Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paranoia: How Protective is Too Protective (when it comes to inconveniencing computer techs)

Yesterday, I had done work at a client that believe that the last person she had hired stole information from her.  My partner and I found some evidence supporting this, like a VB script that was emailing data to his address unbenounced to her, and the fact that the former tech had the login information to their backup service.  However, there wasn't anything solid to say that he was committing identity theft or anything similar.  He could have informed the client of this system of his, and she agreed without fully understanding what he was doing.

In this day in age, a.k.a. post-9/11 world, a.k.a. the time pedophiles can stalk kids over the internet, a.k.a. the Facebook is stealing my privacy age, a.k.a. not quite Y2K but still widespread ignorance-induced panic over technology, the average person has very little idea of digital privacy.  The truth is, they are legitimately right to be suspecting of anyone who knows computers more than they do.

As a network administrator, it's very scary to realize how power I had over my clients.  My last company would install domain controllers, and completely overhaul their network not so much to make their lives easier, but to make ours easier.  This was all done solely to give us almost complete control of their network.  Mind you, this was done with pure intentions, and to help us troubleshoot for our customers faster and easier, which in the end did make their lives easier in byproduct.

But you need to understand that we have complete access to their information.  We could view anything and everything our clients kept in digital form.  For private schools, we knew names, address, phone numbers, even the religion of their students.  We'd also have everything there is to know about the faculty, and every letter and document they write.  If they had a email server they bought from us, we could view them too.  That's not even the half of it.  At anytime, I could have damage any one of your clients.  Actually, scratch that.  I could have destroyed any one of them.

At best, I could easily and instantly erase all of your information, including your backups.  Even if you didn't have our email services, I could also prevent you from using it in your office.  I could remotely uninstall programs on your machines.  I could even delete your OS directory.  I could make your work a living nightmare.  I could remote in any of your workstations and change your desktop background to porn or something that said, "I SUCK DICKS UNDER THE UTOPIA UNDERPASS AT NIGHT".  Hell, I could remote in while you were working and do something humiliating or compromising and make it look like you were doing it yourself.  I couldn't have just ruined your business, I could have ruined you.

But I can't really describe more, not just of respect for our clients, but because I've actively avoided finding out such information whenever I could.  You see, I'm a very private person.  So private that not only do I divulge little about myself to others, but the very idea of finding out other people's private information makes me feel awful.

But the other thing is was that is was necessary.  We need administrative access to do anything significant.  We need to know the ins and outs of your network in order to help you if something on it was malfunctioning.  And while we don't need to know exactly where you and your staff lives or what was on that memo you wrote last week, but if something happened to it and you asked us for help retrieving it, there's nothing stopping us from reading it if we find it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dumb Co-worker Story #002

Continuing with the guy I wrote about in my last entry, I had complained to my bosses about him on occasion, but they had said they felt sorry for him and felt it would be too mean to let him go.  On top of that, they had already assigned him a bunch of service calls, and firing him would bring their schedule out of wack.  They were already having trouble after firing the last guy, who had only worked for them for five weeks.  Yes, we had someone worse.  I'll write about him in the future.

One day, both of us went to a client, another private school, to take care of some various workstation problems.  We had a long list of what needed to be done, and was set to stay for the entire day.  By the end of the day, I ended up fixing most of the problems.  By this time, I had him look at one classroom machine that sound card problems, mostly to keep him busy for the duration of our stay.  I had gotten used to working with him at this point, so as long as I had him distracted in anyway, I was content.

However, that day made me realize that this guy was not just bad with computers, he was just an idiot all around.  Early on, after leaving him in the lab, I headed to the restroom.  I mentioned to him where it was out of courtesy before walking out.

He got up to follow me.  At first, I thought he misheard me, thinking that I was going to show him another machine with some problem.  Standing in the doorway, I said to him, "No, I'm going to the bathroom.  I'm just letting you know it's in the next room."

Stepping foot in the restroom, I turned around to close the door.  Like in a horror movie, he was standing right behind me.

"What about the bathroom?", he asked.

"Joseph, I was just letting you know where the men's room was should you need to go."

There was a long pause.  He stared at me perfectly still.  My hand slowly reached for my multitool blade, for I feared the worst.  Then I gave him the benefit of the doubt of him being a psycho rapist.

