My dream job: An MSP Padawan’s journey from retail hell to IT heaven



  • How does one define success? That’s a big question open to a lot of interpretation and scrutiny. If you ask 100 different people to define success, you'll get at least 80 different answers. In this case, I’m going to talk about my time in the IT field and as an IT service provider and hopefully share some tips with people in my former position on what helped me climb from retail hell to IT heaven.

    Let’s go back a few years to a simpler time… oh wait, too far. Fast-forward the tape. OK, stop there. Good.

    I worked at an office supply chain store on and off for three years between 2011 and 2013. It was an interesting time. During that time, I went from a mere sales associate to an “EasyTech Associate” to the onsite technician back to an associate to the onsite technician to EasyTech Expert (associate-level head of department but not management) and Onsite Technician. To say I wore many hats with varying levels of responsibility and pay levels is an understatement. However, I used this time to grow.

    Points to take away:

    • I made it my mission to know my products better than anyone. This meant I often bought products on my own dime to simply try them out and understand them better.
    • I improved my overall technical knowledge, which led to me, through work, doing things like setting up a Windows Server 2012 print server and configuring VPNs for businesses.
    • I worked my blooming rear-end off to be the best salesman/technician there.

    However, despite all the things I gained there, it was still retail. I would never be working on high-end stuff (at least not consistently) and my growth in IT was fairly stunted.

    Now, while I was working, I had started an internship through the college I was attending for a company in the financial industry. I got to learn all kinds of fun things like FINRAA regulations and also how to administer things in a professional environment. It was a small company but still, I was able to gain new exposure to elements of the field I had never even seen and some I had never even heard of before.

    Points to take away:

    • We were a two-man shop for 40-ish people in house and 150 reps across the country. I learned the struggles that most of the people working IT in the SMB face.
    • I learned many best practices on things I had been doing for a long time and actually learned what a quality job meant.
    • I was doing a great job but was laid off in September 2012. I entered one of the lowest points in my life. However, I bounced back and in October 2012 started a new job in the healthcare field (kind of), and in early November at an IT service provider — the one and only Niagara Technology Group (NTG). This is where I finally was able to grow.

    Play the cards you have
    I was what you might call "parched" as far as information was concerned. I was a dry sponge just waiting for the right time to come along and soak up what I could. In the time between when I started at NTG and when I had begun my work career (only a little over two years) I had tried to learn as much as possible, but there were still many aspects of the field I hadn’t gotten to touch or play with. However, everywhere I went, I was able to take something away, good or bad, and learn from it. I applied the good and learned from the bad — both from my mistakes and from others'.

    Now, to the meat and potatoes of my post. First of all, let me just state that working in retail — any retail — is hell. No other way to put it. You are underpaid, under-appreciated, over-worked and often the expectations are unrealistic. Corporate America for you...

    But, I made it out of that prison. I was finally free.

    When I started at NTG, I set out to establish myself. I tell people that when I started there, I was far from truly qualified to start working for a company like NTG. Go to our IT service provider page and look at some of our people. I was nowhere near that level, and in many ways I'm still not. But, I like to say the key to success is not holding all the cards, but playing the ones you have well.

    I had enough knowledge to handle some L1 stuff at the time. I have worked my butt off since to improve. You see, many people get out of retail into a professional job. Whether that is working for an MSP or not, there is often a shock that occurs when you do. It’s night and day. The quality of work expected, the consequences of failing, the level of skill. These are all in a completely different league than working in Geek Squad or as an EasyTech Associate. The bar is higher. Many people work very hard at first to impress their boss or company but then make the mistake of either stunting themselves by not continuing to grow in their knowledge or expertise, or, they get comfortable. NEVER get comfortable working for an MSP. What do I mean by that?

    Let me first say I love my job. I wouldn’t trade it for any other. However, I stay on my toes. I realize that I’m not irreplaceable. I realize that there are people out there a lot more qualified than me. I realize that if I start to slack off, even a little, I’ve just lost what made me get the job in the first place, and I’m no longer a valuable asset as much as a liability.

    MSPs work very different than in-house IT. In many ways, they are complete opposites. To an SMB, IT is a hit to the bottom line.They are a necessary evil and one they will skimp on every way they can. With an MSP, when you have more qualified techs, and you can offer more services, you increase your value internally and to the clients you serve. The level of respect is higher, but again, so are the expectations.

    Points to take away:

    • Where you are and where you can be are very different. Never mistake your current status for your future potential.
    • Find something that makes you valuable. If nothing else, work yourself into the ground to prove that you have the drive and dedication to make it work with your employer.
    • Keep raising the bar you set for yourself. When you reach a goal, set a newer, higher one. This will ensure you continue to grow and maintain your value. Stagnant techs are useless techs.

    So, in my journey from retail hell to IT heaven, I have sacrificed; I have worked many 12+ hour days (more than I can name), been very active on IT communities, bailed out some of my own techs from situations that they were unable to fix (some more complex than others), and have really proven my value. I plan to continue for a long time at NTG. It was a lot of good planning and a little bit of luck, but I have settled into what I hope to make my permanent career.

    So to all my fellow “up-and-coming” techs just starting out, lay out a roadmap. Where do you want to be in five years? Two years? Six months? Talent and brains without hard work and time will not get you very far. So push yourselves, and it will yield great rewards.



