© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Real Poop

Zombies, get out of the way. We're not afraid of your fluorescent green eyes, saliva that drips out of your gaping hole of a mouth, and blood that oozes from a dozen jagged wounds. Yes, there are thousands of you, but your power has been eclipsed by an army even greater in size...the all-powerful collective of computer users. Our weapons vary: Many of us wield PCs, a stealthily growing subset defiantly raises our Macs, and countless numbers put their faith in portable notebooks and tablets. When these enigmatic devices function correctly, we retain our power over you fearsome zombies. We also maintain absolute control over the functions of the real and virtual worlds. When the computers rebel, however, absolute chaos ensues. This crisis can only be averted by swift, decisive action taken by respected computer wizards. These highly regarded professionals also have a common, non-scientific name: computer repair technicians.

These revered technical experts delve into the bowels of the computer to diagnose (and frequently repair) both hardware and software problems. Hardware malfunctions can affect the CPU (the computer's brain); the hard drive (the computer's spacious data storage repository); the router (little black box that connects computer networks); or the monitor (the nice bright screen that frequently hypnotizes unwary users into maxing out their credit cards). Video or sound cards, printers, and audio and video equipment can also be affected by hardware malfunctions.

Software problems (non-technical term: glitches) often affect system and application programs, interfaces with other devices, and local or wide area networks. Translation: The user's computer signals can be hopelessly scrambled, going to the wrong places, or traveling in the wrong sequence. Sometimes, the software problem lurks solely within the user's computer. In other cases, the malevolent beast extends its tendrils throughout a home or office computer network. Often, such a virus is caused by a user accessing certain…ahem…adult-themed websites. (Discretion is the better part of malware.) In a worst-case scenario, a nationwide or worldwide network of interconnected computers can be brought to its knees by a computer virus or other electronic malady.

Hope you backed up recently.

Clearly, a computer repair technician must have a large bag of tricks to gain the upper hand. First, he must have a good working knowledge of common operating systems. For example, most personal computers host Windows-based operating systems compatible with most PC computer brands. Macintosh computers (or Macs) utilize a completely different operating system that interfaces easily with other Macs and Apple products (e.g., iPads and iPhones). In addition, modern software usually enables Windows and Mac users to exchanges files without difficulty. For example, you can easily send your Windows word processing file to your friend's Mac computer...most of the time.

Good computer repair techs combine their operating system knowledge with an obsessive, almost anal-retentive attention to detail. If the tech is trying to determine why a client can't get on the Internet, for example, the tech must examine both hardware connections and software interfaces until he finds the problem. The process could take 10 minutes or two hours; much of that time might be spent gnashing his teeth while he's holding for the Internet service provider's tech support department. This example should illustrate that a computer repair tech should have an endless supply of patience. Diplomacy, tact, and a stable blood pressure reading can't hurt, either.

Business computer systems generally operate as larger, more complex versions of home office networks. A small networked office will likely have several client computers that depend on a central server for data storage and processing power. Larger businesses may have multiple offices or departments, all connected to a centralized server. Purchasing, order processing, accounting, and marketing employees communicate and share data through the server. This central database enables each department to operate more efficiently.

Okay, that covers personal and business computers. What about REALLY BIG computer systems such as mainframes? Aren't they the ones you'll find in that endless black hole called the Federal Government? How can I line myself up to work for one of these huge agencies such as NASA, or even the United States military? Short answer: First you need to find the job, and then you'll need to obtain the position's security clearance. How thorough are these background investigations? If you threw an ice cream sandwich at your first grade classmate, the investigators are likely to find out about it. Hopefully, you don't have anything worse than that in your background.

Let's assume, though, that you've managed to land yourself a coveted position as a computer wizard. You might be operating your own consulting business (complete with all the expenses and risks); you might have signed on as a tech with an existing company. You may even be working for the Geek Squad, a Best Buy subsidiary that performs customer installation and maintenance work.

What kind of working conditions can you expect? Most of the time, you'll work in a climate-controlled environment. After all, most people are smart enough to know computers become very unhappy when expected to work in excessive heat and/or humidity. If you're a bench technician, you'll likely have predictable work hours, as customers will bring (or ship) their computers to your repair facility. On the other hand, you might have a field technician job. This means you might be called to clients' facilities during evenings, weekends, or holidays. What the heck, it's a paycheck.

Now let's say you're heavily into fixing things, and you're actually quite good at it. If you like working in the computer field, but you're starting to feel unchallenged, consider a four-year degree that may lead to a computer design or computer engineering career. If you'd rather write the paychecks than cash them, take some business courses and open your own computer repair shop.

Finally, let's say you want to broaden your horizons. Perhaps you'd like to transfer your diagnostic and repair skills to another profession (a legal one, of course). Check out electronics repair, electrician, and machinist work, to name just a few. Of course, we can't promise the zombies won't find you there, either.

Ugh, and on school picture day!

However, don't get too hung up on the fact that you’ll have a corner office in the middle of downtown Cyberland (rent's cheap and the views are gorgeous)…there is a human element at work here as well. You are like a doctor of data—you assuage people's pain and stress when it comes to their electronic children. Many freeeeak out about computers and you…help. It’s a soft kind of glory, but tangible.