Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lying Little Signs.

I was recently passing through a nearby city where we drove by a business I used to work at. It isn't something that was unusual, far from it; we've gone by the place countless times. I haven't even worked there in years, furthermore this wasn't the first time I have seen the message posted on their sign. What it was though, was the point where I could take it no more.

The sign was a liar.

Let me start at the beginning; I was the top of my class in college and enrolled in a program that had already ceased being offered - in effect the last of a breed. I had just graduated and as part of a requirement had to sit down with the school's director of career services beforehand which inevitably started several wheels into motion. Prior to my graduation I had worked for the school in a variety of capacities as well as being hired by some fellow students and staff for odd jobs on the side. All this added up to a point where a local computer repair place not far from the school received my resume on behalf of the career services director they found I came both highly recommended and perfectly suited to their needs.

I was contacted for an interview, one I agreed to gratefully and attended. The details were fairly straightforward and exciting for me. They needed someone to take several dozen towers bought in bulk, identify what worked/didn't and then systematically bring them back to life to be resold. It was right up my alley as the kind of thing I was particularly talented at as well as what I had gone to school for. I loved hardware, I hated to see someone who couldn't say 'this is where the problem is,' and instead shrugged before swapping everything out with new parts without any appreciation.

The pay itself wasn't great but I hadn't expected anything major just out of school. I had graduated with various degrees, certificates etc. including an A+ accreditation but had not had the money to pay to take my A+ certification exam itself. One of the agreements of my accepting the job was that they would pay for me to get that very certification along with a variety of other certifications.

When I showed up for my interview I did so by being early, politely and dressed respectfully. Now, I will admit for the record that I did at the time have long hair and a goatee. However (and I must stress this) I kept that hair clean, well groomed and typically worn in a tight braid that ended about the middle of my backside. My goatee itself was likewise maintained, trimmed and neat. Both I was assured would be permissible for my job although I would have to purchase a wardrobe of dress shirts, ties and pants.

I did exactly that, even buying tools and things to use on the job. I even agreed to leave my current job at the time, one that I had held all through school along with my work for the school with less notice than I preferred but more than they had initially wanted me to give them. All in all I made a lot of concessions to take what seemed to be my first real job in what looked to be the beginning of my career. I even conceded to the awkward notion of being hired through a temp agency as a trial basis before becoming officially part of the staff.

The first day of showing up for work I was blindsided by the demand to shave and cut all my hair off. Something I didn't prefer having to do but as I responded at the time; "you can tell me what style you would like and that is how I'll cut it if that is what it takes for this job." My wife didn't enjoy the news herself either but we bowed to it and moved forward.

In short order I was cackling like Victor Frankenstein in a back corner with an army of revived machines cleaned and purring to life eager to be put into use. They struggled to keep me fed with new corpses to reanimate, autopsy or salvage. Before long I was pressed into service riding along to do service calls and then eventually sent out on my own. I was traveling across not just adjacent states but sometime 2 or 3 states away to do warranty work - even showing up quite to my surprise to be asked why I wasn't in the infamous little geek squad car. Little did I know that Best-Buy's Geek Squad didn't actually come out and fix things; that was what people like us were paid by them to do.

Things weren't perfect but they were going forward. The problem was I had already been witness to too many things that left me feeling dirty some of which I had to refuse to take part in. When a customer brings a machine in to get fixed there was a bench fee for them to even look at it. It was a mandatory requirement that you bring your restore discs, documentation etc. with it when you did. And, if it turned out repairs were more than you wanted to spend you could waive paying the bench fee and instead surrender your machine for parts. It would be given new life by me or parted out - any number of things.

This is where things started to get dark for me. If we didn't have the restore disc for a unit in the boss's collection then we were told to call the manufacturer and tell them we were the original owner of the unit to request a replacement. We were blatantly asked to commit fraud. Then came the infamous Microsoft Product Key. I was painstakingly instructed how to carefully remove a product key's serial number sticker and replace it on another machine. After which I was required to call Microsoft and claim that our machine's key wouldn't work because we had had to replace a hard drive or some such. [Side note/fun fact - You can only replace so many components on your PC before the operating system stops recognizing that it is the same system. Microsoft can authorize your key to work on your machine or issue a new one but stripping a valid key off one machine to reuse on another, especially for resale is a massive violation. Any vendor can purchase a license/keys to use instead, even at a discount.] The worst part of it all was that at the end of each day at work I was the one with my hand and name on those units. If anything ever happened once they ended up in a customer's hands it would all come back to me.

I started carrying a memo pad in my pocket recording every serial number, every product key, every detail, dates etc. on everything I touched. I wanted to keep the job and make it work. I wanted to get my certification and become exactly what I had hoped to be; a computer technician. But I refused to tell anyone that I was the consumer who owned the device. I refused to lie to customers or withhold my advice when they asked me. I did every job asked of me in the way it was worth doing; the right way.

One day after being gone all day (I was typically handed a pile of parts and service orders, shoved out the door into a car and told not to return unless the boxes were all empty. This was generally coupled with no map to where I was going or itinerary so I had to get very good at improvising my plan of attack.) I returned to receive the news that things had been slowing down. One of the two co-owners and the professional face who handled all the high end side of things was going to be having surgery so other technicians were being shuffled about. Unfortunately that also meant that since I was the last one to be hired I was the first one to be asked to leave. And, since I had been brought in via a temp agency there was no need for anything more than being told that and that was it.

Suddenly it all just stopped. I then discovered that since I hadn't officially been an employee there I couldn't even claim it for resumes etc. Next I saw the lot next to the shop get cleared and replaces with an improved parking lot, a new fleet of cars - even a small storage building transformed into a little business for one of the owner's friends. While I looked for work at the unemployment office a case worker even informed me with glee that a local computer repair place was looking for someone just like me!

Imagine my surprise. I had been hired to do a job just long enough to squeeze every benefit they could from me using false promises and then let go. Then I find things weren't so bad after all; quite the opposite. Now they were looking for a fresh young student hot off the assembly line to toss into the meat grinder. I smiled and politely waived the offer aside. "Something tells me that they wouldn't be interested in me," I explained.

But the biggest problem I cannot get over, like I mentioned at the beginning was their sign. It reads, in rather sloppy placement; We Fix Computers Here. Which, I can attest is a bare faced lie. The entire time I worked there I witnessed (even personally ordered at times) virtually no machine to ever be fixed as per the definition. I saw people lied to in order acquire their property. Customers were convinced to purchase new computers. There was even machines that were made of entirely new components and returned to the customer with a hefty bill. But almost nothing actually repaired. The only exception being the work I did in a small corner in the back. However even that I cannot call the entirety of the work being repair.

If someone brings me a problem and they ask me to fix it; I want to be able to hand them back what they brought me with the problem solved or an explanation as to what went wrong. That is why people bring you something to work on; they expect it to be fixed. Every time I see that sign I can't help but shake my head and ask how they can lie to people in such a manner.

I won't name them, nor do I generally go out of my way to bad mouth the business in question. But if anyone asks me I discourage them from using their services. You can make money without abandoning ethical, moral or legal behavior. You can also be a computer technician by just being the person people can trust to call when they need a problem solved. I'd rather keep that trust myself, I guess for others the feeling isn't necessarily mutual.