For the love of IT

A long time ago in a land far far away, well a couple of hundred miles, I discovered a great love – passion even, that was to change my life completely forever.

As the seventies drew to a close I was fortunate enough to get a job in a major publishing house, and even more fortunate to become part of a team working on the Electrical and Electronics stream of publications.  These included all sorts of weird and wonderful titles, the like of which you might see at the end of  ‘Have I got News for You’.  Of course, at that time, our systems were not computerised.  As a Production Executive I had to log everything in handwriting in huge, difficult to manage log books, and design the layout of each issue of each publication using paper and glue (Cow Gum – could get us all high pretty quickly if we gave it a chance!).

Anyhow, it was during that time that I was given charge of the publication that was to plant that seed of love in me – Computer Weekly.  Computer’s were pretty new fangled and of course it was pre-windows, so I imagined such things were out of my reach, but because of the nature of the magazine I was able to get my hands on a machine in the editorial department every now and then, and use some spurious reason to get one of the team to show me how to do something or other.  All very basic MS DOS stuff, but I really looked forward to those short sessions where I could use a keyboard and something on a screen happened.

But before long, I became a mum, and that job fell by the wayside, and although I continued in magazine production I was no longer involved with the computer industry in any way.

We moved ‘up North’, the kids grew, I needed a job, but by the time of the mid-nineties it was clear that employers were increasingly looking for some IT skills in their new recruits.  So I signed up for a scheme that had been set up locally and set about gaining an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) in Information Technology.  Oh, how I loved it!  It made sense. It clicked. It was an epiphany for me.  Had computers been around at school when I was a kid I would have actually been good at something, instead of bad to so-so at everything.  I progressed easily and quickly.

Despite being very strapped for cash, we invested in a shiny new computer as a ‘family’ Christmas present one year, and I was able to find my way around it and teach my daughters a bit too.  I landed a job, initially working from home, running a small membership organisation.  And the rest, as they say is history.  The organisation grew and grew, I became, through necessity, and to my delight, involved in everything from building databases, designing and managing websites, finance programmes, document production and everything in between.  And as it was a committee-led national organisation, everything was done ‘virtually’ so there was no IT support to rely on.  I quickly learned how to solve problems and keep clunky machines moving.  The more challenging the problem the more I loved it.  I found I have a very natural, gut response to computer’s that give me grief – you shall not defeat me!!  And generally they don’t.  Tsk…that’s probably the kiss of death, I’m waiting for my screen to freeze now..

Anyhoo, now I’m retired, my love affair with my laptop, ipad and phone is still as strong as ever. I am an addict. !  I thought that nothing would delight me more than finding new ways of using them be it a fantastic website or a useful programme.  Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in love ’em all!

But I’ve found a new outlet for my passion.

Recently I noticed an advert in a local magazine for volunteers to help out as Tutors teaching older people IT skills.  And for the past month I’ve been going along to the classes and sharing some of my excitement and enthusiasm.  It’s hard work.  Some have very little in the way of keyboard skills.  Some are a bit better, but find it all very confusing, and some are downright scared.

Yesterday, one lady was sitting staring at her screen looking very glum indeed.  I asked her if she needed some help.

‘I hate it’ was all she said.

‘What do you need it for’ I asked.

‘I’m on a church committee and they keep sending stuff to each other, and they want me to write newsletters and things and I can’t. I feel like a twerp’ she said, almost in tears.

I was able to give her a pep talk and show her where we were up to in the class and she was so much happier at the end.   I told her I was the complete opposite of her.  How I loved how I could do practically anything on here – heck, I can even do sums.  Me!  Doing maths!  Well, of course it’s not me, its my spreadsheety friend.  I hope I can pass on some of the love to at least some of the group and that they learn, like I did, that IT is there to help. It’s a whole world of wonderfulness – not just the internet, but just being able to look at photos easily, keep a christmas card list, write a journal, keep track of your money, keep notes (love Evernote!) oh, and of course, do sums……

I realise, that, in my age group at least, I seem to be in the minority.  Lots of people find the whole concept frustrating and unfathomable.  I feel privileged that it makes sense to me.  Its not that I’m clever, its just how my brain works.  I’m a lucky one.


Little white ones

Its taken me a long time, but over the years I have come to realise that pretty much everyone spends their working lives ‘blagging’.  From the moment they put pen to paper to write their first CV to the moment they give their retirement speech.  Politicians might call it ‘spinning’, others might call it ‘white lies’ or ’embroidering the truth’.  Come on, admit it, you’ve done it.

Just a tweak here and there on exam grades perhaps.  Or a ‘yes of course I’m very experienced with that programme’ said confidently at an interview, when inside your saying ‘what the..!’ And somehow asking for a raise can feel more morally acceptable if you add one or two additional skills that you’ve acquired since starting.

Yes, you know you have.

My own blagging comes into it’s own at conferences and meetings.  I generally dread the things.  Making small talk with strangers is not my forte.  Nonetheless, I’ll stand and chat, nodding sagely at appropriate moments, filling in gaps with a ”oh yes, dreadful’ or ‘yes, that’s what I’ve been hearing’ without having the first clue about the subject, and hopefully, without the chattee catching on to my ignorance.

When I told him this, my ex-boss and friend, who is a high profile professional, confided in me that he only has a very vague idea about some of the subjects when he’s chairing conferences, and another, very high profile colleague has been known to nod off on stage when chairing, wake up, and then carry on as if nothing has happened. You just need the ‘front’ to do it.

A lady I know owns a successful antiques dealership. She knew nothing about dealing in antiques when she started, but she told me

‘I just said I was an antiques dealer and people believed me, so I was’

Of course, I’ve been blagging for a while about being a writer.  Ok, I blog. I write short stories. I have self-published poems on a poetry website that lots of people say they enjoy.  I’ve done a creative writing degree. I even wrote a radio play that the BBC only just rejected – they gave me a really good critique! (I’m very proud of that! Anyone that’s submitted anything to the BBC will know what I mean) but I haven’t been paid for anything yet.  One day…

My latest blag is listing myself as a ‘Social Media Consultant’.  Fair do’s, I am doing exactly that for the company I’m working for, but only because I can use Twitter, and Facebook, and Linked-in, and Pinterest, and WordPress, and all the other social sites.  It’s not rocket science.  Let’s face it, most nine year old’s could do it with their eyes shut.  But still, I suddenly find myself spending an awful lot of time marketing the company through these sites, having never done any marketing in my life before.

But, do you know what?  Having blagged my way in, I now find that is exactly what I am.  I’m learning on the hoof.  Gaining knowledge and experience rapidly. In a round about way, I’m even being paid for writing.  Just the tweets and blogs and stuff, but it is still writing. After all, I do have to think creatively about what to write, and sometimes that’s no mean feat.

And that is why all the best people blag.  It pushes you to do new things, to find ways of picking up skills fast. To achieve more than you thought you could.

Of course, I’m not condoning it – entirely.  We should all be truthful.  But if a little bit of embroidery on your CV can get you a job that you know you are capable of when otherwise you would be at the bottom of the pile (obviously, you have to have some confidence that you can pick things up quickly) then perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to do. Is it?