All I wanted to do was to fix computers. That’s the “career” I decided to pursue way back in 2005-2006. It’s the reason I went to a Technical school and got certified as a Computer Technician/IT Support guy. The job I thought I was going to end up getting was as a Help Desk in an IT department in some corporate office. What I ended up doing was handling a cash register at a store while and angry customer insults me.
I started working for Best Buy in November of 2009. I was hired for the Geek Squad department as a Counter Intelligence Agent(CIA). (Yeah, I know. Just bear with me.) Before I started working there, while I was in the process of being laid off from the now defunct CompUSA, I remember how badly I wanted to work there. The whole Geek Squad thing, with the uniforms and the custom-painted Volkswagen Beetles was kind of cool. It seemed like a “fun” job. And Geek Squad is what has made Best Buy notable.
I told myself that I finally found an entry-level tech job, when the reality was that I was working in retail. It took me some time to let that sink in. Entry-level implies that there are higher levels to move up to. But unless you wanted to be a a manager, that wasn’t the case with Geek Squad. Most Geek Squad agents are part-time. Almost all the employees at the store are part-time. To get a full-time you metaphorically, and sometimes even literally had to suck a cock.
The fixing computers part of the job in Geek Squad was probably 15% of the job, maybe even less. If the computer had bad hardware, the “unit” got sent out to Geek Squad City in Kentucky, were computer parts were ordered and installed. The only thing that is done at the store are software fixes. This means running a disc that had diagnostic software. Geek Squad even has remote agents called Jonny Utah, which run the software from their homes so you don’t even have to do anything other than to hook up the computers to a KVM switch.
The remaining 85% of the job is attending customers and selling them services. I always knew that I had to deal with people, but I never thought through how much I actually had to deal with people. This is a key point because I’ve always been an introverted person. Like any human being, I enjoy the company of other humans and like having conversations with them, but there’s only so much I could take. As an introvert and as a true geek, we don’t have the best social skills. I think a lot of you can agree with that. When Steve Jobs was pitched the idea of the Genius Bar he said, “You can’t call them geniuses. They’re geeks. They don’t have the people skills to deliver on something called the genius bar.” No one knows what changed his mind, but I like to think it was because of the success of Geek Squad in the electronics retail biz.
And now we’re in the age of the geeks and The Big Bang Theory fan-girls that think you’re sexy because you know how to reset their routers. But no one really likes real geeks. Sheldon is a funny character with a script. Real geeks are rarely funny, they’re awkward in conversations, and are annoying with their obsessions. You know who really likes geeks? Your Grandma.
This marketed idea of the geek made our jobs particularly difficult because we had to handle unrealistic expectations from the customers. The types of customers we got, mostly people over 40 and the elderly, thought we knew about everything. They associate the word geek with someone who knows how to fix anything that runs with electricity.
Another thing that made the job so difficult was dealing with extremely incompetent managers. They were mostly young guys that didn’t know what they were doing. There was one in particular that was a sad sorry sack of a human being. I don’t want to get into details, not because I want to avoid burning bridges, because I don’t even think there’s a bridge left to burn there, but suffice to say the guy didn’t try to hide the fact that he didn’t like me.
So you wear this costume to work. You’re under-paid. In 2011 I made less than 13,000. You get around 20 hours a week, 28 if you’re lucky. You have horrible bosses always writing you up because that’s the only way they know how to be a manager. You get threatened to be fired about three times. The customers are always angry because as one my favorite quotes from David Sedaris says, “People waiting in line are afraid they are no longer living in a democracy.” And to put the cherry on top, a customer asks you which hair dryer is better. You endure this for three years. I should have quit sooner.
I was listening to one of the Quit! episodes, a new show on the 5by5 network with Dan Benjamin that deals with quitting dead end jobs, and they were talking about how your first job should be in a fast food restaurant. These jobs suck, and everyone’s first job is suppose to suck, but they teach you essential skills you’re going to need for future jobs and hopefully help you get better jobs. My job at Geek Squad wasn’t my first job, and it definitely was not a fast food chain, though sometimes it felt that way, but there’s no doubt I learned skills that will help me in the future. I learned to listen. To really listen. I learned to be patient, tolerant, and non-judgmental. I learned to simplify “problems”. I learned that sometimes the problem is not with the computer, but what’s in front of it.
On December 15, 2012 I finally submitted my resignation letter. I took me some time to go through with it. Quitting is hard because sometimes it means giving up, but sometimes it means moving on. I’m moving on.
The most important thing I learned was that you really have to think through and visualize as best as you can what is it you’re going to dedicate most of your time to make money. It’s the biggest cliche in career advice, but you should find something you like doing, even love doing, and forget about the money. My advice to people thinking about getting an A+ or other related quick certificates: Don’t. If you really love technology and computers, go for a BA in Computer Science and take your time figuring out which path you really want to go in the industry. Really do the mental exercise of visualizing yourself doing it. There are no shortcuts to real success.