Project | Repairs

I opened a computer for the first time in 1993. I believe it was to double the memory in my Apple Centris 610 from 2MB to 4MB. While I had it open in my college dorm room, I stared at the traces (aluminum or copper electrical pathways) on the motherboard to the CPU, to the memory, to the hard drive controller, to capacitors, etc. Since then, I’ve opened thousands of desktops, laptops, phones, and more.

When I worked for Dartmouth College, I managed the Student Computing Help Desk. We supported every student on campus. We were supposed to turn some graduate students away because they had their own help desks, but I made sure if someone needed help, we gave it to them. It wasn’t the kid’s fault that the bureaucracy said we weren’t supposed to support them. I figured, they paid $60,000 per year to go there, the least we could do was take a shot at troubleshooting their issue.

We weren’t supposed to open their computers either. If we suspected a hardware issue, we were supposed to send them to the computer store next door. That would have been fine, but they charged $75 just to look at it, and their queue was sometimes days before they were available.

We were at an Ivy League school. Many kids were there because of their parents funding, but some kids weren’t. Those kids ended up coming to see us quite a bit. And we weren’t going to make them beg for another $100 in Financial Aid so they could get a diagnosis on their computer.

I taught my student staff how to work on all makes and models of computer with confidence. We swapped out memory and hard drives, batteries and screens-whatever was in our power to help. If we could save someone from spending $2000 on a new laptop, we would. Many times it involved getting a solid state drive, a memory upgrade, and Windows and Office install discs.

It was satisfying, even when I got reprimanded. It’s why I have my own business now. I don’t like taking advantage of people or following rules that have no merit and no place at a Help Desk.

Soap box speech aside, most people who’ve been working in IT admin roles long enough have a certain way of doing things, and if you don’t do it the same way, you’re dumb. It’s the same path that leads to being a grumpy old man.

My way of doing things for repairs was simple: save the data, the rest will get sorted.

This philosophy held its ground in a college environment. Kids needed their stuff-whether it was schoolwork, photos from parties and semesters abroad, music libraries gathered from dubious sources, and personal files. As long as I could promise to keep their data safe, they could care less what we did to get them up and working.

Sometimes we found a computer that stopped working because a drunk roommate urinated on it and hadn’t told anyone. Sometimes a student would be clumsy and drop it. Sometimes a student would place their laptop a little too close to their bubble bath to watch a movie.

Through it all, we had a pretty high success rate. I was very proud of my team. They didn’t have to be there. They were all super smart and I couldn’t pay them what they should have gotten for their work and skills. They did a great job, time after time. They made working there great. And I would do it again and again, given the chance.

One more thing. I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this with a shout out to one of the best student employees I ever had. She was an amazing example to her coworkers and to me. I still mourn her loss. Rest in peace Katie Karas.