Changing Careers from Clergy to Computers

First computer job

We moved to the south end of the Twin Cities in August of 1999 and I worked hard to prepare for my certification exams. I also sent out dozens of resumes every week, looking for a job. I couldn't count on Teksystems to find me a job--they might, or they might not. Either way, I had to work. I took my CNA exam and passed. A few days later I took my A+ exam and passed with flying colors. And then Teksystems said that they'd start looking for jobs. Unfortunately I couldn't wait for them. I needed to start working as soon as possible.

One afternoon I attended a Linux conference held at a local college. When I called to check in with my wife, she told me that I'd had a call back on one of my resumes. I returned the call the next day and was invited in for an interview at a local computer manufacturer named Futurist. The company was looking for help desk techs to answer support calls from end users who had purchased computers from a home shopping channel. I agreed to come in for an interview--I really couldn't refuse, since it was the only interview I'd been offered and the phone wasn't ringing off the hook with prospective jobs!

On my first visit to Futurist, I met the sales manager. He told me about the company and explained how it was due to be one of the fastest growing computer manufacturers in the Midwest. The company had seen exponential sales growth since it began selling on a home shopping channel. He claimed that if the growth continued, Futurist would be challenging Gateway and Dell within two or three years. Hmmm. That sounded too good to be true. However, when he asked if I was interested in doing technical support for the company, I said yes. It wasn't glorious, but a foot in the door is a foot in the door.

Two days later I was interviewed by the vice president of the company. We discussed my work history and the skills I had to offer; he described the job he had available. It was basic first-level support, I suppose: answering customer calls, troubleshooting problems and helping users with their systems. It wasn't Unix, it wasn't administration, but it was a job in computers and it was something I knew that could do. I wasn't sure what to say when he asked how much I expected to earn; I had figured out our budget, considering my wife's earnings, and gave him the minimum I needed: $12 per hour. He was impressed with my A+ certification and my people skills, and he offered me a job on the spot. I accepted, and started the following Monday working the 2-9 pm shift. The job wasn't exactly what I was looking for (especially since I was starting evening classes in a month), but it was a start.

And it turned out to be a good job. I worked with 4-6 other techs who had a range of skills and abilities. We supported all aspects of the computers our company sold: we diagnosed hardware problems, helped users with Windows 95 and 98, and whatever else came along. I had an hour of training: I was told how to use the customer database to look up customers and/or enter new ones, describe their problems and the resolution of those problems. After that, I was on the phones. I think that's called "trial by fire." It was fun. I was able to help people who had computer problems and actually fix most of them within minutes. Normal workload was 30-60 calls per day. After a week I was writing troubleshooting documentation and training the new employees. After 2 weeks I was able to move to the day shift, and early in September I started my evening Unix class.

Back to school

I really looked forward to the first day of Unix training, and it lived up to my expectations. The class enrollment was around 2 dozen. Most were career changers (or at least career change hopefuls); a few were taking the class as training for their current jobs. Some were working in computers already, but most were hoping that the class would help them get their first (or at least a better) computer job. We had accountants, chemists, and of course I had been a pastor (not the first for the class, but only the second or third). Some had used Unix before, but many had not. We each had a Windows 95 computer for our class work, but used those computers to log in to a Unix server on which we did the real work. The first class was somewhat dull--some history and some basic commands, most of which I already knew. Yet it was a start, and it was good to be in a crowd of people of similar age who had similar goals.

Although the course started off a bit slowly, it picked up the pace. We learned Unix commands and system structure, and soon learned vi. I had wanted to be an Emacs guy, because of all the features Emacs provides. I didn't want to have to learn vi. It's much slimmer and doesn't have all the features, and it has a reputation for being very unfriendly. Yet vi grows on you if you give it some effort and time. Soon I was doing all my Windows/DOS work with versions of vi, and now do almost all my text work on any OS with vi. In October 1998 we began learning Korn shell programming, which was a lot of fun.

Living the good life

Soon after our move and change of careers, my wife and I were doing well. We were making more money than we ever had before, work and school were fun, and we looked forward to putting away a lot of savings to plan for future moves and even a house. The future looked bright and just kept getting brighter.

It lasted for two months.

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