Making money: my campus job by Laura N. '09
"Hello, MIT Computing Help Desk, this is Laura, how may I help you?"
Lots of students make money during term by working in their UROPs (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program), but it’s worth noting that there are lots of other jobs out there, some of which are barely technical at all. You can browse some of them here, on the financial aid website. EDIT: Timur informs me that these pages are not accessible to non-students. Oops. Sorry! I took some screenshots for your benefit, just so you can get an idea:
Ever since my freshman year (sort of), I’ve worked at the Computing Help Desk, which is part of Information Services and Technology. (Yeah, IS&T’s website is sort of an embarrassment, isn’t it? Apparently they were planning to replace it with a new, fancy, way better version since forever ago but it’s still stuck in bureaucracy.) So what does all that mean? Well, IS&T runs all of the computer related stuff at MIT…which, as you can imagine, makes it a huge department. Within IS&T there are people in charge of running Athena (the computing environment on the campus computers), the email servers, all of the web space (anything with mit.edu in it), plus tons more stuff. Within IS&T there is a division called Client Support Services (CSS), and within CSS is there is a group called the Help Desk.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be the person on the other end of the line when you place a call to tech support, I’m about to tell you.
When I show up at IS&T’s office on Massachusetts Ave, the first thing I pass is the reception desk and the walk-ins area.
(Normally there are people around, but I took these pictures after hours.) At walk-ins we deal with clients whose problems are too complicated or hardware-related to solve over the phone. I head around the corner to the call center itself.
Then I take a seat at one of the stations, which comes complete with a Mac, PC, telephone, and snazzy headset so I can talk and type at the same time and feel super cool.
What sort of stuff do we deal with? Lots of stuff -there’s a whole list of software which we recommend and support. IS&T provides MIT users with all of the stuff they’ll need to get through their virtual lives at MIT- generic stuff like email clients, calendar applications, file transfer applications, file backup systems, and more specific stuff useful to MIT’s system (complete with their own set of MIT-specific configuration settings): Fetch, SecureFX, Kerberos, web certificates. We troubleshoot connectivity problems, email problems, software problems, hardware problems, printer installation, VPN, VNC, Office, and VirusScan. We get frantic calls from people who saved the only copy of their thesis in their email account and somehow deleted their entire inbox (seriously guys, BACK UP YOUR DATA), people who forgot their passwords, and people who want to make their computers do crazy (impossible?) things. Sometimes the person on the other end of the line says, “Hi, I’m the IT person at my lab but I can’t figure out this problem,” which always sucks, because you know right from the start that the person asking you for help probably knows way more about computers than you do, but you’ve got to pretend otherwise anyway. It might seem like we know a whole lot about a whole lot, but that’s not necessarily true. And it might seem like we support a whole lot of stuff, but that doesn’t mean we like it. I obviously can’t hear what’s happening at the other end of the line when my coworkers answer the phone, but one look at their facial expression can be a dead give away that the client just said, “So I’m using Oracle Connector for Outlook, and…”
During training meetings, all of the student consultants get together to eat free food.
So, how does this fit into my life at MIT? Well, I work anywhere from 6-10 hours per week, depending on the semester and my work load. And honestly, it’s a nice break from everything- to spend a few hours a week working on something not related to mechanical engineering, outside of the labs and classrooms of the academic buildings.
You’ve probably heard that working in tech support is an awful job, but I love it. Sure, sometimes you get phone calls from people who should never be allowed to touch anything with more processing power than a four function calculator, but I usually find those experiences entertaining. (Then again, I’m the person who absolutely loved being a lifeguard mostly because of all of the nutty people I had to deal with on a daily basis- they gave me such good stories to tell at the end of my work day.) Also, the people I work with are great, both the students and staff. We are a really close knit group, and training meetings (when we’re all together at the same time) are always an entertaining affair. We always have a good time together, relating Help Desk war stories and cracking all kinds of jokes…and only some of them are computer related. Okay, maybe half. =)