To work for free

It all began when a professor at my (undergraduate) college showed up in our lab and asked, "So who here is the guy who knows everything about computers?".

Admittedly, such people have never existed. However, for all practical purposes, when a professor in his fifties comes and asks the system administrator of the college about "computers", you can be reasonably sure that the sys admin has the skills to do/fix whatever the professor is looking for. The system administrator in this case being yours truly, and the professor being someone not from Computer Sciences (no offence!).

Like any good "computer-person", I dutifully asked, "What do you need? I am the system administrator"

He literally looked me up and down, and said, "No, who is the person here who knows everything here? The person who takes care of all this?". He was pointing at all the 100+ computers around the room.

Had it been the Sudipta of today, I would have deferred to another official in the room, possibly my senior and let him handle the case. But it was the Sudipta of nine or ten years ago. And it became a matter of nerd ego for me. I took it as a challenge to go and fix whatever it was.

"I'll do it", I said - "I take care of all these".

He agreed, finally. He told me that it was a new computer and it had some "hyper-threading technology". It was the latest and greatest but he was not being able to install a particular program. He said he will pick me up in the evening from the lab. After college was over for the day, he showed up on time. I rode pillion on his scooter and reached his home. On the way, he explained that although the sales guy had told him about the hyper-threading technology which was the latest and greatest thing in the current computer market, this particular program was not getting installed.

I reached his home. He switched on his machine with hyper-threading technology and showed what wasn't being installed. I started checking things. Found the error - he needed some other files and sys files. In the meantime, he brought me some snacks: one Methi paratha and a few Mumras. At this time, he was almost surprised that I understood what was wrong in the first place. I fixed it, he became proud of his hyper-threading technology once again, and dropped me off in front of the college gate.

If you think about it, had he hired a local computer technician, his expenses would have been upwards of Rs. 200, at least; that too ten years ago. If he would have hired a computer technician, he would have given the guy much more respect. But I was giving him free labor, and that too upon my own insistence to prove that I was also "a person who knew computers". Did I have anything to prove to a new person in spite of being the system administrator of the entire college? No. Did I get the respect I deserved for being able to do what I did? No. I think it is my deep-rooted desire to do charity, and the insecurity and naivete of a 21-year-old that drove me it. It took me a while to know more about the market itself, and what my value was. That has made me a different person now. With a bigger ego, and a more aware mind. I would still do open-source projects and help others with their "computer problems". But now, I want to do that for people who realize the value of my contribution.


  1. I always escape requests for computer support by stating that I know nothing whatsoever about Windows (which means 99% of requests are out) and this excuse in fact has become true to a large extent today.

  2. Hari, yes, that is one way of dealing with the problem :)

  3. thanks for dropping by...I'm on a writing list and so often am shocked at the generosity of strangers..but this is different.

  4. Austere, welcome onboard! And yes, generosity should never be taken for granted!

  5. absolutely amazing.. i think even before the kiddos I need to learn self control... will elaborate, let me come back from the fridge...


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