The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #1

Year 1


Pretty Good Year

After a month on the job, I started taking real problems from real customers.

SoftwareCompany used a program to manage and assign these problems — known as service requests, or tickets — to engineers.  In the morning, I’d arrive, park myself in my cube, open this program, and take a look at what I had to do.  Workers called our stack of tickets “the queue” and it dominated our lives.

Sample hallway conversation:

Hey, John!  ‘Morning!   How’s your queue doing?  

Glad you asked, Matt, it’s at fucking 83 today, you tell me.

At first, Mike fed me a pre-selected diet of easy tickets.  I’d see them show up in my personal queue and begin work.  I learned to call customers to talk through their issues — no easy feat for me, because I’m fairly shy by nature, and was nervous as hell talking to honest-to-god revenue-producing clients.  I’d document some details, add notes into the case files, and then try to find solutions for them.

In parallel to taking real work, I began to meet other co-workers, partially because I needed friends, and partially because I needed help solving problems. Mike didn’t have enough time for me, and I felt bad constantly asking for help since he had his own queue to deal with. But there was no mistaking the fact that I needed help.  So I’d go into the company kitchen where there’d always be a few support monkeys hanging about and try to coax some ideas out of them.  Most people were surprisingly awesome and willing to teach me how to resolve certain issues.

Making friends also led to a change in daily patterns.  The first month or so, I did nothing but focus on work and learning — and there was a ton to learn.  But by the middle of the second month, folks started to invite me to lunch.  I couldn’t refuse — it seemed like it would be impolite, especially since these were the same people who were helping me to learn the ropes.  Before I knew it, I headed out every single day to blow $10-15 on something to eat.  After four months I added an afternoon latte to the routine.  In month 5, the after-work drinking sessions started.

Nine months in, and my overall take on the job is that it’s mostly fun.  Stressful, sure, and absolutely nerve-wracking, but fun.  At the time, there wasn’t a lot of paperwork.  Support engineers were expected to solve problems, and that was that.  Additionally, my manager was very hands-off.  He gauged performance of his workers very informally; if he wasn’t receiving calls from angry customers, well, then you were doing all right.

So what I’m really focusing on is the learning.  I’m getting better with the technologies, and also gaining confidence when handling customers.  I’m not as nervous on the phone.  I go in every day and do battle with the queue, attacking it with real vigor and passion.  Plus, there’s a good sense of camaraderie in the team — we all want to support one another, to help one another be successful.   Right around this time I’m just starting to get an inkling that too much of my life is being devoted to the job, but this is a minor thing, like a small cloud passing over the brightness of the sun.  Besides, I’m too damn busy to really think about whether or not I’m happy.  For now, all I know is that I have to keep moving, or I am dead.

That being said, overall my sense is that things are good.  I’m part of a team.  We’re in the middle of San Francisco, basking in the warm glow of cash given off by an ever rising NASDAQ, checking the share prices of SoftwareCompany, our positions of future greatness in life all but assured.

Suddenly, our company got bought, and everything changed.

Overnight, some of my peers in the support division became rich on paper.  Also, almost everyone in the engineering department was suddenly worth two to three million dollars.  Maybe you’ve read J.D. Roth’s Get Rich Slowly blog?  This is the opposite of that.

I had stock options but they weren’t yet worth anything to me because I hadn’t been with the company long enough.  Due to terms in the buyout of SoftwareCompany, unvested shares were devalued by a certain amount.  This meant all of my shares were worth quite a bit less than they were when I started work.

I didn’t care much about this.  On the other hand, what I did care about was the reorganization.  Some of the newly minted millionaires left the company.  I got a new manager.  Everyone in support started to use a new ticketing system.  We still had the queue to deal with, but we’d be doing battle with the beast on different turf, like moving gladiator fights from the Colosseum to the Elysian fields.  Same shit, different locale.

This new system tracked everything, though.  How long you worked on various tickets before closing them.  How often you logged in to the program.  Whether or not you were calling customers.  There were advanced paperworky-type features like linking tickets to solutions, tickets to product bugs, even tickets to other (similar) tickets.

In addition, our new employer decreed that all employees must download and install Yahoo Messenger! so we could be in constant communication with one another all day.

Within two weeks, virtual cameras had been erected on all sides, watching, monitoring every aspect of what you were doing, feeding this data into centralized locations where your overall performance could be objectively determined.

Big Brother had arrived.

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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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