25 years

In his sermon last light, our rabbi pointed out that he had been a congregational leader for 25 years. Reflecting on the past year and years… in an unrelated story, I realized that I have been supporting computers professionally for the same length of time. Before that I sold computers and software for a couple of years (and a year of grad school in E Am Hist).
There is no title or certification for what I do. I’ve been a technical specialist, support analyst, customer support representative, and now have the absurd title of Software Engineer. Even IBM can’t quite slot me into what I really do, and IBM has been categorizing jobs for over 100 years.
Early in my career I called myself a “computer psychologist,” but I don’t analyze computers or software, which I’m not qualified to do so except in a very basic way. I analyze what is happening.
When someone comes to me with a problem with their computer or software. I work to discover and analyze what the computer is doing, and try to understand why it is doing what it is doing. I also work to understand what the person or people using the computer or software are trying to do. Since the software is the product of humans, it is only as good as the people who program it. I often find myself in the position of mediator: presenting the case of the client to the programmers on what is going wrong, is it a bug, or working as designed? Or I am interpreting the developers’ intentions to the client so that the customer understands why it works that way.
It’s nothing I was ever trained to do. I have no natural talent at it. (A) I am not a programmer. (B) I started doing support when command-line user interfaces were in steep decline. In fact, I loved Macintosh because it had no command line: at the time, Steve Jobs was adamant that everything be graphical. Later, when he came back to Apple via Toy Story, he had Apple graft NextOS onto Mac. (C) I’m very introverted. (D) Training for (all of) my jobs has always been desultory, consisting chiefly of product training, without any clue on how to support it. In fact, a good part of my job is learning how to support the software.
By now I have a good eye as to what will trip up customers, as well as long experience with the narrow focus of developers (who get paid to write code, not support the people who use it). I know have the medium of the blog where I can explain in detail (with screen shots and humorous asides) what you need to do to install and configure our software.
For a lot of people, support is just a stepping stone to IT project management. However, I have colleagues who have been doing the same thing longer than I have, and have been content with it. Achieving mastery over a software product is one thing; having confidence that I know how to achieve that mastery is the real thing.
Why do still I do this after 25 years? In long retrospect, I should have been a research librarian. In 1981, while at Northeastern, I took a career preferences test (like the MBTI but much, much more). It said I should be a research librarian. I thought that was ridiculous, but it best describes what I do. When I was laid off in 2003, and knowing a couple of librarians through the temple I even initiated applying to Simmons for an MLS. Their program specifically integrated computer search support as it had long been a major part of the profession. However, given my age, that the pay was never going to be good, and the precariousness of employment as a research librarian, I went back to what I was doing.
And so it goes. לְשָׁנָה טוֹבָה :l’shana tovah, to a good year.


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