TDY.

Saturday, 5 a.m. and my head’s still spinning. Two days into TDY (“temporary duty”) in Denver, and my mental balance has tipped way over into what-the-hell-am-I-doing-land.

Okay, I’d spent a lot of time preparing myself for the upcoming physical shock of Antarctica – the cold, the remoteness and unearthliness of the place. And the social and shock – being immersed in a sea (a tiny little sea) of total strangers. I’ve traveled enough to have a sense of what each of those would be like. But I hadn’t given any thought to the organizational shock. And (duh!) predictably, it’s a doozy. Recall that I’m coming from a cushy spot in a touchy-feely Silicon Valley company started by two grad school dropouts. And I’ve jumped head first into an international government program administered by enormous defense contractor. Good morning – this is not a planet I’ve ever spent time on before.

Of course, the people are awesome. Ben and Daniel are doing a great job of keeping me from freaking out. It’s Ben’s third deployment to Pole, and this time he’s wintering over. He’s got the easy mannerisms of the small town sheriff in an old Western, and I don’t think anything could faze him (Space alien invasion+IRS audit+toilet paper shortage? No problem – at least the dilithium core isn’t melting down like last time).

Ben did Helpdesk job last year, but got bumped up to Sysadmin at the last minute when Tripp(?) went walkabout. That’s why I’m here. Daniel’s in for his second summer as PC Tech. He looks even younger than his 25 years (yes, I’m the old man of the group, by a long shot), and like most Minnesotans I’ve met, seems impossible not to like. Is there something in the water up there?

Along with Bill, our manager, the three of us make up the core of the IT tech support team. Bill’s down at Pole now – he just got in on the first of the Baslers; they can only fly down to something like -50F, and the Pole finally had a brief spell warm enough to get a few planes in. But we’re getting to know each other – the four of us will be spending 3.5 months together in cloooooose quarters (Daniel: “Ben and I can kick each other without turning around. You’re lucky – we’d have to roll over a few feet to get to your desk”).

More on my teammates later.

TDY – we spent the last two days hopping from cube to cube at Raytheon USAP IT, getting 30 minute brain dumps from our Denver counterparts. Chris loaded us up with how they image the machines that get sent down, and what problems we’re likely to encounter (drivers, drivers, drivers). Sylvio briefed us on PGP, Mitch on….uhhh what did Mitch brief us on again? There was also DNS, incident response, configuration management and and and…. Ben kept looking over, noticing my panicked expression, and reassuring me that I wouldn’t have to actually know any of this stuff. I could save my panic for the session on our tracking system.

Good advice.

Diane teaches “Where’s My Stuff?”  It’s fortunate they’ve got someone as dynamic and engaging as her doing this course (think Wonder Woman, but in casual business attire). Because with an ordinary instructor, I’d have been cowering under the desk, whimpering, after about 30 minutes.

“Where’s My Stuff?” covers how you figure out where that vital scientific equipment you need for your experiments has ended up. Or your supply of WD-40. Did it make it to Port Hueneme in time to get loaded for the American Tern’s once-yearly southbound drive to McMurdo, or was it left sitting on the dock? How about that shipment of Camembert for Palmer? When is the next airlift of jet fuel arriving at Pole? As you might imagine, people depend on this. Vitally. And when that 24-volt, 3/8″ thread glass calorimeter that their whole summer’s project depends on isn’t in Stockroom 3569, Aisle 7, Shelf 3? Well, folks can get a bit anxious. And when they’re anxious, they come to Helpdesk. That’s me.

So, as Ben pointed out that this was the material I need to know, and need to know very well. And as my understanding of the role comes into focus, it’s come to light that I’m not just going to be spending a lot of time helping folks at the Pole find their stuff, I’m going to be teaching them how to do it themselves. On a system built when my kids were in diapers.

But no, really – it’s going to be just fine. Because the system really does all make sense once you get the hang of it. And because more importantly, Ben knows this stuff inside out, and at the Pole he’ll be sitting right over there, just out of kicking distance (Daniel: “The most important phrase you’ll need to memorize is ‘Hey Ben, can you take a look at this?'”).

Anyhow. Another thing I’ll be spending a lot of time doing is opening tickets and tracking their resolution. Nicole, my counterpart as Helpdesk in the Denver office, walked us through the system for that. Mercifully, this part seemed straightforward. Maybe I’ve just been hardened by the rats nest of ticket management systems we use at Google? Now that’s a scary thought.

But with that, our training was over. We’ve got a day of R&R today before orientation tomorrow, where they’re going to teach us some of the non-job specific skills we’re going to need on the ice. Not touching the penguins. Not getting killed by forklifts. Lifting with the back, not with the legs. Or is it the other way around?

And then we’ll be done. The next morning, we’ll throw our bags into the shuttle and report for deployment to the bottom of the planet: DEN->LAX->AKL->CHC->MCM->NPX. But I’m going to not think about that today. Today, Ben, Daniel and I are going to poke around town a bit in my rental car. I’m going to relax and take time to look serenely out on those lovely mountains to the west. And breathe. And see if I can get my head to stop spinning.

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