"You know... for the future?", I continued, after hesitation for fear of coming off as insulting.

Another brief pause.  First I was relieved he didn't take offense, but then was immediately horrified and then extremely agitated that he still didn't get it.  It was then I regretted saying anything in the first place, not just because of this extremely awkward moment, but because the floor we were on only had two rooms.  Even he would have figured out where the restroom was by himself.

"Oh!", he exclaims.  Relief.  He finally got it.  We were going to have a quick laugh, he would then act slightly embarrassed, maybe even crack a joke or two.

Nope, none of that happened.  "Oh, right! Like if I needed to go later!", as he walked away looking at the ground.  He was either amazing at hiding his own shame, or he had just been given the greatest revelation in his life.

Not one hour later.  "Hey, do you know where the bathroom is?", asking with a perfectly straight face. "Right next door.", anticipating him laughing afterwards.  Again... nothing.  He walked right towards the door, head down, looking at the ground, absolutely silent.

I would like to reiterate that the floor we were on only had two rooms, the computer lab he was working in, and the other with the restroom, both of them right next to each other.  He needed directions to the room next door.

Some days I wondered if Andy Kaufman hadn't really died but instead disguised himself as this guy fucking with me to get his kicks.  There are also some days I theorized God is an autistic child playing Spore.  I beg anyone reading this to let me know which idea is more ridiculous.  I'm too afraid to ask my therapist.

That day, the only solace I had from learning my co-worker was borderline retarded was also learning he was most likely not a total creeper.  From that day on, I never said anything about him to my superiors.  I felt sorry for him and felt it would be too mean to complain.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dumb Co-worker Story #001

For the majority of the time that I had worked at my last job, I was the sole designated technician of the company.  The rest of the staff, all four of them including the owners, sometimes did technical work but had other primary duties.  At a few points they had hired an extra technician to assist me, and I can tell you now that it would have been better off that I'd worked alone the entire time.  Most of my efforts were dealing with the co-worker rather than the actual work.

One example was this one guy Joesph.  He was at thirty-something with a degree in computer repair and an A+ certification.  Apparently he had more experience than me, but mostly with computer hardware, where as I dealt mostly with networking.  So I figured that I'd mostly had to train him with servers and networking, but he could handle his own with anything workstation related.

I could not have been more wrong.  On better days, he was tedious.  He would repeatedly asking me different questions about advanced server stuff, like setting up domain controllers or VPNs and the like.  This would have been completely fine by itself; I don't mind answering questions, and even if I did, it's only fair to help him out.  Except that it was obviously apparent he was nowhere near that level of expertise, and was not going to be anytime soon.  He had absolutely no experience with servers or routers. It was like trying to explain open-heart surgery to someone who barely knew CPR.

And that wasn't it.  He would constantly interrupt me, trying to complete my sentences, but he was always wrong.  So wrong that it would throw me off and I'd had to start over.  Even if I had explained something completely, he'd asked me the same thing a few days later.  He retained nothing because he just didn't bother.  He never wrote anything down, nor would he'd tried figuring out the simplest things himself.  If there was any hitch to something he was assigned to do, he'd immediately run straight to me, demanding my help.

On the worst days, he was fucking maddening.  Many times I had to watch over his shoulder, giving him step-by-step directions to solve even the simplest of problems.  Whenever I'd made any notion that this was something he was already supposed to know, he'd take no responsibility, and say something like, "Well how am I supposed to know if you don't teach me?".  This would be a legitimate question if this was an entry level job and I was his manager.  But it was nothing like that.  He was my co-worker hired as a computer professional.  My boss merely asked me to help him should he come across something he wasn't familiar with.

This was what dawned on me the day my boss had him inspect some machine that we were going to set up as a server, I think as a secondary domain controller.  Whatever, it doesn't matter.  All he had to do was turn on the machine and made sure it booted to the OS without any fatal errors.  Again, right after what he was told to do, he walked up to my desk, waving his hand gesturing to have me follow him, and asked "What am I supposed to do?".  I asked him what the boss said, which turned out to be pretty clear instructions.

"So what am I supposed to do?", he asked again.

I was stumped at first exactly was he was asking, but I soon realized he pretty much wanted someone to explicitly tell him what to do.  He was too afraid to ask the boss, so he came to me.  I asked him what had he already done.

