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An Information Technology Christmas

By Cathy Gonzalez, EIS Training/Computing Administration Manager

Some of us celebrate the Christmas season and others of us do not; however, December is known as the month of thoughtful deeds and gift exchange. For many people, a Christmas wish list emphasizes technology and the latest electronic gizmo; you begin the search for the ultimate Christmas gift. Recently I began thinking of a different spin on how the holiday season and the topic of gift giving relate to the computing/IT world. What would it be like if you could give a gift that taps into your skill set and is not a drain on your bank account? The following examples help provide an answer:

A story was published in a Seattle newspaper about a man, named Mark, who had made a trip to Mexico and saw an old man on the street, sitting behind a card table that bore a sign: "escritor público"  (“public writer”). Mark did not think much more about the old man until he was downtown at lunchtime one day and happened past a homeless lady standing by a mailbox.  She asked Mark if he could spare a stamp; she had made a birthday card for a friend out of old newspaper and wanted to mail it but had no envelope or stamp. He took the letter and mailed it for her at his own expense. The next Saturday found Mark sitting behind a card table at the Urban Rest Stop in downtown Seattle, helping homeless men and women find the words to tell their loved ones how they are, where they are — and perhaps who they wish they could be. On his table he had placed a laptop and portable printer, a stack of paper and stamped envelopes, and a bowl of Hershey's kisses to break the ice. "We are in one of the most wired cities in the country," Mark was quoted. "and here are these homeless people wandering around without the means." The chair in front of his story table doesn't stay empty long. Folks come in for a shower or some laundry. Then they spot Mark, read his sign ("Want to write a letter?") and pause.

On a more personal note, my 27-year-old son recently met some of his girlfriend’s family for the first time. The family members manage a Salvation Army shelter in a small Texas town. A small group of networked computers was available in the shelter to assist with job skills training. For seven months the network had not been working and half of the workstations consistently crashed.  No technical support person could be found that would service the computers for the amount of money available for that sort of thing. In 4 hours my son had all of the machines working and network accessible. He said he thinks he made a big hit with the family. I can certainly see why.

A friend of mine started a volunteer program spending two Saturdays a month at retirement homes helping senior citizens use email services to communicate with loved ones not living close by. My friend guides the residents through logging in to their email and reading the nuggets of love that reside in each mailbox. Then time is taken to type replies for the stiff, arthritic fingers that can no longer navigate a keyboard. Often the resident proudly says “I want to click the mouse on Send” and exclaim in a surprised voice to the next resident waiting in line about the amazing fact “I sent this for free!” 

One of my fondest memories in my early days of administering networks and supporting desktops was configuring a lab over several Saturdays that was to be used for job skills training. The recipients of the training were victims of domestic violence. Once I saw the immense appreciation of the lab’s users, I volunteered to participate in the instructional effort needed in the lab. Self-esteem rose as computing skills increased.

By now I’m sure you are getting the picture of how an IT Christmas really can happen. The best part is these gifts last much longer than December. For some people, they are life experiences that will never be forgotten. What do you have hidden in your computing skill set that would make a wonderful gift for someone? Once you find it, wrap it up with sincerity and commitment, then deliver it with a smile. It will cost you far less but be worth much more than anything you will find at Best Buy or CompUSA!


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