For the past few weeks I've been doing work for a new client, where a friend of mine works. They have Macs to set up and are seriously lacking the skills to do it so she brought me in to set up a room full of OS 9 computers. Way back, many months ago, I also submitted a resume in response to an open position. The organization is large and stable, and not prone to insane unpaid overtime. People have families and are allowed to enjoy them. My friend has her gripes but generally is happy. As expected in the job world these days, I didn't hear squat.
In the middle of this ongoing project, I get a phone call from HR. I was actually at lunch with my friend because she called me to do some things that day. So I scheduled a more convenient time to return the call, and we had a good giggle about it. I arranged to stop by to talk to the HR person (since I'm around the office anyway) and we talked about it.
The position I applied for was desktop support and although the announcement was a little vague it looked to be heavy Mac. Exactly the kind of thing I've been looking for. Turns out she was looking at a Solaris and SAN sort of thing, stuff I have little experience with. Ok, fine. But there was this other that she thought would be worth passing my resume on for, a different desktop support position. They really, really need a strong Mac person but since there are still mostly Windows machines they also want a Windows expert. I know people who do that, but bill at outrageous rates and are not exactly interested in dropping successful consulting businesses for a fairly mundane IT job. The manager recognizes this and there had been some talk about redesigning the position so some actual human might be found willing to talk to them.
I go see the manager, and we have a nice chat about Mac and Windows and other fun stuff. He has a few other people to talk to and he likes me a lot but wouldn't it be really spiffy if the perfect expert in everything might fall from the sky. Ok, whatever. This week I get a call from him, can I drop by sometime? We make arrangements. He calls back to ask if we can reschedule, because then the VP will be available. Up to now things had been rather casual, but this means it's serious. I dress up and head in for my interview.
I am paraded around various departments talking to managers and techies. I have a rather unexpected conversation about the details of Postscript with a manager who I think was just as surprised to find I actually knew something about it. I tinkered with it a bit in school, as a hobby. He even gave me one of my standard questions when I'm interviewing people, "what kinds of computers do you have at home?" (It being obvious at this point there had to be more than one.) I had to explain my answer, "pretty much everything except Windows" by naming some of the wide assortment of things lurking in dark corners. He asked just what we *do* with the Sparcs and everybody had a good laugh at my comment that at this point they are mostly space heaters. I have a long conversation with the VP, some of it really interesting and some of it me trying to not sound stupid in responding to open-ended "what do you think" kinds of interview questions.
It is important to note that this all comes in the middle of actual work, I took off from configuring machines for interviews. It wasn't planned, but I got a call to come in this morning for some last-minute stuff. And apparently one of the people I was working with came around asking the guy who would be my manager where I was and when I was going to be back.
So overall I think things went well. They like my skill with Macs and the broad general technology background. I am willing to support Windows and take some training classes. The fact that I cheerfully write documentation is met with astonishment.
All of this is leading up to the point of this post: "Desktop support? Are you mad?"
From the questions I got, I can see there are two major things to be answered. First, if they are willing to take someone who has little Windows experience but a very strong Unix and Mac background. That's an organizational thing. But I think the bigger question is if they are convinced that I really do want to work there, give up my high-flying software career for desktop support. Again and again I had to respond to that. It's actually an honest concern, as I'm overqualified in many respects and the culture of technology considers going from software development to desktop support a major step down. I could easily drop them like a rock and rush off to the next great startup, and I'm sure they have seen it happen many times.
I had to skirt around my specific reasons, there is a small internal development group I could possibly move into later. I don't hate writing code, I hate the culture of software development. Pure software shops are like some kind of macho proving ground. Every cowboy for himself (and I use "himself" on purpose.) I like to work with people, a group effort for a group success. Cowboys are all about how to make themselves happy and screw everybody else. Nobody cares what some user down the road will have to deal with, because the developer will have cashed in and moved on long before then. Maintenance? That's for sissies. Upgrade management? Well, just install it already! My experience in those kinds of environments have so soured me on development that I haven't wanted to look at it for years. And the Bay Area has plenty of startups full of cowboys. I'm good at solving problems and figuring out which problems need to be solved. I can differentiate between my personal interests and what it takes to make things work. I know that not everybody knows, or cares, what nifty techie thing is going on inside that box. Some people just want their email. That's ok.
We have had long conversations about this at home and it finally became obvious that I really do have what it takes to support users. The "Plays Well With Others" factor is just as important as technical skill. More, if the technical skill is so hampered by inability to communicate with humans that you aren't effective. I still don't think of myself as a "People Person" because it isn't a natural thing for me. I have to work at it. It's only the comparison with other techies that makes it seem that way. If I'm so burned out on software, IT is one way to use my experience and stay in the industry. For a while I wasn't even certain I wanted to do that, but the practical reality is that it's the best way to a reasonable professional career. Textiles are fun, but the economics of it is that as long as I must have some kind of income I have to look elsewhere.
I've spent the past several years working with Macs and Unix from an IT perspective and looking for a Mac-focused position. There aren't that many out there. If I know that this is a path to career sanity, it really doesn't matter to me if it's thought a "downgrade." I had to think about it a long time to be comfortable with that, because as much as it now drives me nuts I'm still the product of a software culture. It is better than sitting on my ass and more reliable than my feeble attempts at being self-employed. I did a lot of time in unpaid positions trying to get some experience outside of software development. At various times I thought they might more directly lead to paid employment but they have turned out to be a financial disappointment. Sometimes a personal disappointment, too. So now I'm looking at something where I can do Mac stuff and be taken seriously for it.
There is still that little twinge of regret, that I'm "throwing away a promising career." Doing what? Killing myself for some piece of crap software that is shoved out the door and forgotten as soon as possible? Organizations that burn up and blow away, only to be replaced by another almost indistinguishable except in name? Traveling for a pimp shop who doesn't understand the concept of sleep? Never seeing my home even if I'm still in the same city? I need a new game to play, one that respects that I am not and never will be a cowboy. Software organizations, like others, make much of the desire for "team players" but those are not the people who are rewarded. Yes, I got plenty of brownie points for putting out the fires. But nobody would listen to my questions about why there were fires in the first place. I don't want to be a superstar. I want to be part of a sustainable organization, not one that falls apart when the lead engineer gets hit by a bus. Superstars spend all their time maintaining their positions of self-imposed power and being the center of attention. I don't want to be the center of attention. I want to have a life. If this is a demotion, I'm all for it. Now I just have to convince everybody else.