"Does the machine boot up?"

"Uh, I don't know.", he responded.

"Does it turn on at all?"

"I don't know."

I looked at the back of the box, and not surprisingly, he hadn't plugged anything in.  Not the keyboard/mouse cables, Ethernet, power.  Nothing.  He hadn't done a single thing.

"Is it plugged in?", I asked anyway.

"Um...", before glancing at the back.  "No."

There was a long pause while I was waiting for him to finally realize what he was supposed to do.  But he just stood there, sheepishly looking at me like a dog anxiously waiting for his next command from his trainer in hope of getting a treat.  This was a grown man, older than me and with more certifications, hired to fix things and solve problems, not get paid to learn about them and occasionally press a button.

"Can you plug it in?", I asked right after losing all faith in him.  Worst of all, I was still responsible for my work, which I still had to finish even after spending most of the afternoon doing his by proxy.

In hindsight, I should have demanded his paycheck along with mine.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reason For Been Fired #001

One place I've worked a few years ago at for roughly a month had me do little more than build cardboard boxes for automated CD-burner computers and help the shipping and receiving guy.  During my interview, I've explained to the supervisor about my experience with PCs, how they were practically my life, how many people I've helped them with, and how I was in the process of getting my bachelor's degree in computer networking.

They hadn't told me exactly what tasks I would be assigned until after I was hired (I'd made sure to ask in future interviews), so I was disappointed and even a little insulted when I was told to do nothing buy mundane shit.  I still accepted as they promised I would have bigger responsibilities in as little as three months.

One month later, the same supervisor I had the interview with asked me if I knew how to use Wordpad.  I thought he was joking for a second, but I said straight out, "Yes."  He then had me type a bunch of SKUs, print them out, and hand it to him.  Of course, I had no trouble.

That afternoon, he asked me to have a word with him.  He said he was letting me go because I was not meeting the expectations of my other superiors.  The same superiors that was having me building cardboard boxes and label maybe three or four packages a day.  Up until that day, I hadn't even heard the slightest complaint from anyone in the company, and in fact was given commendations by both of them on a few occasions in that month.

I asked him if I was so unsatisfactory, why nobody had said so to me.  All he said was, "I thought about saying something at first, but then I decided against it.".  So I was fired because I was incompetent at box building and shipping.  Take that as you will.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How I Fix Everything

As much as I'm not a fan of xkcd, this image cannot be any truer.

Just remember to not be a douche about it.


Friday, May 27, 2011

A Good Insight On Taking Responsibility. Also How I Made A Nun Break A Monitor.

Just read this article on, which is regularly a good resource for self-employed computer techs.

"One of the most powerful mindsets to have as your own boss is to always blame yourself for anything that goes wrong. That’s right, anything. Everything is your fault."

To expand on this: while this may not be true, it might as well be.  The author explains that while associates, employees, or clients may have done wrong to screw you over, it's only your fault if you don't take action to them.

Too many times has this happened for people I've worked for.  My last company had a client, a private school, that had some of the worst people to work with.  The teachers were uncooperative and usually complained about problems with machines but then refuse to explain them in any amount of detail.  The facility were incompetent and had to be tutored in basic functions time after time again.  And the principal was very demanding despite what they were paying (sometimes not at all), and has even took measures to deliberately prevent us from doing any support for them.

But at the end of the day, it was my bosses' fault.  They continued to support them after months of outstanding payments, they gave discounts for services we not able to render because of floods in their computer labs, they gave into the demands of the principal, who suffered from bi-polar disorder, for reselling and support of expensive equipment for herself including tablets, laptops, and smart phones, while the classrooms and labs had machines that were refurbished over five years prior and worst of all, they put up with their bullshit with absolutely no resistance.

I was ordered to support them even when teachers and faculty we needed on-site to help them would either leave early for the day, or not show up at all.  I had to go above and beyond the call of duty to manually organize the principal's documents, taking time away from serious issues on domain controllers or email servers, only to be scolded by both the client and employer for not prioritizing, when priorities was completely determined by my boss.  And I can claim without any doubt that I'm responsible for the principal, a 60-something-year-old nun who could not have weighed over a hundred pounds, destroying a LCD monitor out of anger because I had asked her how I should tutor the office staff to use Outlook.

