Freelancer to Geek: Surviving My First Year

Have you Tried Turning it Off and On (Again)?

A year and a half ago when I was switching from freelancing to a job in web hosting I wasn’t completely sure what “L1 technician,” “CentOS” or “steady paycheck” meant, but being asked to write up something about my experience as a support technician at Touch Support made me ponder a bit on the personal growth I experienced during this time.

The line “what did you say you do at work again?” was and still is a daily occurrence among my friends and family and even though I fumble through explaining the delicate details of what cPanel is and religiously lament how important backups are, my everyday work in this period boils down to this – when trying to fix it by turning it off and on again doesn’t work – we’re here to help.

Although any customer service, web or IT experience is a big plus, L1 technicians are trained from the bottom up – my first month started with wide eyed confusion while reading our procedures and technology and ended with resolved tickets, phone calls and chats. After going through L1 and L2 I’m currently in L3 training and these points reflect what I’ve learned since I started at Touch Support. I’m sure others have different experiences and we’ll try to share those as well.

Learning is Perpetual

There’s nothing sweeter than the little victories – fixing some issue on your own, learning a lot while doing it and getting respect from your co-workers and clients. Savor it, because you’ll be having droves of seemingly unsolvable, tough issues every single day, no matter what your skill level is and ironically, you’ll love it because every one of those is a chance to learn and go forward. In the first weeks and months it will be proper customer service skills and learning about basic hosting technologies but later it becomes a race towards more specific skills. After a while your primary limitation won’t be your knowledge, but doing some task fast enough that the client is satisfied.

The learning curve is steep, but there’s scarcely a week, dare I say a day, when you can’t say you’ve made progress and learned something that was outside of your reach the day before. The fast paced environment doesn’t leave much time for experimenting so most of the job is based on teamwork and experience of all of your colleagues, not just senior technicians. I’m as boring with my questions as I was on the first day, but they moved from “how do I connect to a server?” and “where’s the bathroom?” to “is this script I just wrote going to burn down the server?” Sure enough, paychecks follow the same curve.

Progress is felt every single day and there’s enough instant gratification to give you a sense of purpose. Sometime ago I’d call that a cliche, but now I hacked together a Linux server on a Raspberry Pi in my bedroom just for kicks so I’m not going to pretend this job hasn’t made a number on me.

There’s Always Someone Better

I haven’t (yet) traveled the world, but sitting in my comfy chair in front of three monitors I get to talk with people from all over the globe. Granted, there’s not a lot of local culture and cuisine I can soak up from sifting through email error logs, but an international working environment for a US-based company is a great way to brush up on your English. Even if you think you’re already very good, as I naively did, there’s always room for improvement and hearing some of my colleagues talk with clients makes me feel like a toddler who wandered into the office by accident.

Although every day will bring up an issue you’ve never seen before, your colleagues are a smart bunch, versed in more than just servers, and the sense of camaraderie is palpable. During office hours talk will revolve over the LAMP stack, cPanel, CentOS and other services and after hours… Usually the same things, but we can do more than geek out all of the time.

Fixing Servers is Thirsty Work…

… and shouldn’t be done on your own. In the beginning you won’t be able to use your half hour break without help, but it’s not long until assistance becomes something you give to others and not just receive. Teamwork and communication are as important as putting shoes on in the morning and after a few weeks you can actually include “team player” on your CV — and really mean it. After 8 hours of coordinating server upgrades we use the same skills to do the more important work of ordering beers, timing football games and racing quadcopters. “Work hard, play hard” can easily be the unofficial company slogan and something we’re proud of.

Ivan K.