Nobody actually asked this. Well, nobody but myself.
I ask myself what the point is of having a blog on a pretty regular basis. There are times when it seems like a pretty frivolous expenditure. Or there are times when I feel like it could serve a better purpose. Many are the times I get inspiration from another blog and think, “Boy, I’d like to try that.” But at some point, usually once I figure out how something is done, I hit my point of satisfaction and things slowly grind to a halt. And then time passes and it’s time to renew the subscription and I have to talk myself into it.
I can say that where things pay off down the road is when I meet someone else has some need for help doing things online. Maybe they want a website. Or a decide they want to do a Podcast. Or to have a way to share photos that isn’t just an upload into a Social Network. In those moments, I value having my blog. Because, maybe they don’t want to use this specific platform. But at the very least I can say there IS a way. But what does having a blog have to do with any of that?
I’m on record saying time and time again I really only maintain this site as a sandbox. As a way to stay connected with the way things work in this realm. And really that is true with ALL my online accounts. I’m not out there doing some big project or selling some idea or content. Really, I’m just there to say, “Oh, yeah, you can do that.”
I think I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. The first time I felt a real purpose in Life was in the early days of my Tech Support career. Before then, I had an interest in Computing, but I did not have the budget growing up to have a home computer AND the time to dedicate to hobbying (finding computing resources, going to special interest clubs, etc.) around it. The way I got into computers was by picking up peoples used, often discarded, hardware. I’d plug it in, poke at it like some kind of caveman, and try to find publications that talked about what I was looking at. Real bargain basement approach. In even my earliest computer using days, I am self-taught.
As a fan of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, I always likened the approach to early “net-runners” with no bankroll to support their fix, I didn’t learn much, except to be comfortable in front of a keyboard and monitor.
Anyway, once I gathered enough raw experience to land a Tech Support Call Center job, the learning really kicked into high gear. I was trained up on how to do things in Windows. Important things like dialing into the Internet. How to use an Internet Browser. And most importantly (to my employer) how to charge for the monthly service.
The last part I didn’t appreciate so much. But being given more resources to do things with the computers at work and the dino-computer at home was a REAL supercharge to my interests. But that was not the purpose defining moment. No, that comes later.
Radio Broadcast School
Before this moment, the closest I came to computers was an interest in being on the Radio. After High School, I got a School Loan and went to a Trade School to learn Radio Broadcasting. I had a good time there and learned quite a lot about Radio Broadcasting in the Early 90’s. Do not be surprised to hear that it was all still very analog and podcasts wouldn’t be a thing for at least another 10 years, though the roots of it were very much forming.
But one of the things that came with learning how to Control a Broadcast Board, Spin Records, Roll “Carts” and Razor Edit large spools of Recording Tape, was Radio Presentation or Radio Personality. This is where you learn to develop the Persona of a Broadcaster or Show Host. Everyone you hear on Terrestrial Radio and even Streaming and Podcasting has a Personality they present that is not their usual self. Its a very good Presenter that can make it seem like this is their everyday personality. But I’m here to tell you it’s mostly an act. Not in the spirit to deliberately deceive. It’s just that not all human behaviors translate over an Audio Only medium. To be an effective communicator without any visuals requires a different approach on emphasis.
And so you learn how to do this and in the meanwhile you learn what kind of Presentation you are best at or that you favor. I learned a lot about myself in those days, and I took that knowledge INTO Technical Support.
So here we are back at answering Support Calls. Specifically, answering them Overnights. And within the first month of my Support Job, with yet another new set of skills, the last few years started to gel together. And the experience of answering call after call in the middle of the night was kind of like having my own personal tech support call-in show. With an audience of One. The only difference being the audience could talk back to me, like a call-in show you hear on the AM radio.
What happened to getting into Radio? Well, as it turned out if you were really serious about the broadcast industry you need to be ready to go where the work was. And since I’ve been in the Seattle area most of my life, that work wasn’t going to start here. You usually go outside a Large Market and get some industry experience and make your way back to a Large Market again. It’s rarely the one you begin in. I never really had the drive to do that. But for YEARS I have used what I learned in Broadcast School, It was still money well spent.
So, there I am, answering calls for a better minimum wage than I had ever had. Yes, it was repetitive and the Metrics for how well you were doing your job was a bit grueling, but the people were nice and I was learning more and more about this “Internet” thing. And about 10 months into this Support job, it happened. The Call that literally changed my life.
It began like every other call (boy, I like a good trope to start a story). I gave my scripted greeting and began my note taking in our ticket system, in case I would need to escalate the call to a more experienced staff member. And the support request was pretty standard setup assistance. In those days, you were expected to have given the requested support and wrapped up the call (with an up-sell of services) within a few minutes, then move on to the next waiting caller in the queue. But this call was taking longer. I was used to helping people that were brand new to computers. I had real empathy because I knew what that was like, having only just been that person myself. And I never rushed anyone except to try to get to the point of their problems for the sake of my supervisors.
