As a freshman, I received a university scholarship that requires me to volunteer 75 hours each semester to the university. A lot of students get similar scholarships, and thus it seems like half the university is staffed by students. At the beginning of every year, we all have to go pick up our volunteer assignments and report for duty. Most of us monitor computer labs or do basic clerical work. Many “jobs” involve sitting at a desk and doing homework. But not mine. I got stuck in an IT office.
When I started working for Bill (name changed), I was declared as a basic business student. To this day, I have no idea how they decided to put me in Bill’s office. Bill is the head of all technology in his building, which happens to house one entire college of our university. This means he buys, installs, maintains, and tracks every single piece of hardware and software for every single teacher and classroom in the entire college. He’s the one teachers call when they can’t get their email to work, and he’s the one who implements new systems with heads of technology for other colleges. He does a ton, and when I started, all of it was over my head.
When I started as a brand-new freshman, I was the first girl and the first business major that had been assigned to his office in years. All his other student workers were guys majoring in computer science, computer engineering, business information technology, or mechanical or electrical engineering. They all had an interest in how things work and a propensity for fixing. And then there was me.
I had no idea what I was doing. As student workers, we were responsible for documenting complaints and problems and then going out to fix them. We also had to update and deliver “mobile labs” — huge carts full of 40 laptops each that professors could request for classes. They weigh more than I do, I’m pretty sure. I managed to push them around when I needed to, though, and I was good at documenting. Often I would document calls that other students went out on — they could do the work, but didn’t want to document it, so I made myself useful that way. But I spent the majority of freshman year following Bill around as he went to fix stuff that we students couldn’t handle. I met a lot of professors that way, which was really helpful when I started having them for classes.
Gradually, I learned. I kind of figured out how networks function. I learned several ways to wipe a hard drive. I figured out how to explain things I didn’t fully grasp to professors (who often didn’t fully grasp them, either). I learned to be polite and sympathize when I couldn’t fix something, because I knew how frustrating it was when technology didn’t work. I learned to work with people I didn’t particularly like. Mostly, I learned to listen, because I learned that people don’t always communicate the way I want them to.
Disagreeing respectfully with a superior was a big thing to learn. Bill is very conservative, and though he says he dislikes discussing politics, what he really dislikes is when people disagree. He has a habit of taking a break and coming into the student side of the office to discuss current events or politics. Usually, I just nod my head and listen, because (as I discussed some in my last post) I don’t like discussing controversial issues, especially with someone whose views are so different from mine. But occasionally I do speak up. Take this morning, for instance. Bill was reading something about a Title VI document, and got hung up on the words “English is not the official or native language” (or something along those lines). He started making comments about how English is the official language here in the U.S., and it irks him when concessions have to be made for non-English speakers. He said he doesn’t think it’s fair for taxpayers to have to pay for everything to be written in more than one language.
Being a Spanish major, I couldn’t let that one go by. I mentioned that we have a lot of taxpayers in this country whose first language isn’t English. This was one of those times I wish I knew exact stats, but I don’t. I tried to talk about how many Spanish-speaking citizens we have here (stressing the legal part, because I know how Bill feels about undocumented immigrants). Bill did listen to me. I didn’t expect him to agree or change his mind. But by speaking up I at least attempted to stand up for my beliefs and worldview. And though I know Bill doesn’t agree, I think demonstrating a different viewpoint does gain me some respect in his eyes. He likes people who can think for themselves. (And it reminds him not to put his foot in his mouth.)
Now, in my last semester here, Bill has gotten a lot more student workers and had to expand his office. Having more of us means that there are fewer calls to go out on. Not to mention the fact that the university really amped up its overall help desk, which reduced our workload a ton. This was nice, because now professors and students can call the help desk for mundane tasks like resetting email passwords, and we can focus on bigger issues like smart boards that don’t work. The problem for me, though, is that I was good at the mundane tasks. I have enough computer knowledge that I can figure out which settings to change and which problems I can rule out. But while I can fix relatively simple problems (and gain good rapport with professors in the process), I can’t fix the big ones. When a projector malfunctions in the middle of a class and I’m the only one in the office, I leave professors feeling frustrated rather than thankful. It doesn’t reflect well on me or the university.
But I’m going to leave this job on my resume, because it shows a lot of things. For one, this job has taught me to work effectively with a team. It’s heightened my communication skills. And it’s allowed me to better understand what the crap people are talking about when they tell me to map to a certain drive or boot a machine to the BIOS menu. It shows that while I may not have a natural affinity for technology, I can learn. I’ve been very frustrated these past four years, because it takes up a lot of time and is difficult. But ultimately, I’m thankful I got stuck here, because it has helped shaped me into who I am today. It’ll be a sweet goodbye when I leave. But there will be a tiny bit of bitter in there, too.