Saturday, January 30, 2016

Notes From a Retired Professional Technician

"Professional Technician isn't a job; it's a state of mind." - Kayla, best friend
With every passing day, the reality of leaving New England is getting just a little bit more real.

Thursday marked my last day working at Gentle Giant.  For the last four a half years of my life, I've worked as a helpdesk technician for a moving company - a tenure which ended this week as I prepare to move across the country.  It was easily the best job that I've ever had.  In what had to be one of the most first-world problems ever, I've found it really tough to justify moving out-of-state for so long because I really enjoyed my job.

Gentle Giant has the formula right.  They go out of their way to make sure that the employees are reasonably happy with where they work, and those employees in turn will do their best to provide good service to the customers.  Having previously worked at companies that did no such thing, I could easily appreciate the difference:
  1.  I legitimately liked/worked well with my boss and co-workers and enjoyed their company.
  2.  I was given professional freedom to solve problems instead of being micromanaged.
  3.  I was encouraged to be myself, even if that meant rainbow dreadlocks and patchwork pants.
  4.  As a cherry on top, within the last year they hired two of my best friends, both of whom appear to be flourishing as well as I did.
The quintessential answer to "what is working at Gentle Giant like?"  (click here for video)
Hilariously, I even had my own office.  I never liked calling it that, preferring to refer to it as the "IT room" since "office" sounds way more "stereotypical professional" than the image I like to convey.  It was literally just a closet that I got by default, because I was the only one who wanted to work in there.  I loved it, though.  Since my job was to help my co-workers with technical problems I liked having a separate space, as it encouraged people to come by and ask me their questions in person.

I think that approach was what allowed me to find my niche within Gentle Giant.  My job was never so much about fixing computers and printers to me so much as it was about helping my coworkers.  I had the ability to remotely connect into other people's computers, but given the choice I always preferred to walk over to people who needed help because I understood that forming connections with people is what turned "end-users" into "people whose problems I want to solve, because I care about them".  It's not hard at all to learn the technical things necessary to get a career in technical support;  I always felt that people/communication skills were the unique thing that I brought to the table.

Facebook randomly showed me this picture, posted 3 years ago today, as I was writing this entry.

Of course, the side effect of making an effort to connect with my user base was that it made walking away from the job incredibly difficult.  I broke into tears a lot on my last week of the job - happy tears, because I'm saying goodbye to something that's been a fundamental part of my identity for the last five years.  "Don't worry, I'm a professional technician" is a long-standing running joke between Kayla and I that I used to say whenever I solved a problem, technical or otherwise.  There are a ton of people at Gentle Giant that I'm going to miss seeing at work every day - and while we're nothing more than a click on the internet away from each other, there's a part of me that's afraid that I'm walking away from a good thing that I'm never going to find anywhere else.

Thankfully, the trust relationship built with my coworkers went both ways.  Not only did I get a chance to meet a lot of people through working with them for half a decade, I shared a lot of who I am with them.  And although a lot of people reached out to me to let me know they would miss having me around, there wasn't a single person there who wasn't happy for me.  I had been open with people for years about the fact that I have a dream of leaving New England and exploring life in other parts of the country, so if anything people were receptive to the idea that I needed to, in the words of my ex-boss, "spread my wings and fly".  I'm sure that there are a lot of my ex-coworkers reading this - and for that, I'm thankful, because trying to maintain those connections after I leave is a strong motivator for me to write in this blog.

The decision to leave my job came at a good time in my life.  Although my two greatest professional strengths (communicating with others and solving problems) did me well as a technician, I have hit the point in my life where I want to explore how I can use those skills on a larger scale.  Somewhere in the last few months, I hit a point where resetting passwords and troubleshooting Microsoft Office errors just wasn't doing it for me anymore. I'm far more interested in solving "people problems" than I am technical ones, and so along with my move out west comes a chance for me to explore new options in my search for the best way to make a living.  I'm not quite sure what that means just yet - so for now, all I can do is continue to be an open book and hope that people are interested enough to follow along.

Of course - saying goodbye isn't going to get any easier.  We spent yesterday and today packing the apartment into boxes.  Tomorrow I will have one last brunch with my family before heading west, and Monday will be the last day in my apartment.  We're not planning on leaving New England until Thursday, so I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say as the week passes by.