Monday, April 21, 2008

Don't Judge A Book by Its Cover

This blog topic has been waiting in the wings since Thursday's interviews. However, I knew I needed to do the story of Gameboy's arrival in this world, the recap of my job interview and Soundtrack Sunday, so I figured that it would wait until Monday. Little did I know that it would hold more importance to me.

In life, we all endure people passing judgment on our abilities before they know the facts. Some examples, mostly from the retail sector:

Working at Montgomery Ward, I was the quasi manager of the small electronics area. I call it that, because there was a Divisional Merchandise Manager who oversaw Appliances, TV/Stereo and Small Electronics. Within those three areas, there was someone who handled the work that in any other department of the store was the responsibility of a manager. We were commissioned, so we really didn't care-it gave us busy work in the slow hours throughout the week.

Anyway, I was the top dog in my department. This was 1989, and the era of 8088 home computers that had 20 megabite hard drives, MS DOS 3.3 and a home computer that set you back 1200 to 1500 bucks(for cpu, vga monitor and 24 pin dot matrix printer). Even at a retailer like MW, who had a lowest price guarantee.

It was my mission to learn everything I could about those computers, because to sell one meant I'd earn 6% commission. Not bad money. It was one of those jobs where I was 'the answer lady' (those who have worked with me are nodding their heads knowingly right now). The type A in me does not rest until I've conquered the product.

One day, I'm in my department. It's a weekday and it's just me and Dan. Dan was fresh out of high school and looked out of place in his suit and tie. He was tidying the department and I was doing whatever administrative paperwork the powers that be had bestowed on me that day. A man in his late 50's/early 60's walks up to the camera display cases and pounds his hand on the counter. "I want your best MAN to sell me a computer."

I cheerfully say to him "I'm the computer specialist, sir."

"NO, I want your best MAN to come here and sell me a computer." Uh, okay. Realizing that there was no getting through that thick skull, I call Dan over and point him towards the man and state simply "Dan, he wants you to sell him a computer."

Dan looked at me, confused. "Dan, he wants our best man to sell him a computer today." Dan says "But Suzanne, you're the expert~" and I stop him with a "No, no, help this man."

They go over to our display of computers (two brands, four models-all wired and set up by yours truly in computer desks assembled by yours truly). The questions start:
Customer: What's the speed of this processor?
Dan: Uh, Suzanne, what's the processor in the Headstart?
Me: That's a 286, Dan.
Customer: What's the dot pitch on this monitor?
Dan: Suzanne, what's the dot pitch on this monitor?
Me: That would be a VGA Monitor with a .28 dot pitch, Dan.
(I am amused at this point. Dan, on the other hand, is feeling mighty uncomfortable)
Customer: How big is the hard drive?
Dan: Suzanne...
Me: (not even looking up from my paperwork) It's a 20 meg hard drive and comes with XYZ software.

And so it went, Dan increasingly looking like a guy in need of a life raft, the customer stony faced and me, bemused by it all. The customer finally decided that he wanted the Headstart and off Dan goes to the stockroom to make sure we have the computer in stock.

The customer decides to come up to the register to wait for Dan's return. Meanwhile, I'm standing right there, paperwork spread out across the counter. I look up, smile brightly and say to him "Aren't you glad you got the best MAN to help you today?" He grunts at me and waits for Dan to return.

We had the computer, Dan rings his purchase and the guy walks away in search of Merchandise Pick Up. I comment to Dan "That was pretty funny, don't you think?"
Dan's response was priceless "Oh, you got the last laugh, Suzanne, because I rang that sale under your number. After all, you did all the work."

A few years later, I was a manager at Babbage's. At that time, I'd been playing on the Internet (Prodigy, AOL and a few BB's) for four years and was well versed in what modems do. We had two tiers of modems, with a forty dollar difference between the cheap ones and the good ones.

The reason for the disparity was a UART chip. That little chip allowed people to view GUIs* fluidly. If you use AOL (and at that time, it was the new kid on the block), you needed that UART chip, otherwise, your modem would 'hang' in the middle of loading the "Welcome" screen. (Steve Case would say "welcome" but not let you in the house of AOL if you bought the cheapy modem.)

Me being me, type A product knowledge geek, I would ask people what they planned to do with this modem, while they saw a 49 dollar modem in among all the 90 to 149 models. "Uh, go on AOL". Yeah, you can't use that 49 dollar modem. Over time, I earned a reputation with the coworkers-send all modem questions to Suzanne. She can explain them to the customers. Meanwhile, I was the girl telling them to buy the expensive modem.

Only problem was, I was the one female in the sea of men. There were more than a few customers who didn't take me seriously. They'd buy the cheap one because they didn't believe me, then return it a few days later because what I said would happen DID happen. It became a joke that after three or four returns in a row, I'd go in the back to let out a primal scream and say "just because I've got boobs doesn't mean I don't havea brain!" The guys would laugh. Heck it was easy for them, because the book people saw was one they expected to know about peripherals! (meanwhile, I was the only one who could explain the jumper settings in the store!)

Even the guys I worked with judged the book by its cover. By nature of the job, I dressed pretty conservatively. Mom and Dad both schooled me well on not talking politics or religion on the job, so much so that I'd keep my mouth shut, even when the political conversations that ran rampant were counter to my beliefs.

One day, three coworkers were talking (Jeff, if I say Sam, Brian and Tim-it becomes crystal clear, right?) about some political commentator and before I knew it, I'd thrown out a zinger that made it clear that my views ran completely opposite to theirs.

They were aghast. You're one of THEM? The sarcastic monster took hold of my tongue as I said "well, we don't all have horns and tails!" Over the next few months, it was the source of much interest for them-the first time they realized the spent a lot of time with someone who had diametrically opposed views. The contents of this book ran counter to what they were seeing on the outside. Thankfully, they realized that you could be smart and have an opposing political view.

What makes this timely, I guess, is that banning. I've been painted with a broad brush-if you post on the UnDIS, you're a threat to the DISboards. Never mind that I'd never been a problem on the DIS and I wasn't a troublemaker on either site.

The contents of the book that is me is a fairly nice person who occasionally has fits of sarcasm and snarkiness. I think most people I know are the same. But like the library who bans books, the DISboards have looked at me and others on that other site and figured they should do the same to us.

Like my work experiences, I just have to pity the small mind that judges the book by the cover.

*GUIs - Graphical User Interface. It's the pretty layouts you see (like here on my blog) when you visit websites.
*UART - Don't make me get all technical on your butts. Basically, it's a chip that converts the graphic data sent by websites into the pretty pictures you see. If you want more info, Wikipedia has a great explanation that techies will understand. :)

1 People talked back:

Mike Golch said...

I wish people would not jusdge a human book by it's cover.just today my BH went into a panera bread in an area where she must have looked out of place for the person before her got her paitries put in seperate containers than put in a bag,my Bh got all of hers put into a bag as if ythe person was judgeing here ant not treating her with the same coutrsy as she gave to the person ahead of my wife.