The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #1

Getting Going

When I graduated from university in 1999, I was 22 years old with a degree in computer science, about forty thousand dollars in debt**, and close to no idea what to do next.


Paper say me know computer thingie

My more ambitious tech friends had positions lined up prior to graduation. Some were going to big software companies — Microsoft, Oracle, Sun — while others headed into consulting.

Not me, though.  I thought that after seventeen straight years of school I deserved some time off. I’d worked hard, graduating in the top 14% of my class — magna cum laude, baby! — and that meant it was time to take a break.

So I took one. That summer I stayed in my college’s dormitories for free while working a part-time zero-stress campus job.  Outside of work, my time went into hanging with my girlfriend (now my wife), jogging outside every day for exercise, and playing Quake III and Half-Life on my PC.  I remember it as one of the best three month periods of my existence.

In the middle of August, when freshman orientation was just around the corner, it occurred to me that I was about to get kicked off campus — a big problem.   Fortunately, an old college friend called out of the blue.  He’d moved to San Francisco and one of his roommates had abruptly disappeared.  This opened a room up, and would I like to come and take the spot? I said, sure, but I can’t pay rent because I don’t have a job yet.

No problem, he said. Haven’t you heard? Silicon Valley and SF are booming.  They really need computer guys right now.  If you know how to Control-Alt-Delete, someone will hire you.

I didn’t hesitate. I said goodbye to my girlfriend. I packed my old Chevy Nova full of everything I owned. I begged my Dad to loan me $300 for gas.

Then I drove for a week straight down I-80 from the east coast to the least coast, praying all the while that my old shitbox of a car would hold together just long enough to make it.

My friends placed bets on whether or not this car would make it 3000+ miles

Would you trust your life to the SuperNova across an entire continent?  I did.


Rant alert!

Most of the enormous 40K graduation debt came about via university ‘needs-based assistance’ financial aid policies.

My parents divorced when I was 10.  Mom earned just about nothing.  Dad finished a 2-year vocational program, got a degree in mechanical drafting, and went on to make decent money.  I lived with Mom.

Here’s the thing:  My Dad made about 75K.  Based on the financial aid formulas, my university expected him to contribute 7.5K a year or so.  He told me “I’ll give you $500/ yr and no more.  $500 is an amount that works for me.”

I tried to explain that financial aid was needs-based and the data he provided essentially showed that I don’t “need” as much because he could afford to pay 8K/yr.  His decision had the direct effect of adding 7K to the amount I personally had to cover each year, which I did so via additional loans.  I asked him several times to stop filling the financial aid forms out because then I could make a case for abandonment, at which point the university would open up other grant options to me based purely on my mom’s (poverty-level) income (in other words, I would again meet the need-based requirements).

My Dad wouldn’t hear of it.  He was going to do his part and contribute that $500.   He wasn’t some child-abandoning vagrant.  No, sir.  He owned up to spawning me, and he would therefore do his duty and help me pay for college.

In the end, this whole mess had the end result of effectively tripling my debt by the time I was done with my bachelors program.  I might have otherwise graduated down only 12-14K, a much more reasonable sum to owe over four years of school.

Listen, I don’t blame my Dad for not wanting to pay 7.5K/yr for my education.  He’s a decent guy and his intentions were good.  However, he should have swallowed his pride and let me claim that he had disappeared forever.  Nobody from the university ever knew who he was or gave a third of a turd about his pride or willingness to help out.

To them, he was just another faceless Male Parent on an aid form that some administrator processed as a variable in an equation.  It’s not a personal thing.  No one was judging him.

My father just couldn’t accept that, though, and I paid the price.

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17 Responses to The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #1

  1. Sounds like fun, sign me up!

    • livingafi says:

      Yeah. It really *was* a good job overall, that first year. The pain endured was roughly worth the compensation — a fine trade. Just wished I saved more of it.

