the hacker and the plumber

I ran into a hacker I know while I walked past the Pub (sadly, to go to work). He and a friend were smoking outside by the door, as many Ontarians do. We got to talking about computer stuff, impolitely, now that I think about it, in front of his friend.

As we chuckled about the uselessness of level one Sympatico tech support his friend interjected, “You want to know how much I know about computers? I don’t even have an email address!”

“And you’re better off! Damn things drive you to the drink,” I told him.

He went on to clarify, “I’m just a working man, I’m not into that kind of thing.”

I know a bit about this fellow. I also do work for the company he works for. “You’re a electrician, then?”

“No, a plumber. Ya know, I’m blue collar. I work with my hands, that’s what I’ve got. But you guys. . .” Vague gestures to the head.

You actually get this a lot when you are a computer tech. Since most people have no idea how computers actually work, they assume that the people who work on them are wizards or something. It doesn’t help that Information Technology has a large technical vocabulary, full of acronyms and slang, making it difficult for the novice to understand. Many computer people can’t be bothered to explain any of this, and will seem standoffish, perhaps even arrogant.

And while it’s true that you need to know a lot to work on computers, I’ve never felt that IT workers were somehow superior to any other, particularly in my section of the computer industry. Hardware technicians are about as blue collar as we computer people get.

“I’ll tell you something, ” I said to him, “I don’t know shit about plumbing. I really don’t. I think I changed the flapper on a toilet once. I was proud of me, let me tell you. But I really don’t know shit about plumbing.”

“And that’s like a 99 cent part. But it’s like 69 bucks to stick it in.”

We all chuckled about the small parts generating the most service revenue. It’s the same in any service-oriented industry, computers or otherwise. It’s the small bits that always generate the larger profits.

I tell him that he shouldn’t sell himself short. Someone has to make sure the water and the sewage is working. You see, if computers fail, usually somebody just loses some money. But if the pipes fail, someone’s house fills with water. It’s as important a job as any.

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