In another life my passion was medieval history and archaeology:
I knew from about the age of 12 that I wanted to be a medieval archaeologist. That passion continued fairly strongly until I was about 22. By that time I had finished my bachelor’s degree in history and for a variety of personal reasons, the fire started to fade.
I found myself at a crossroads. With the loss of my lifelong passion of history, a global economy in the worst recession in decades, and having moved to a state with very little job opportunities, I didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t know what I could be hired for. I had spent all my time and energy building up to a career in archaeology and that was no longer what I wanted to do. A history degree isn’t very marketable and I dreaded the idea of being an office drone; I would rather die than have to spend my life filling out excel spreadsheets in a cubicle farm.
I eventually managed to get a job at a small medical transcription agency as an “operations supervisor” which was just a bullshit catch-all term for being a general monkey to help with any thing the business needed.
The transcription company relied pretty heavily on technology and I found myself gravitating to this part of the business. While I was always a history nerd, I enjoyed building things and working with technology.
What little I knew about tech at that point, I learned from playing video games, running an amateur movie production group with some friends as a teenager, and just generally growing up when the internet was starting to take off.
I eventually figured maybe I could retool myself to be a tech guy. This is really stupid, but as a kid, I dismissed the idea of going into tech because I didn’t want to do a job that wouldn’t be possible to do if the electricity went out. My reasoning was “if the Apocalypse happens and there’s no power, I still want to have a useful skill-set in the post-apocalyptic society.” And so I studied history and archaeology…yeah…that made sense.
What I later realized is that tech isn’t so much about being able to regurgitate in intricacies of a specific operating system or program off the top of your head, it’s a way of thinking and approaching problems and unknowns.
The time I was growing up and entering the workforce coincided with a time when the interaction and relationship of governments and technology became increasingly prominent in the public sphere. Throughout my life, my parallel passion to history was politics. Seeing how technology could be used to affect governments (through Wikileaks for example) and how governments could use technology to control their citizens (through the NSA) fascinated me.
I could see the writing on the wall. The future was going to be one in which technology was increasingly important. Those who were technologically literate would have the power (and the best chance at retaining some semblance of freedom) and those who were technologically illiterate would be at the mercy of those with that power.
One of the great things about the tech industry is that it’s often a meritocracy. In tech, it’s not important if you have a degree, or where you got it. What’s important is if you can show ability to do the work and learn the technology.
Without much experience in tech, it’s sometimes difficult to break into the industry. It was especially so for me as I spent all my college years studying history. I started doing some research and discovered tech certifications.
A lot of technical companies offer certifications in their technology. The certification is meant to signify that you understand the technology to some level and can work with it. There’s a lot of debate in the tech industry over the value of certifications, but I find they’re primarily useful when dealing with Human Resources departments and hiring. Like I said earlier, tech is a meritocracy. A certification will get your foot in the door, but you won’t be able to stay if you can’t actually do the work.
At the start of my career, getting my foot in the door was what I really needed. I found a program called “A+” which teaches you the basics of computers and how they operate and how to repair them. It trains you to be a repair technician or lower level help-desk.
When I started studying for this exam, I discovered how I would have to advance in tech. For me, advancing in tech means sitting down with a book or a video lecture program, some snacks, and spending the time to study. Sometimes it really sucks. It’s sunny outside, there’s stuff going on, things to do, but I have to sit here and read this book that’s so thick you could bludgeon someone to death with it.
Despite the fact that it is painful at times, I really like how relatively easy it is to advance in the tech industry. If I want to advance, I just learn something new or improve my skills on something. I honestly don’t know how people in the non-tech industries advance in their jobs.
How does someone who sits in front of a computer working on just writing emails an excel spreadsheets advance? Do they get judged on how well and quickly they finish their spreadsheets? It just seems so slow, like a factory worker getting graded on how many widgets they build. With tech, I can advance as fast as I can solidly learn new technologies and skill-sets.
I’m also not limited to just one industry when working within the tech industry. All major companies have a technical infrastructure behind them regardless of what the company actually does. This provides a greater sense of job security and location independence. It’s by no means all rainbows though. Working in tech has it’s share of downsides.
The biggest downside I’ve encountered so far is the attitude some non-technical people have towards tech. Like I said earlier, all major businesses, regardless of what they sell, have a technical infrastructure that needs to be maintained. Technical engineering (which I prefer to the term “Information Technology”) is often looked at as a “cost-center,” something that costs the business money and doesn’t immediately and visibly make the business money. The people who look at technical engineering like this often forget (or resent) the fact that without the technical infrastructure required to do business, they wouldn’t be able to make any money in the first place.
For the individual people working on their emails and spreadsheets (“users” as we like to call them), I find that often there is this view that technical engineers are some kind of glorified computer janitor. They’re support staff. They’re blue-collard workers that might be below Mr. or Ms. white-collard worker in their office job.
It never ceases to amaze me how some people treat those they depend upon, especially if the person they depend upon is in a technical field. There’s something about tech that makes people throw their hands up in the air, abandon all reasoning skills, and declare it’s voodoo magic.
If a person gets in their car in the morning and it doesn’t start, they usually do some kind of quick mental troubleshooting in their head. “Do I have gas? Is the battery dead? Is the car making any strange noises?” etc… All that goes out the window with tech. When someone does have to ask for help, you will often get vague answers and incomplete descriptions of the issue. To many users, it’s a magic box that the computer janitor just has to “fix” and the faster the computer janitor can fix it, the better a computer janitor he is.
Because technical engineering is very infrastructure focused, there are occasionally times when you’ll have to work crazy overnight hours to make sure the infrastructure is back up.
It’s really one of those thankless jobs where if everything’s going perfectly people don’t think about you, but if something is broken, you’re responsible, even if the user decided to use their recycle bin as a file storage location. (true story) Another side affect is that people often only interact with you when they want something from you. (Which can make you really cynical about people). When I’m off of work, I really crave time to be alone and not have to deal with people wanting things from me because I spend all my time during the day working on other people’s problems.
I’m working on advancing away from that. I’d like to move away from a role that has me interacting with your everyday office workers and into a roll where I operate more exclusively with other technical engineers. I wouldn’t mind working with them as much as with other users as we’d have some kind of comradery and mutual respect as engineers.
Where to advance is a big issue for me. The tech field is so vast, I sometimes have trouble figuring out what I want to do. I often compare tech to medicine. There are so many different sub-fields that you can be come extremely specialized in if you want.
I’ve always been drawn to networks as outside of work I’d like to learn about building a second internet free from government and corporate control. However, there’s a pull between what I’m interested in technologically and what I have to learn for work.
That’s not to say that I don’t find the tech I use at work interesting, I do, it’s just I have to balance the time I spend studying tech to be better at what I do at my job, and the time I spend studying tech that I want to use to be better at changing the world.
Speaking of balancing time, I should probably get back to studying powershell, as I got derailed studying yet again to write this.