We’ve all been in the situation of being called up, often at the most inconvenient times, to go and fix mum’s, dad’s, the neighbour’s, the distant friend’s computer. How they don’t know what they were doing and that for sure it wasn’t on purpose or anything, but they were ‘freeing up space’ and wound up deleting a lot of things and now the computer is acting funny. We’ve cleaned up after the little shit nephew who has left trail of adware and spyware but swears, honest to God, cross my heart, that he wasn’t looking up free Asian schoolgirl porn. And the pay is, generally, at most, a six pack of mediocre beer or a scrunched up $20 you feel awkward about accepting from a relative. This is something someone could get paid for.
That someone could be you. If you’re a long-time part of our readership, a hands-on sort and have the patience to solve tricky problems, work as a tech is probably within your capabilities and area of interest—after all, you get to fool around with computers all day, even if that means repeatedly going through mundane processes such as installing Windows or correcting some twelve-year-old kid’s attempts to ‘tweak’ his family’s Acer desktop to get a few extra frames per second out of Crysis 2.
Tweaking for fun, but mostly profit
In all seriousness, what is work as a technician like and what does it require? Well, that varies. Describing someone as a ‘technician’ is using about as broad a term as saying, oh, I work in IT or I’m studying engineering. There are computer techs who sit on their arse all day, fielding phone calls from people who’ve, odds-on, forgotten to check everything is plugged in and switched on. There are computer techs who run their run their own businesses. They may work for stores or larger organisations that go around, repairing the computers of individuals or companies – the work they do can be basically the for-profit version of the family tech work you do for free or it could be actually kind of important. You can have what is, essentially, a low-paying job with little to no opportunity for advancement or you could, assuming you’re in the right place at the right time and have the right skills, find the opportunity to develop a nice career.
Keep in mind that, as with many jobs in which high pay and career advancement are a possibility, the hours can be terrible. If you’re working for a large, important company – a bank, say – or for someone that does contract work for such companies, you can be called up at 3AM on Sunday morning to fix a network problem. You will be expected to sit there, in the cold of a server room, for long, long, long hours working through issues until they’re fixed. The work does not necessarily end at 5PM on Friday evening, when you’d rather be starting on your first James Squire of the weekend.
You don’t need a qualification to become a tech. Not as such. Even if you do have one, most of the knowledge a tech needs comes from experience with playing, breaking and fixing computers – not from attending lectures and tutorials at TAFE and university. Those core problem solving skills that are necessary as a tech – and more achievable than an encyclopaedic knowledge of every error Windows 7 can throw up – are developed through years of encountering problems on a day-to-day basis. The necessary patience, care and attention to fine details can’t be taught, either. Encouraged, yes, and possibly even refined, but they’re not skills or qualities derived from textbooks.
If you’re the sort who cracks the shits when fixing minor but common computer errors for people you like, then this line of work really isn’t for you. You’re being paid not only to take care of people’s valuable data and technology, but to deal with the people themselves. Finding out what the problem is requires a great deal of people skills, particularly when the people involved feel they might get in trouble or simply don’t understand what they did. You may need a fairly detailed summary of what a user did and find yourself dealing with someone who can’t remember exactly what they were doing – they, er, clicked on that thing and then some other thing and then everything was ‘broken’. A computer will land on your desk. What’s wrong with it? Oh, it’s stuffed up. See you in a couple of days. Whether these people are paying you directly, pay your boss or work down the corridor, you can’t crack the sads and tell them you can’t work with such vagueness or treat people like you’re of superior intellect, even though you yourself may sometimes be treated like a bit of a servant. You need to be patient and clear and non-intimidating. You need to know when it’s the right time to ‘educate’ a client and when it’s best to just fix the problem you’ve already fixed ten times for the same person. You need to have a sense of timing – if a teacher has been harassing you to fix a few students’ network accounts, expect to earn a high-ranking position on their shit list if you walk into their classroom during the morning literacy block, demanding attention. This is true of many workplaces. Think of it this way: if you're a tradesman, you want your electric drill to just work. It's a means to an end. Your goal is to build houses and someone who stops you right in the middle of driving in a nail to ask questions about your drill is, really, a pain in the arse. You've already told the repair guy what the problem is. At the very least, can't he wait until you're on a break? This may be unfair on the repairman – or the computer technician – but it's the way things are. Knowing how to pander to that will do you a lot of good if you're interacting with lots of people for whom technology is a means to doing a job, not the job itself. If someone can read on your face and through your body language and tone of voice that you’re really goddamn frustrated, when all you’ve been asked to do is show someone where Word is ‘hiding’ (for the fifth time), then maybe just go into sales, where the support stuff just isn’t your problem.