In 2001, I moved to Austin with the hope of working at Dell. Dell was known for its enterprise workstations and servers, but it was gaining a lot of ground in the consumer market as well for its rugged laptops and non-beige systems.
Unfortunately for me, the very month I moved to Austin was also the month that the dotcom bust hit Dell, resulting in a lengthy hiring freeze and massive layoff affecting much of the workforce.
I ended up working as a line cook for a week, then at the Sears call center doing product support for air conditioners and refrigerators. As much as I enjoyed learning more about appliances, I wanted a job that let me have a little freedom to walk around.
That’s when I started asking the security officer at the front desk about working at Wackenhut (now G4S Secure Solutions). After a few conversations, I applied and found myself quickly hired. My assignment: Dell’s corporate headquarters.
The job not only allowed me to do plenty of walking, but it gave me a perspective that I never would have imagined having had I not taken the leap and put on the uniform.
Blue and White Collar Workers Treat People Differently
I spent some time working at the warehouses that Dell used to receive, customize, test, and ship their systems. While the parts were largely made overseas, the assembly and refurbishment were handled in the U.S.
I spent several months at the gatehouse checking empty trailers and signing out truckers as they headed out on the road with loads of new systems. On occasion, I worked in the warehouse operating the metal detector or sealing trucks and documenting shipments as they arrived.
The workers at the warehouses, as well as the truckers, were absolutely fantastic to work with. They treated me as an equal, sparking up conversations, and occasionally inviting me to after-hours outings. It felt, though I was not actually working the floor, I was part of the team.
This is a stark contrast to the white-collar workers I met at the corporate offices.
Dell had a strict policy on wearing badges to get inside the buildings. It was a policy we were told we had to enforce, even if Michael Dell himself walked past us. So, I did. Unfortunately, the employees that forgot their badges would argue, belittle, and attempt to sneak into the building using a back entrance, piggybacking on other employees.
The overnight shift, of which I was frequently apart, had the extra job of gathering unsecured laptops off employee desks and bringing them to the security office. The employees would then have to have their managers retrieve their laptops, which usually resulted in additional resentment towards the security team.
Things were often pretty tense. We were reminded frequently that we were dealing with folks that made six figures, and they could have us fired if we made their lives too difficult.
An Active Imagination Fights Boredom
I worked 16-hour shifts ending in the morning. Overnights were often quiet, lonely times and I spent many shifts never seeing another human being. This was especially true during a couple of months where I was stationed at an empty warehouse that was no longer used by the company.
Staying awake was a challenge, and even though I was a night owl, the long hours of silence took a toll. This was before smartphones, and luxuries like laptops, radios, tablets, and even books were either not yet invented or not permitted while on duty.
What got me through it? When I couldn’t sneak a phone call or two to a night owl friend of mine, I used my imagination. Thinking back on movies or books that I had enjoyed and trying to come up with new endings or sequels for them was one way to pass the time. Often, I’d daydream about speeches I’d give or things I could do if I won the lottery.
It was the same trick I used to get through detention at school, and it worked like a charm.
The World is a Different Place on a Third-Shift Schedule
When you work overnight, you sleep during the day. This sounds totally fine to folks that sleep in now and then, but when your shift ends at eight in the morning, you find yourself waking up around five or six in the afternoon when the business world is winding down for the day.
Your breakfast time is everyone else’s dinner time, and there aren’t enough “full menu all day” restaurants around to make the occasional trip out not awkward.
If you live in an apartment, everyone is louder during the day. People knock on your door and call you on the phone without any notion that you may be deep in sleep.
There are a few advantages to living your life at night. In Texas, you’re rarely awake during the hottest part of the day. Shopping can be done at midnight when hardly anyone is at the grocery store and some shelves are freshly stocked with the newest produce.
A lot of my off time was spent playing video games and chatting with people online. Because of my weird hours, I met a lot of folks in Australia, England, and parts of Europe. Some of which remain friends to this day.
Data Centers are Extremely Interesting
The last thing on this list is a fun one. I loved working the data center. They were absolutely beautiful with hundreds of blinking lights and, of course, the best servers that Dell produced a the time.
Through the glass, I could watch the IT teams work. They routinely upgraded servers, swapped out hard drives, and added new systems. I loved hearing about the cool new technologies they were adding to the center.
It was one of the things that got me super interested in enterprise technology. Enterprise technology that I eventually made a living writing about.
I never did get that cushy office job at Dell, but I’m glad I didn’t. I got to experience the world from a perspective I never would have, otherwise.