Just completed my first paid job

I just completed my first paid “job”: repair my mother’s assistant’s laptop, and if unable to do so then recover whatever files she wants from the hard drive. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that I’m good at. :-)

What’s really funny though is that I didn’t ask to be paid for it, nor was that my mother’s intention when she said to her assistant that I would be more than happy to see what I could do for her. And when the laptop arrived in my “workshop” (a mixture between my bedroom and the computer room) a few weeks ago, I was doing it simply because I enjoy it and it’s what I’m good at. And that’s why I finished it, right up until the moment when I unplugged her external hard drive ready for my mother to take back to her on Monday.

But despite my mother repeatedly telling her assistant “not to worry” about paying me, that I was happy to do the job just for the sake of it (and, perhaps, because I do I have a little bit of empathy for those with broken computers ;-) ), she nevertheless very sneakily slipped a 20 pound note into the envelope containing the list of files that she wanted copied onto her external hard drive.

And as for the actual work: well, you’ve probably already figured out that I was unable to fix the laptop. There’s not much that you can do with a laptop that was turned off one evening and then mysteriously showed only a blank screen thereafter. But I did a fair amount of fault-finding, determining that the display was not at fault and that the laptop was in fact not attempting to boot from either the hard drive or any external media. Eventually I concluded that the fault was with either the RAM or the motherboard.

Although I suggested that she could buy more RAM and I would install it for her, I did say that that carried only about a 50/50 chance of repairing the laptop, and at 20 pounds for the RAM obviously she didn’t think that that was a worthwhile gamble, especially for a laptop that had been thrown around enough by her kids to crack not only the top case panel but also the CPU heatsink. And I completely agree with that, actually, despite having replaced the hard drive in my own just-as-old-but-well-looked-after laptop a few weeks before.

A little disappointed at having been unable to repair the laptop, and not wanting to pass that same disappointment onto my mother’s colleague, I decided to make up for it by seeing what I could do with the hard drive. So I put the hard drive (SATA, fortunately, so no laptop-to-desktop adapter required) in one of my old computers and booted it into one of the live Linux systems on my boot server. I mounted the hard drive and did a brief inspection to verify its integrity before calling my mother who was at work in the office with her assistant and giving her the news – both about the laptop and about the hard drive – and asking her what to do next. I said that I could get a listing of all of the files on the hard drive to her within an hour, and I got it done within the hour and just in time before her assistant went home (it should have taken fifteen minutes, had I not spent half an hour trying to convert it from a format that a technical Linux user can understand to a format that a rather ignorant Windows user can understand, but that’s another story).

Then it all went quiet while her assistant was “looking on her backup hard drive to see what files she already had”. That, somehow, took over a week to do, during which time I got sick, gradually put the laptop back together between wiping my nose and coughing, and didn’t pretend to be blind. And just as I had forgotten all about the laptop, and my mother was beginning to think that she should just return it without recovering any files, her assistant magically arrives in the office with her external hard drive and a list of files that she wanted me to recover from the laptop’s hard drive (and, as aforementioned, a 20 pound note).

And the rest was easy. As I already had a list of all of the files on the hard drive, obtaining a list of the requested files (as in, a list that I can pipe into a shell command, not a list like “photos from 2014”) was a few “cat” and “grep” commands away, and transferring them to my laptop and onto the external hard drive was a few “tar” and “nc” commands away (with a few “mount” and “cp” commands thrown in as well). The job done, and me quite satisfied at the good, successful, elegant Linux work, I unplugged the hard drive and gave it back to my mother to return to her assistant on Monday.

And I didn’t do it for the money. I found the money as soon as I opened the envelope containing the list of files, but I know I would have finished the job just as well without it. I did it because it’s exactly the kind of thing that I enjoy doing. The kind of thing that I want to make a career out of. Not a career to earn money, but a career to do what I enjoy doing. The money’s just a nice (and rather practical, when I grow up and need to support myself) extra benefit.

I did it because I enjoyed it. And I enjoyed it. The satisfaction from completing a job well – and knowing that you’ve helped somebody to recover their precious data – is more than worth it. I know what it feels like to lose data, and I know what it feels like to get that data back, and I know what it feels like to be unable to get data back because you don’t have the tools or the expertise to get it back even though you know it’s still there. And I know that sinking feeling of turning a computer on and finding that it’s stopped working. And I know that, with just a few Linux commands, I’ve made someone’s life better. I’m not in on this whole “philanthropy” thing, but I’m not so aspergic that I don’t care about other people. And when both you and someone else benefit from something, then it’s definitely worth doing. And that’s why I did it.

I might spend the money on a braille slate if my mother doesn’t want it.


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