I once accepted a temporary contract to travel with a mobile computer lab as their network technician. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable side trips of my career. I asked for a leave of absence from my employer to accept the contract with the understanding that I would remain on call. It worked out well and I learned a lot with the Community College Foundation as we visited campuses up and down California.

The foundation had purchased an old used motor home, gutted it and refitted it with five Macs and five Compaqs, scanners, printers and digital cameras. My job was to setup the satellite dish for the network when we arrived on site, fire up the server, the switches, the computers and get everything ready for a mobile classroom environment. This was back when multimedia was new and not yet being used in the classroom.

End-user education can be fun

I got the gig by responding to an ad in the LA Times. When I went for the interview, I was asked what my daily rate was and if I could meet a very demanding travel schedule. I was a little shocked that there wasn’t an in-depth technical interview to see if I could handle the job. “Hey, it’s not very technical. As long as you can fix any networking issues, you should be able to do it.” They were right. The hard part was the travel.

The reason I enjoyed the job so much was because I got to work with one of the masters of the multimedia community. I don’t know how much you like to conduct group training but this guy was a performer. I’ve done a few other training gigs in my time and I think I can put on a pretty good show but some people are exceptionally talented in getting the subjects involved in the technology. That’s what makes it fun.

What kind of tech are you?

There are techs who are purists – they are good at what they do…no, they are great at what they do, but they have absolutely no people skills. We put them in a room with lots of toys and they are happy to develop code or keep networks running. Then there are techs who know just enough to BS everyone and still keep a job. They seem to go back and forth between sales jobs and tech jobs, equally comfortably in either role.

Most techs I know have a mixture of both tech skills and people skills, with strengths and weaknesses in each area. I don’t know how much your job requires you to interact with others, and especially with non-technical people, but if it is anything like mine, you have to do at least some end-user training. It’s just part of the job. Sometimes it’s not easy explaining technology so people can understand it. There’s a real talent to the task.

Tech talk can spook the locals

If you’re a tech that can’t explain your work so that others can at least get some idea of what you do for a living, then maybe you need to work on that skill a little bit. You will be especially grateful you learned how to talk non-geek speak if you’ve ever been out of a job and needed help lining up the next assignment. I know it can be tough, but try not to speak down to the lowly people who don’t know as much as you do.

Sometimes it can be a real shock to the new college graduate who has paid the price to learn the language of technology to discover that the boss doesn’t speak all the latest lingo. That’s OK. You can practice your translation skills on the boss in preparation for dealing with the technophobic that exist in every business. Part of being a tech means that you are fluent in a second language. Now, how good a translator are you?