The Kids Are Alright

From earlier: I joined TU in 1990 to run the campus computer labs.

Since I was still young-looking, when Bob Chappelle hired me my first task was go undercover — bring a backpack and visit all the computer labs masquerading as a student lab patron: see what the student lab workers were doing, etc. etc.  It was a neat way to see the inner workings before coming in and starting to change things.  I inherited a group of students that February through May, but it taught me very well what skills I needed to recruit for next August.

For 5 computer labs, I needed approximately 36 student workers that would stay with me the entire academic year.  We used “Work/study” students who had vouchers from the Financial Aid department.  Every August these kids would fan out around campus looking for jobs.  I would invite them to a special orientation gathering (with pizza and drinks!) in the main campus lab before school started, where I’d tell them the benefits of working in the labs — no previous tech experience required, just a willingness to learn and exhibit great customer service skills.

The kids with $1,000 vouchers were the ones I’d aggressively pursue, as they could give the most hours to me.  They became my backbone team: working evenings, nights, and weekends.  The main computer lab in Chapman Hall was a 24/7 facility after all.  After that were the $500 and $250 folks…still great players to round out the team.

I would hire them and inevitably one or two would blow out in the first semester — leaving me to run down to the lab at 1:00am when the guy failed to show for the midnight shift change.

I taught them the basics of the Microsoft suite, how to help with footnotes and pagination, and select different printers.  But most importantly, how to be sensitive and sympathetic when a patron’s ONLY floppy disk would inevitably die the night before that big term paper was due.  I would move heaven and earth to try and recover at least the text of their paper, and devised some great methods to do that.  I even was able to share this wisdom with the most savvy of the lab staffs.

In turn, they taught me about how they used the Internet — using email and unix talk to chat with friends who were at other schools.  The lesson that their world was smaller and more intimate was important as the Net reduced both distance (and phone bills).  They were not the Digital Natives, but they were a step closer to it.

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