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Embrace the Change | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

Embrace the Change

In 1989, jobs were hard to find in a lousy economy. I landed a job for a physics department that would let me continue taking classes. Problem: I knew nothing about computers, and the job required it. I was a fast typist, and they decided to risk hiring me. My first day on the job, the dept. head gave me a handwritten syllabus. I typed and printed it, no problem. He looked at the file setup and refused it, telling me, “You used a word processor as a glorified typewriter. Here’s a book. Figure out what you did wrong and make it right.”

It took me 3 days to create a 3 page syllabus he would accept. When he finally accepted my work, I was so furious I was ready to quit. He then told me, “I know you’re angry. I know you’ve just spent 3 days wandering blind alleys figuring out how to do this. But each blind alley you went down taught you things you will need to know. It will get easier.”

And so began my trial by fire computer training. Part of my job involved clerical work on a NASA research project. It was old Internet days, with manual dial up handshake commands that had to be typed in a line at a time. I was supposed to load files to a CRAY supercomputer, download the results, and then convert those results to graphs.

On my first day on the job, not a single command worked when I tried to log onto the CRAY.  Exasperated, I called NASA, thinking I had to be the dumbest computer user on the planet. Response?

“You’re following yesterday’s instructions. Everything changed today.”

“When will I get today’s instructions.”

“Most  likely in 6 months. But I’ll tell you the steps to follow.” He walked me through the new handshake procedures.

And so began my year of learning to use a computer, on the job, with deadlines, when things changed every single day, before I had a chance to learn how to use them beforehand.

I had no idea when I started that job that it would change my life. Computer software eventually made sense. Within 6 years, I was a computer network administrator for a network of 50 computers for a law firm.  For the past 15 years, I’ve worked as a corporate computer trainer and have trained at least 3,000 people in how to use computers on their jobs.  In recent years, that has also branched into training them on social media. My experiences learning on the fly help me be a more empathetic teacher.

With social media, things change daily. Buttons move, features have different words, and more. It reminds me of my first day using a computer, 21 years ago. Yesterday’s instructions don’t quite work, and we figure out today’s procedures by the seat of our pants. It’s frustrating.

My lesson from years ago: embrace the change.

The blind alleys you stumble in, as you seek today’s instructions, are preparing you to handle tomorrow’s bigger computer challenges.

2 Responses to “Embrace the Change”

  1. Pat Alexander November 5, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Mary, What a great post. I can so identify with this. I told my husband one day after working for a consulting firm for about 3 months that no document went unchallenged. The owners concept was if you could withstand her constant criticism, you could learn how to be a good consultant. Ouch. Did I learn new, important things? Absolutely. Do I want to go through that again? Absolutely not. I prefer a different teaching method as I know you do too. But it is all so relevant to today’s technology and social media. I tell people that we are in a constant beta testing mode. Get used to it.

  2. Scott Bergman November 9, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    Hi Mary, great article! I think change is a very difficult subject for many people. But, I think your right on, things change very quickly in today’s world and if you don’t want to get left behind embracing change is something you have to do.

    BTW, isn’t the learning by fire method great? :)

    Take care!

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