One foot in the past, and one in the future. That’s how I feel a lot of the time.
I came to tech and office support in the 1980s, when I was a radioman in the US Coast Guard. I learned to type on an IBM Selectric typewriter, though I had to switch to a manual one not long afterwards for daily use. Wireless data transmission was part of my job even then, though radio-teletype and Morse code seems pretty old school nowadays. The most important thing, regardless of the tech, was to protect lives at sea, and make sure that people were safe and confident in what was going to happen next.
When I got out of the military I went back to school and got an associate’s degree, and in the 90s I worked for a market research company that specialized in computers and technology. I learned a lot about mainframes, midrange computers, and Unix workstations. I tracked the rapid growth and use of personal computers from about 1995 until I left that job in 2003. While working there we changed from doing data entry using dumb terminals to web based information entered via a PC LAN. Ensuring the integrity of the data, and interacting with survey respondents and team members was critical. Making certain the people I worked with knew that I valued and trusted them was one lesson I took away from this experience.
I changed jobs, and worked in the insurance industry for several years. In the process I mastered several different kinds of software and technology. When I left the insurance industry I worked in a number of different positions. I wrote web content for a bit, then managed a real estate office and dove into social media marketing. I worked for an online marketplace and came to understand the complexities of internet vendor/customer relations. I worked from my home office, and provided customer technical support to smartphone and mobile users. Throughout my experience in these different industries, I acted as a representative, trained employees, coached team members, and supervised.
I went back to school, and finished my bachelor’s degree in history in 2013. It is striking to me how different the university experience was, in terms of technology, between the early 1990s and the early teens. Most of my research was done online, and many course materials and assignments were done using computers and the internet. Most of my textbooks were ebooks. I was fortunate to have brilliant mentors. Watching these professors engage their classes, and seeing the faces of other students grasping difficult concepts, this is what energized me. My own epiphanies big and small, and my interaction with other students made this experience one of the most important in my life.
Now I provide marketing, content, web and technical support for artists and businesses. I create customized solutions for a variety of entrepreneurs. As I type this I’m sitting in my home office at a keyboard. I’m still wearing my headset, I had forgotten I had it on, as I just got off a Skype call with a client. Today is the last day of July, 2015. Déjà vu. I have a vivid memory of sitting at a keyboard at my duty station in Guam in 1985, finishing up the log entry on a manual typewriter. I had a analog radio headset on. I was getting ready for the the new watchstander to come in on her rotation. Thirty years ago, I think to the month, I was using the same skill set and startlingly similar equipment, performing an equivalent task.
Other skills are not so different. I know how to keep my voice calm in stressful circumstances, and I make sure that people are reassured. I project confidence, and provide the best solution to the person I am helping, whether that was a merchant ship radio operator, a data analyst, a member of my team, an insurance customer, one of my social media clients today, or the virtual customer tomorrow.
Through the changes in technology, honesty and integrity and fairness and people skills remain vital. Treating people right, understanding what it is that they want and need, and using the tools and resources at hand to see if I can provide that to them is still my primary task. In my case, it’s often been done sitting at a keyboard with a headset on. I may have one foot in the past, and one in the future, but it’s essential for me to be here, in the present moment, doing my best.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
(The more things change, the more they stay the same).
quote by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, The journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”), January 1849.