With all the joys of technology comes the curse of malfunction. That may be a shattered laptop screen or a virus found deleting or encrypting precious and personal files. Everyone, especially in an academic institution, is bound to their computer. Lucky for students, there is a place where those crippling issues can be addressed.
Behind the Northwestern Computer Help Desk is Matt Austin and a group of student technicians who are constantly learning, maintaining and seeking out solutions to campus’ numerous technology glitches.
Matt Austin has been working as NW’s Computer Help Desk Manager since May of 2012. Graduating as a business major from NW in 2005 and going on to earn his MBA, he found himself back on NW’s campus making work of a skill he had been practicing all along.
“I was always the guy on the wing who guys would ask, ‘Hey could you come take a look at my computer?” Austin said. “So after I got my MBA, I decided to come back to NW to work as the help desk manager.”
When not working on computers behind the help desk in VPH, Austin can be seen bustling around campus working on campus computers or fixing printers and network issues. But computers do not even begin to encapsulate the job description for Austin.
“I actually suck at programming,” Austin said. “I leave that to my student technicians. I work on more complicated computer mechanics, special ordering, Blackboard support and stuff like that.”
Now he finds himself in less of a computer science role and more of a job focused on customer service, mentoring and student technician training. However, even for a tech professional, the world of computers is exceedingly complicated and sometimes requires utilizing outside resources.
“In this job you can’t know everything,” Austin said. “In this job we use Google every day. We all learn to hone those skills well.”
Austin says working with students developing their knowledge and skill is definitely the highlight of his position, and part of that development comes from tackling difficult challenges head on.
Wrestling with difficult computer issues takes student technicians’ formal education and applies it to real-life experience.
“I like to see them [student technicians] struggle and slam up against problems to see if they can fix them,” Austin said. “I have an interesting duty because most, but not all, student technicians are computer science majors. They learn lots of theory and code in the classroom, but here they seem to appreciate getting customer service and on-the-job training.”
Although they are always keeping busy at the help desk, Austin and the student technicians find ways to develop a strong, efficient and fun community that makes everyday hardware tinkering that much more rewarding.
“In computer services there is no such thing as ‘that’s not my job,’” Austin said. “Everyone works together.”
This team atmosphere creates a special bond between Austin and his student technicians. A bond that is not easily severed after four years of working together.
“Here we develop real relationships,” Austin said. “After four years of working with the students, I find myself with a lump in my throat at graduation.”
Austin has a passion for students and knowledge of computers and customer service, and his work is vital to keeping NW’s technology, and students’ success, running smoothly.