In Defense of Just Fucking Around

After an adolescence and early adulthood spent in flux regarding technology’s integration into my own identity; after years spent occasionally surmising that I could be adept at helping folks figure out their software, I finally got the chance, last year, to see how much I was truly capable of within the context of a real IT business. (I’ll spare you further reading: not much.) A friend of mine – once my manager at the second convenience store job I’ve had – managed to get me a support job at a small IT company based in a quaint suburb of Kansas City, co-owned by two old pros, who were also very much locals who stayed in the area. Their clientele was predominantly made up of the city’s municipal organizations – fire, police, works, etc. – along with much of the local heavy industry. Technically, two companies shared the same office (and resources… and at least one employee:) the software development company – the one my friend technically worked for – that provided bespoke, very technical management software for cement plants, and the IT company, which was almost singularly run by the older of the two partners.

That’s the extent I knew about the job when he first called me for an interview, asking a less diverse variety of screening questions than one might expect regarding my related knowledge. I cannot remember any of them specifically, but I do remember essentially answering “uh… well I don’t know, but here’s how I would find out” to many of them – perhaps too many, in retrospect. This IT boss – whom I’ll call Tim – who was known to be so discerning, was somehow convinced by my friend – whom I’ll call Jake – that I knew enough to be worth trying out, despite how poorly I felt I performed in the interview. Thank you, Jake!

A few weeks later, I packed up my clothes and moved in to Jake’s little house, less than two miles from the business, under the premise of a trial period. The next three months would be a trial for all of us in more ways than we could’ve imagined. For myself, Tim’s management style – full of machismo, paranoia, and threats – would be a test of a supposition about myself: that I could work under any boss, no matter how technically “good” they may or may not be. For Tim, I seemed to represent some profound risk to his business because of my failure to generate “billable hours,” which is largely why I’ve begun with this story. For Jake, as immediate observer of the situation, it caused much turmoil (which I regret) considering he was just hoping to get a roommate and similarly-aged colleague out of the deal.

In terms of my performance as a “support specialist,” I think all of us could agree that it was profoundly hindered by the nature of my philosophy of use regarding technology. Just Fucking Around does not lend well to solving IT problems in a timely, reassuring, and fundamentally billable way. In fact, I think one could even go so far as to deem it irresponsible in such a context, but the experience taught me a lot about myself, for better or worse. It also resulted in at least one solution which I daresay no other process could’ve found involving a privacy setting buried deep within some ancient business printing software. This, I suspect, was not worth the sum I was paid in those few months to the company, but it may or may not be some miniscule evidence that some problems necessitate a completely undisciplined/unhinged software rascal to solve. (Not enough to launch a business out of, I suspect.)

Definitions

To be more specific about what I mean by Just Fucking Around, I know only to draw upon individual experiences. For instance: when prompted with “what are you doing?” while Just Fucking Around, I know I have often struggled to answer articulately.[1] This is perhaps the root of my problem with timesheets: while I am technically capable of walking back into a description of what I am doing, it feels unnatural and perturbing. How adjacent does this fact make JFA to the recent evangelism I’ve come across for re-accepting “I don’t know” in day-to-day thought? Well, I don’t know. Until/unless another individual contributes to this “philosophy” – by addition and/or peer review – it will remain… something less than a philosophy.

What does it actually look like? Observe a child using just about any given application for the first time, or – if an opportunity to do so is unavailable or inappropriate – imagine yourself as a child encountering an application for the first time. More specifically, a child too young to immediately seek out a search engine in the face of a task they do not understand.[2][3]


[1] Here, perhaps we find insight into the origin of “they have no idea what they’re doing.”

[2] If such a child still exists, that is.

[3] I promise I made a valiant effort to search out online video of anyone using any software for the first time, but “KIDS REACT TO OLD COMPUTERS” was about as close as I could dig up.