I got really good at describing step-by-step procedures in an instructive way. First, when you listened to a caller describe their problem you took note of any non-standard terms they used for what they were doing. If you were good, you remembered that and used their language because it was faster than having to teach “correct” terminology. That was a lesson I learned before I knew I had learned it; never mess with someone else’s Ritual. That includes terminology. If they call it a “pointer thingy” when talking about a mouse cursor, it’s a “pointer thingy” for the sake of time.
So this caller wasn’t that particular about those kinds of things. They just needed more time to navigate the steps I was explaining. Something was going on that I could not see, but the net effect is that it was just a little more slow going. At any rate, the timer I was beholden to was ticking down and I had to start wrapping up or preparing to hand off the call. When this happens, I would usually prepare the caller for the idea so they knew what to expect. And sometimes that meant they went back into another, different waiting queue.
The caller, a very kind gentlemen who had a certain calm about him, broke with his demeanor ever so subtly and simply plead, “Please bear with me and don’t go. I don’t think I could start this over with someone else.” It was just enough of a different kind of ‘call for help’ that I was taken aback. But I completely understood. Back in those days it was not like finding decent WiFi. It was a frustrating layered process. Well, and mostly because it would be a few more years before Commercial WiFi was even available.
I stayed with the caller and continued to navigate the setup steps with him far beyond the allowable time for this kind of call. I was dutifully taking all my notes for the Escalation Team to see. Also, I was getting hand signals and then hovering supervisors waving me off and insisting I escalate the call, but I resisted, putting myself on Mute and declaring that the call wasn’t that complicated and the caller just needed further guidance. Later on I would sit in on a pretty important meeting with my Quality Assurance supervisor and receive a demerit for subordination, but an unofficial kind word for being decent.
But here is the moment that changed my life. After about 50 minutes of what was basically a Modem Configuration (enter Phone Number, Username and Password Credentials and then a little bit of DNS Server Entry and insuring the IP Protocols were all installed correctly) the caller stopped to say the following:
“Thank you, John, for your time and patience. No one in your company has ever taken the time and energy to stick with me. I’ve been trying to get this done for months and now I can get online and reconnect with my squad. You see, I am a veteran of the New York Police Department. I was shot in the line of duty and as a result I lost the use of the left side of my body. So as you can imagine it takes me a little effort to tap out all this information into these boxes. I’m truly grateful to you and I hope your bosses don’t give you too much crap.”
I muttered out some kind of clumsy “You’re welcome” and ended the call. Then I put my desk on Do Not Disturb and had a proud little cry to myself. Like, What The Hell?! Not in the hundreds of calls I had taken had anything like that been laid on my workstation before. I knew I was in trouble with the supervisors and I didn’t care. It was gonna suck if I lost my job over it (I didn’t) but I was prepared to pack up and then figure out some other way to keep doing EXACTLY THAT.
Well, the job did eventually come to an end after about a year. The company was bought out and the contract I was under for the work I was doing was not renewed. I was unemployed for about a month before I found a similar job in a smaller, local firm. I stayed with that company for 12 years. It was during the entire duration of the Dot Com Bubble and into the early days of the Mobile Phone revolution. RSS Technology begat Podcasts during that time and my only regret is that I didn’t get on board sooner. That was the moment the need to Geographically move for the sake of the Broadcast business really ended. I eventually learned how to produce my own show, but again never made the commitment to do much more than host my own compiled content.
During my time in Support I also learned all the stuff behind hosting content on the internet and how much work goes into it behind the scenes. In the later years I worked side by side with the Admins, fielding their calls and giving them direct feedback. All the while helping home users and small businesses with no I.T. knowledge or budget. I still enjoy doing that. Even though I don’t do that for a living anymore.
So I guess really I keep this site going because it reminds me how I can still make a difference to people. In my years in Support, I had a few more moments where I “saved the day” for someone who just needed a hand. I haven’t always been the most gracious, but I’ve always remained patient and I’ve never once given up on a problem or person. Still, I insist that there is no wrong way to use the internet and we as people are still smarter than the machines that host our content.
I haven’t posted to this blog much this year. In fact, each year it seem to get less and less frequent. But I still do things under Quantum Xen, mostly on Facebook. Basically because self-hosting blogs was a very late 90s, early 00’s thing to do. As you can see from the featured image, It was only 2006 when I officially joined WordPress, where I have maintained this site in either Self Hosting or Paid Hosting with a 3rd Party. Only a few short years ago I decided that getting a business account directly with WordPress was really worth the flexibility of letting someone else worry about the technical back end yet have enough access to do advanced things. It costs less than a dollar a day, but I just need to work out a better way to save that amount for with the annual renewal comes around.
I’ll likely do at least on more post this year. I always to a Year In Review post, sort of like my Christmas Letter to those that have wondered whats been going on. Thank you for enduring this long read jst to witness me justifying this blog another year. I appreciate your time spent!