Computer geek or fraud?

So I’m called up to our production facility yesterday. I don’t even know that I can say much about the specifics because of FDA regulations and all, but I’ll try to tell the story anyway. Basically Paul and Denis were in a bit of a panic because they needed to start some processes by next week and the control system kept rebooting. It turns out that the control box was just a modified PC chasis mounted inside a metal box with just a touch LCD screen exposed – it even ran Windows XP. The whole rebooting issue was actually just that – no crashing, no memory dumps, no kernel panics – the machine just suddenly shutt off and restarted. There was no indication that the software was causing the problems, and it continued to happen even when it was isolated from the rest of the systems. Eventually I concluded that, although the power seemed clean, there must be an issue with the power supply. After replacing it with one from an old system everything ran perfectly and they proceeded to sing my praises.

The thing is, I really didn’t do much. I mean I did some troubleshooting and eventually replaced a component that seems to have been the culprit, but I could have figured that out 10 years ago. There wasn’t even any real indication that the power supply – which was pumping out very steady 5 and 12 volt lines – was the problem other than a lack of any other theories. If anything it was simply a little bit of logic and a whole lot of “gut feelings.” In the meantime, Denis was responsible for designing, purchasing, building, and programming this entire production setup that included tons of pipes, relays, pumps, and other pieces of equipment that required welding, threading, etc. He took a one day class in some process control environment and then programmed a computer interface for the whole shebang(sp?). And somehow I come out as the hero. It’s instances like this that make me really feel like a charlatan.

When it comes down to it, computers are second nature to me. I’m not some sort of guru or genius, but it takes very little effort for me to work out the kinks and bugs that baffle most everyday users. Somehow it feels like an instinct, as though I was born with a predilection for computers inspite of their very unnatural nature. And I know that I’m not alone – I went to a tech school surrounded by geeks who lacked any notion of a life beyound their CRTs. You could easily make the distinction between those of us who veritably lived inside our home-built systems and those who joined the ranks for lack of anything better in an economy that guaranteed a well-paying job to any half-wit in technology.

At my last job you could see the difference between people like myself and my boss, Doug, versus someone like my co-worker Mike. Having primarily focused on a double major in Poly Sci and Math, Mike had to go through some intense training right after college to learn the skills he would need for his new job with NetTech. Doug, on the other hand, had been doing this for years leading him to found the company. By the time the company went under, we all had a fairly similar set of certifications and were responsible for many different jobs. But there was always a bit of a difference between us in how we looked at issues. Doug and I were more likely to attack a situation from comparable angles to hash out an answer or at least a starting theory to test. Mike was also skilled at troubleshooting, but his approaches could often be erratic and would often miss problems that were obvious to us or look into paths we knew immediately to be dead-ends. Mike, while definitely more capable and intelligent, had more in common with a lot of the sys admins we worked at in schools who had entered the computer field simply because it had become so lucrative. The difference is even seen among us geeks. Doug certainly had a much higher proclivity towards circuitry and theoretical design, whereas I was faster on the uptake with system integration and networking.

There was probably a point somewhere in this story, but it got lost along the way. No big deal :wink:. There is an odd sense of accomplishment with my job, where I know that I’ve done so much to help people here, but I still feel like I could sleepwalk through most of their problems. I guess that’s why I still put so much effort into my own server and website – it’s more of a challenge. And of course I’m not complaining. When it comes down to it, all sys admins dream of the day when the last script has been written automating every process in the company and allowing them to spend their days reading User Friendly and competing for the first post on Slashdot.