The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #1


Every day I walked two miles to work, up and down the immense hills of San Francisco.   During my walks I tried to anticipate how the day would go.  Would I be crazy busy?  Would I be able to do what they needed me to do? Was I capable of success?

Downtown, there was a relentless bustle of people crawling over streets and sidewalks, each with their own agenda, their list of Things to Do, their own thoughts and worries, pushing from place to place.   Patterns were established:  coffee and bagel purchase, perhaps a bottled water for later.

By nine I’d be settled in my tiny gray space, logged in and ready for action but with virtually nothing to do.  I had to wait for Mike to show up to give me directives.   He tended to show up around ten, face flushed, tense.  I figured out why later:  Every morning when you get in, the first hour is the toughest. You have a backlog of calls and customers to respond to.  If you don’t give them a touch immediately, they will blow up later in the day and call your manager.

So Mike would stop by and give me a few things to do.  Install this product.  Run this example.  Read this document.  After a few days I started to come up with things to do on my own.  Still, I was surprised by the lack of structure on the training program.  Mike spent about an hour a day mentoring me, and the rest of the time he frantically worked on a set of customer problems that all needed resolution ASAP.  I could see how stressed out he was, and I was getting nervous.  I found that the nervousness was okay, actually — it helped me to focus on my training because I knew I was going to get thrown into the alligator pit soon enough.  I wanted to be as ready as possible.

All of that being said, I was surprised at the slowness of the first month.

And things weren’t just slow for me.  I looked around the office and it seemed like people weren’t really all that busy.  I somehow had this idea that there should be endless physical activity and noise in an office, people rushing from place to place with stacks of papers, others passionately debating subjects in hallways, romance and backstabbing and life being lived.  But when I looked around me, what I actually saw conflicted with my expectations.  Folks sat at their cubes, stared at screens, and occasionally typed something or moved their mouse a bit.  The heavy lifting of work was happening internally, inside peoples’ skulls.  To an outside observer, these people looked relaxed and decidedly unhurried.

It was only later that I found out that the stress lives below the surface, invisible unless you’re looking for it.  And of course you’re only looking for it once you already know it’s there.  There are signs.  Sign 1: Inability to talk about anything other than work for a minute or two. Sign 2: Rapid blinking, potentially accompanied by sweat on the forehead or upper lip. Sign 3: Too many browser windows open, none of them attached to time-wasting sites.

But in that first month, these tensions and pressures remained largely hidden to me.  To my untrained eye, people looked lazy and happy.  I found I would do training for a couple of hours and then, after my brain was tired from reading technical documents and looking at code, I would go outside to unwind a bit, watching people pass along the sidewalks, pigeons strutting around malls, sturdy buildings standing tall underneath an enduring expanse of sky.

At the time, I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for this.  I thought:   Holy shit, this is the life.  I have absolutely made it.  Sure, it’s gonna be stressful, but that’s okay.  I’m not afraid of a little hard work.

That thought didn’t last long.

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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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