Like many IT professionals, I am not a people person. Working with computers usually hides this flaw. Unfortunately, my previous required extensive people skills; I supervised over 100 cashiers and baggers as a front end manager for a grocery store. I was not good at my job.
After I dropped out of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. With no clear options before me, I went to work at the same grocery store I bagged at in high school. Eventually, I decided to make a career out of it and became an assistant manager then a full manager. Dealing with customers and employees taught me a lot about how to deal with difficult interpersonal interactions. But even though I liked working with my team and admired many of my mentors, I realized the job was not for me and decided to pursue a path in IT.
After a few months, I got an interview for an entry level IT technician position with the company I was already working for. Before the interview, I spent tens of hours studying general IT subjects, but there is so much to learn about technology that I knew my preparation would only be a drop in the bucket. When the day of the interview arrived, I was nervous my complete lack of experience would be exposed in a humiliating fashion. I was expecting to face esoteric questions about Linux administration and Cisco networking.
I did not get asked a single technical question. Instead, we only talked about my customer service background. When I mentioned that I was expecting amore technical interview process, my interviewer told me that I could learn all the technical abilities, but people skills were what I needed to already have. I breathed a sigh of relief. I got the job.
In hindsight, focusing on customer service for an IT role makes complete sense. The sites I service do not know how much stuff I Google or how often I ask for help. What matters is I respond quickly, get things working, and manage our relationship well. One of the on-site managers I work with said I was the most involved IT guy he has ever had. I did not point out that the reason he sees me so much is because I have no idea what I am doing, so things take me three times as long as they would for anyone else on our team.
My time in customer service gave continuity and narrative to my entire career. I started working for this grocery company at 16. They are the only company I have ever worked for. Like most teenagers, I thought that job would just last me a single summer. Instead, I’ve stuck with it. For the longest time, I thought I was biding my time until I got a “real job”. It turns out I was where I should have been and learning exactly what I needed.