Someone asked me today what I do.
“You know those computers the size of a dorm fridge? I work on those,” I said. And yes, sometimes that means crawling around and sticking my head inside one, I added.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll break something?”

“Oh, I break stuff all the time,” I said. “Then I fix it.”

And that reminded me of a story.

One day when I was about 17, my Dad came home one afternoon and found me in the basement, with our computer disassembled–completely–and sprawled out across his table. His eyes got really big. “You gonna be able to put that thing back together?” he asked, without much hope in his voice. “Sure!” I said. He watched me pry a ROM chip out with a screwdriver, pop in a new one, then reinstall all the drives, the power supply, and the expansion cards and replace the cover. I didn’t have any pieces left over, which I think he took as a good sign, and then he watched me plug it into the keyboard and monitor. I fired it up, and it worked perfectly.

I still had an awful lot to learn though. At work, you’re supposed to have pieces left over. What, you think employers actually buy their techs those great PCs on their desks? Ha! And a tip for you beginners: After the new system performs like swamp sump because you just swapped out all the good parts with parts from the old clunker on your desk, just blame the disappointing performance on Microsoft bloatware. Works every time.

(And when your boss starts asking how all these parts with Micron stickers on them ended up inside a Compaq server, just say, “Dan must have done it.” Who’s Dan? Who cares! He’s not you!)

Nobody knew that I knew how to do that. Every once in a while when I was the only one home, I’d take the computer apart. That afternoon, I just happened to get caught.