  2. Gamergirl says:

    Oh, I had it even worse than you on the ‘needs based financial aid.’ My father made a cool half mil a year, but refused to contribute ANYTHING to my eduction. I literally could not even qualify for loans. I worked two jobs the entire time I went to school. THEN THEN THEN!!! While doing this, my father once had the audacity to sit me down and browbeat me because my grades were down.

    Anyway… at least your parents contributed something.

    • livingafi says:

      The fin.aid system has some pretty horrible inflexible formulas. It works out for some people and punishes others. Really sorry to hear you couldn’t qualify — at least my dad made under a certain threshold which allowed me to take out loans @5% or so directly from my school. And wow, your dad’s behavior… sheesh. Not OK. Even though I think the cost of education is out of control, it does end up working out for most people. Options for employment without a degree are pretty limited.

      • Gamergirl says:

        Yeah, its TOUGH if you don’t have a degree. Due to my dad’s ‘non-support’, I am still the only one of his kids to graduate school (last time I saw him he was musing about why that was, and I really had to hold back from really giving it to him). Anyway,
        All of my siblings are just barely scrapping by, barely able to afford rent (if that- one of my much younger brothers lived out of his car for several years).

  3. Gamergirl says:

    Heh, this post struck a cord with me. I too remember the first time I was too candid with a manager. He phrased somehting like a question “Hey, Gamergirl, can you handle this *big freaking project that is really time consuming*?”

    I replied with “No, manager, I’m really swamped just trying to do my monthly tasks.”

    Thats when I learned my managers politly phrased requests, were, in fact, not requests….

    • livingafi says:

      Yep. They’re not asking, they’re telling. It’s really best to play the “happy to help” game. “Yes, I’d be happy to help with that.” You’re going to have to do the work anyway, might as well be nice about it — and you’ll get on better with your manager in the bargain. I do make some exceptions to this rule, especially if I’m already absolutely stretched to the max — but that’s because of the power of FU money. Generally I’m still a H2H type employee b/c it makes the job experience, if not quite pleasant, at least less unpleasant.

  4. Brian Mota says:

    I really enjoyed this article and can relate to it in so many ways. I also work in the IT industry for a small business. It can be very stressful and demanding at times. I do like my job for the most part, however it is still work. I would much rather be home enjoying life, which is why I started to invest in the stock market in the first place. I am looking forward to your future articles!

  5. Really cool rendition of the early days, especially the transition from college bum to eager beaver trainee. My first year was spent wearing a tie. Young people were a minority my cube farm, although I’m a different kind of engineer, and I didn’t get any socialization through work. I was beginning to suspect I had made a terrible mistake… so I started to implement my plan of escape. Luckily I had some good travel opportunities (first to the Philippines in 1999) and my all-tech stock portfolio was going gangbusters, which kept hopes for a better future alive…

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  12. ajf101 says:

    I can relate to this. 2 solid years of tech support in a call center straight out of college. And BOY did they love their numbers. You couldn’t fit into the structure, you didn’t last long. (Two years was considered “long”.)

    Literally got into a fight with my boss one time that went something like this after a lunch that didn’t particularly like my stomach:

    “Hey boss, I need to use the restroom”.
    “You already took your 15 minute break.”
    “Yeah, but I REALLY need to use the restroom.”
    “No. Only one break. More than that and you’ll fall outside the 30 minute max for breaks today.”
    “Don’t care. If I don’t go now, I’m going to go in my pants.”
    “You can’t. The queue is above the level where CSR’s are allowed to take a break.”
    “Nature ain’t waiting. I’m going to log out of this phone, and I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be back as fast as I can. I’m off the phone, and the company isn’t paying me to do it.”
    “I’m going to write you up.”
    “Fine.” *Started to walk away*
    “Is this a number 1 or a number 2?”
    “Go f*ck yourself.”

    He did me a “favor” by only doing one write-up encompassing both cussing him out and taking an extra break. Two write-ups was basis for being fired.

    Not sure I would have cared, really. The following month, they started the mandatory 6th day overtime…

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