After years of supporting them, they had called our company out of the blue to inform us that they were no longer in need of our services.  One of my bosses then found an proposal from a competitor for over $100,000 (many times more than what our company were charging) to buy new equipment for the entire school, and this was not including whatever support they would provide.  No other company would do nearly the amount of work we had done.  They would hemorrhage more money though manpower and resources than an Ebola victim or that one dude from Scanners.

Why did they suddenly leave us and go buy way more equipment from another company they had just hired than they had bought from us over the entire time we've supported them combined, and would do nowhere near the work we have done?  We never could figure that out.  We were their support company, not their psychologists.  It wasn't our responsibility to figure why they did what they did, but just to do what they had asked.  But it wasn't our fault because we didn't provide them enough, but because we provided them with too much, allowing them to ask for more crazy shit and getting away with making it harder and harder for us to allow us to help them while not charging another extra cent, and taking time away from other clients who needed our help more.  And it was my fault for putting up with it and not quitting any earlier.

You see, while a service company exists to scratch the itches of their clients, you don't go scratching places that don't exist.  If a client asks for something you (or anyone) can't do, you don't do it.  You don't try solving problems that have no solution, especially if they don't pay you for it.  Hell, you don't need to go out of your way to solve even remotely ridiculous shit if you're already recognized as a competent service provider to dozens of other customers.

Say you're a prostitute, one that gets tricks all the time and rarely, if ever, does any sick stuff.  Out of nowhere, you start expanding like crazy, but not to broader demographics, but to really niche stuff.  Really, really niche stuff.  Like stuff you could only find on FreeNet or hard drives confiscated by the FBI.  You're going to alienate a lot of johns when they find out you're too busy doing scat play with transsexual midgets all to service one guy who's watching like Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies.  It doesn't matter what he's paying you, or even if you like doing that sort of thing, because a lot of people who relied on you will not or cannot from now on.  You're denying a lot of people your well-needed services, and most of all you're losing a lot of income.  You filthy, filthy whore.


Why I'm Going Solo-ish

I've started this blog mainly to have a productive (and hopefully lucrative) outlet and time-waster while starting up our company.

I'm starting a computer service company with a friend of mine which covers our local area to troubleshoot and consult for residents and small businesses.  We've just started last month, and currently have one client.

I'd be lying if I said that I'm not in this for the money, because I want to get to the point where I don't have to worry about money ever again.  Not rich, just fairly comfortable.  And my idea of comfortable is a decent living space, an awesome computer, and a fuckton of videogames.  No hookers, no blow, no mansion, slaves, sport cars, gold plated nick-knacks, or dodo eggs.  You know, a college-aged bachelor's pad, but slightly better.

But the main reason I'm doing this is because I'm sick of working for other people.  I'll be the first one to admit this:  I'm a horrible employee.  I've argued with my employers numerous times, I've bitched out customers whom I've believed deserved it, and went out of way to make certain co-workers' and underlings' lives a living hell, simply when I believed they made work for me harder, and I was rarely apologetic about it.  And I regret to this day the time I actually have apologized.

"Sounds like you'd be terrible at running a company."

Probably.  I honestly don't know.  It's not that I don't feel bad about what I've done, but I've spent way more time than I should have contemplating whether or not my actions were justified.  Some of the people I've worked with have been either the dumbest, laziest, or evilest I've encountered.  I'll post anecdotes about them, tell me what you think. 

Maybe I've had bad luck, maybe I don't work well with some people, maybe I'm incompetent.  After racking my brain over why things had been uneasy, I had decided not to trouble myself over it and just focus on my own work.  Hopefully this will give me a change of perspective and motivation that I strongly believe will help me achieve my goals.

I'm not trying to be a rebel or a revolutionary trying to change how things are done in the industry or some big boss who wants to run the show his way and expect people to listen to him, I just want to help people who know less about computers than I do, then get money, get paid.

I'll respect any criticism simply because I know I don't know any better than the average person in the same position, and I'm ready to accept the consequences of any action from here on in.  I want to do the best running this, not just for myself, but for my partner.  He, as well as my potential clients, don't deserve my any trouble just cause of bad experiences with other assholes and retards.