  • I still have this as a reminder to myself.
    2013-02-10 23.11.24.jpg



  • An 'Easy "Tech Expert"', huh? That could be taken multiple ways. 😉



  • These were referred to as sign nights. Going through and taking down last week's sale tags and putting up new. Very annoying but you get used to it.
    2013-05-11 17.44.12.jpg



  • And this is what I was working with when I left Staples.
    2013-06-01 17.02.45.jpg
    Ed, as a manager, was not that good compared to the guy I relied on and worked very well with before him, Mark. He was the nicest guy but not really that great at what I thought needed to be done being handled the way it should. Jared was 16 and had pretty much zero IT experience. Jackson was actually pretty good for retail (not ready for professional IT by any means) but was a high schooler and was going to be going to RIT. He left a few months after me. His family moved to NC too so he left Staples completely. I honestly don't know how they functioned. There were one or two other guys not shown there but, well, let's not go there...



  • And I still could never get people to write A.J. instead of AJ. GRR!!



  • Thanks, AJ 😉



  • I keep these pictures as a reminder to work hard because it's too easy to fall back to these as far as mentality or personal expectations. Fight for improvement and don't settle for contentment.



  • Their naming conventions are odd. You were an "Easytech" expert. But other people were "Easy Certified". It's not consistently Easytech vs. Easy. Some of them just appear to be generic techs whose certifications were not hard.



  • @scottalanmiller I'm watching you...
    watching you.png



  • @scottalanmiller EasyTech was the department. Easy was a title. So I was the Expert for the department. An Easy Certified Technician is just someone who works in tech. I agree. Their naming sucked. Easy is obviously the Staples schtick. But from the time I started at Staples I wanted to be the ET Expert. I did hit that goal.



  • This is an example of my sales dominance over others. This was week two of our 2013 fiscal year. I think this was run on Tuesday or Wednesday. The reporting period is just set to say when to look from and to. But this was mid-week sometime I ended up doing just over 4K myself that week. They had like $7002 in sales. I set a store record for week of 2/3-2/9, broke it on this week's and then almost broke that the week after this one. 😉
    2013-02-16 21.47.01.jpg



  • I left the botttom name intact. He committed suicide, very sadly, about a month or so after this. That's a different story for another time though...



  • @ajstringham said:

    @scottalanmiller EasyTech was the department. Easy was a title. So I was the Expert for the department. An Easy Certified Technician is just someone who works in tech. I agree. Their naming sucked. Easy is obviously the Staples schtick. But from the time I started at Staples I wanted to be the ET Expert. I did hit that goal.

    It's odd that you were an "Easytech" and they were just "Easy".



  • @scottalanmiller In reality, that picture isn't 100% accurate. The official corporate term WAS "EasyTech Certified Technician" but that sounds klunky. It was rarely used in the official manner. And then we had the Resident Tech who was actually supposed to be the technical one. I was both, technically. But ET Expert was a training/supervisory role over the others to teach them how to sell and engage customers. That was the official job description. They weren't meant to be technical, by the paper description. Rarely was that the case though.



  • @scottalanmiller

    @scottalanmiller said:

    But other people were "Easy Certified".

    I knew a girl who was easy, certified. 🙂



  • @PSX_Defector said:

    @scottalanmiller

    @scottalanmiller said:

    But other people were "Easy Certified".

    I knew a girl who was easy, certified. 🙂

    I'm sure you do. Notice, not past tense. 😛



  • @ajstringham said:

    @PSX_Defector said:

    @scottalanmiller

    @scottalanmiller said:

    But other people were "Easy Certified".

    I knew a girl who was easy, certified. 🙂

    I'm sure you do. Notice, not past tense. 😛

    Hey, you were the easy tech. Wouldn't be talking there bub.



  • @PSX_Defector said:

    @ajstringham said:

    @PSX_Defector said:

    @scottalanmiller

    @scottalanmiller said:

    But other people were "Easy Certified".

    I knew a girl who was easy, certified. 🙂

    I'm sure you do. Notice, not past tense. 😛

    Hey, you were the easy tech. Wouldn't be talking there bub.

    Everyone has to start somewhere. I honestly wouldn't trade that experience. If I had to go back and do it all over, I would have never broken up my tenure. I would have been there from the day I started on July 28, 2010 straight through to when I left June 1, 2013. I used that job as training. Made a lot of noob mistakes because I was new to the workforce. It helped me get a lot of wrinkles sorted about so I didn't make those while in professional IT.



  • @PSX_Defector said:

    @scottalanmiller

    @scottalanmiller said:

    But other people were "Easy Certified".

    I knew a girl who was easy, certified. 🙂

    By the PSX Certification Authority?



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @PSX_Defector said:

    @scottalanmiller

    @scottalanmiller said:

    But other people were "Easy Certified".

    I knew a girl who was easy, certified. 🙂

    By the PSX Certification Authority?

    Oh God! I don't want to know what it takes to get a signed certificate from there! cringes



  • @ajstringham said:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    @PSX_Defector said:

    @scottalanmiller

    @scottalanmiller said:

    But other people were "Easy Certified".

    I knew a girl who was easy, certified. 🙂

    By the PSX Certification Authority?

    Oh God! I don't want to know what it takes to get a signed certificate from there! cringes

    Condolences, for one thing.




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