The men who stare at screens
By Matthew Skog
Whether we’re checking emails, writing essays, or browsing the internet, computers play an integral role in the daily routines of college students.
But it’s important to remember that they’re not perfect.
Computers break down, just like any other piece of equipment. And when they do, it’s the responsibility of Chemeketa’s computer technicians to fix them as quickly as possible.
With just six people to maintain approximately 2,900 staff- and student-accessible computers, the technicians have a busy workload.
Computer technicians Arnold Goth and Octavian Düm, for example, work tirelessly every day to ensure that Chemeketa’s students and staff have working machines available to them.
“You can’t just take it out of the box, plop it on the desk, and start using it,” Goth says, “especially in an environment like this, where people are saving work to the network. All of the configuration and setup that has to be done for all of that – that’s what I do.”
Düm – pronounced Doom – says his job is to make sure that everyone else is able to do theirs.
Beyond maintaining the student labs and instructor stations in classrooms, “There’s also all of the other jobs that require technology in order to have their jobs function,” Düm says.
“Realistically, there isn’t a job on campus that doesn’t get touched by us doing our job.”
When most people think of a computer technician, the image they conjure up is typically one of a condescending introvert with limited people skills.
But this cliché couldn’t be farther from reality, Goth says.
“You absolutely have to have some people skills; it helps a lot. People get very tense,” he says.
“When I got my degree, it was called Computer User Support. Don’t forget the middle word. I’m not supporting the computers; they don’t need support. They break themselves just by being on.
“But the people do need the support. Computer User Support is what my degree is in, and that’s where I focus it.”
Goth says that many computer users tend to get the wrong impression when things go wrong.
“If you’re driving a car around and something goes wrong, you usually cuss at it and then send it to the mechanic to get it fixed. Right? But when something goes wrong with the computer, you wouldn’t believe how personally people take that,” he says.
“People tend to think, ‘Oh, no. I must have done something wrong.’ No – it’s just misbehaving.”
While both men have some overlap in their daily routines, Düm has a ritual that he follows once he reaches the office.
“One of the things I usually do to get my day started off on the right foot is make tea – or if not tha, then coffee,” he says.
Morning brew in hand, Düm then checks what support tickets need attention.
“I sit down and take a look at where I’ve left off from the previous day and at any incoming work tickets that need to be done from new requests,” he says.
Düm then lays out a game plan for the day.
“Sometimes they’re more long-term projects, where you can’t just get them done in a day,” he sayd. “But otherwise I’ll start working away at the tickets I have, whether they’re here on campus or on south campus.
“Oftentimes I’ll try to group tickets into areas if I can so I’ll be able to do multiple things when I go to different places.”
While the day-to-day work may vary, Goth says he almost always finds it enjoyable.
“It’s just a lot of fun to me,” he says. “I mean, think about it: Where else are you going to get a job where you can interact with people, be pleasant, and you also get to be the cavalry coming over the hill. ‘Oh, thank god you’re here.’ Now that’s how I like to be greeted.”
Goth says he enjoys working for a college that makes important resources, such as computer labs with specialized software, freely available to students.
“Some of these programs we’re teaching that you need to learn – especially for example, say, accounting – you’re not going to be going out and buy the premium version of Quick Books, and pay your tuition, and be able to eat. Nobody does that,” he says.
“It’s pretty essential, and that’s why we have such a varied group of labs. … It’s all about making stuff available for students.”
Maintenance on 2,900 computers may be eternally ongoing, but physical components are rarely at fault.
“We really don’t have a lot of hardware failure – unless the machine is one that’s been running for six or seven years, and then you might have some issues with hard drives or memory,” Düm says. “But realistically, the majority of what we end up doing boils down to software support.
“If it’s not a device that can feasibly be thrown around or crushed, we really don’t have hardware problems beyond the inevitable decline from age.”
While hardware failure may be a rarity, horror stories are not.
Goth’s favorite comes from an all-too-common occurrence.
“I get a call,” he says with a laugh. “The person on the phone says. ‘My computer won’t work.’ So I say, ‘Well, please tell me more; tell me what happened.’ So the person on the phone says, ‘Well, I turned it on, and this message appeared.’ And so I ask, ‘What did it say?’ And they say, ‘I don’t know; I clicked OK and it went away.’ So now my clue to fix the machine just vaporized.
“I look at that as a horror story, but really it typifies what you encounter a lot of: people who are in a hurry. The person in question there made a fundamental mistake. If they read it, and it didn’t make sense to them, leave it up and let someone who knows what it means see it because that could be the clue that allows me to solve it.”
Düm recalls a time when a recently hired administrator was having technical difficulties with her computer.
“I looked at it and couldn’t find anything wrong, so I brought it back to IT to look at it,” Düm said. “Likewise, I was unable to duplicate the issue there. I returned it to service in her office and it was fine.
“The solution? It just needed to go for a walk.”
The two technicians provide a list of helpful hints for all computer users. Chief among their recommendations:
• Make sure to backup your data;
• Learn to take screen shots, and
• Most importantly: don’t panic.
Düm wants students to know how important it is to learn how to efficiently use a computer.
“We have so much technology present in everyday life that if someone’s not aware of how to work with the computer, that really puts them at a disadvantage,” he says. “Learning the software on the computer can help you with anything and everything you’re trying to do.”
Above everything else, Goth wants students to know that they are at the forefront of his and other staff members’ thoughts.
“I’d just like the students to know that we do think about them, that we do care about them, and that we do want to see them succeed so badly, you wouldn’t believe it,” Goth says. “Everything we do is about them.”