troubles with his keyboard, and in anger, smashed it with his fist. Surprisingly, it wasn’t broken. It was still operable by means of pressing the little rubber nodes underneath. But he had all the keys and flexors still. He wanted me to put them all back on. I looked at it for a few minutes and told him it would probably take about three hours to put them all back on. There were like twenty of them popped off, and it takes a really long time. He said he didn’t care. I told him I could order him a new keyboard for about $65, which would be far cheaper than my repairing this one. And you know what he said? He really impressed me. He said, “No, I need to pay for this. I need to learn my lesson. I acted like a child and smashed it, so if it’s repairable, I want to pay for it.” Wow. Okay. Total cost of labor: $380.
  • A girl (I call her a girl because she was only about twenty), (well, so was I) calls me over to help her with her computer, printer, whatever. Irrelevant. I make the fixes, it takes an hour, but she only has half the trip charge. Offers to pay me with something that rhymes with ‘Horatio’. I accept. I was twenty. This was like a dream-come-true. So to speak. Well her boyfriend walks in halfway through. Well that’s not entirely true. To say “halfway through” would indicate we kept going. No, we stopped. So I guess technically he walked in at the end of our escapade. They broke up on the spot. He told me he was going to get me fired. Got my “name” and my “boss’s phone number”. I came back a few days later and collected the balance on her account.
  • One time when I worked for another company that did the same thing. Managed IT services. I was at a client’s office fixing a fax machine when a fax came through asking someone to get together for a soiree that night. It was obviously a proposition for an extra-marital affair. Perfect timing. I’m still trying to figure out if that one was a joke on me. Who sends propositions by fax?
  • I once worked on Drew Bledsoe’s home network. Zing! :cool:
  • On one job, I had to fly out to Las Vegas to support a client for a conference for a whole week. This entailed setting up some tables and a router, making sure all twelve of them could get on the Internet, share files and print. And then the rest of the week just be within fifteen-minutes or so if something went wrong. So since I was there supporting this company that was hosting this conference for this other company, I was wearing this other company’s badge. They gave me an ID badge with the name of that third company on it. It happened to be a big movie company. I happened to run into a few women in the casinos who thought maybe I was a producer or a talent scout or something. Of course I didn’t tell them otherwise. I got to see a few of their rooms though.
  • One more. I was working with a guy who called himself a “Senior Help Desk Analyst”. Well somehow my company hired him and I set him up a workstation. He couldn’t get his monitors to come on when he docked his laptop. He proceeds to sit there for two hours working on this laptop, and then finally re-imaging it, because it wouldn’t show up on the two monitors. Well I walked over and said, “Can I try?” I plugged it into the dock and heard Windows make the docking sound. Uh… It’s up dude. How about trying this? I turned on his monitors. Senior?
  • It seems that every company I work for hires a guy like that who doesn’t really know what he’s doing. Bonus: a dude on my team once took down a live production server and starts rebuilding it during business hours. Uh, we meant build a replacement for this server so the server engineers can rack it and move stuff to it at midnight on Sunday. Not at noon on Tuesday. Yeah. He erased the thing. And I worked at a large creditor company. Thousands of people’s credit transactions lived on that server. Of course we had backups, but dude. You never take down a server without change control, and certainly not unannounced in the middle of the day!

Well that’s about it. Well, all the good ones, at least. If I think of any more I might post them someday. I’ve had a good couple of decades working on computers. It is not without some emotion that I step away from the Desk, even though I’m terribly excited about my new position. It’s just another chapter of life that marks a transition, that’s coming to a close. It’s a little sad even amidst the near overwhelming joy. Thanks for letting me share some of my stories with you. Feel free to leave your own in the comments section.