Making Waves: Our Summer Jobs

(Commentary) For better or worse, I share much of my DNA with my father, Herb, who has throughout his 84-year life so far, insisted mostly on doing everything himself. The story I often tell to illustrate this point is about when we lived on a 40-acre ranch in Central Oregon requiring constant fence and pasture upkeep during the hours he wasn’t driving an oil truck full-time. He found termites in the bathroom of the old homestead and learned that they came from a path of dirt and wood from the ground. This wouldn’t do. So he reconstructed the substantial foundation, lifting the house with jacks and spooning mortar in the small spaces between lava rocks that he had dragged under the house one at a time. I know because I helped mix the mortar and pushed rocks through the vent openings to him.

You can run a broadcast engineering business like this, doing it all yourself. You can run cables and terminate them, install and configure equipment, assemble satellite dish kits and climb towers. It’s mostly intellectually engaging, you accumulate experience and leave each project with a pride of ownership.

It will also drain you because you can never keep up with all the work, you can’t take time off really, and you will limit your income potential greatly. This is  because you can’t charge enough for the installation work to cover all the overhead you don’t get paid for, like accounting, marketing, and purchasing.

This is one of the basic tenets of small business. Basically, if you are doing the busy work, you’re doing it wrong. A small business owner should be tending to strategic planning and business development, leveraging income by hiring good help to handle the day-to-day activities that make up the foundation of your technical service business.

Employee #1

As much as it goes against my instinct, I decided that when young students were between college terms earlier this month, it would be a good time to hire. I listed in Craigslist an opening for a broadcast engineering “apprentice.” I didn’t want to say “intern” because this is a real job and a paid position and in California the term intern has legal limitations when you are not paying (even though most employers seem to ignore the rules at their own peril). I believe that students or those looking todevelop careers deserve to be paid for their work, whether they are bringing real talents to the job or just working hard. In my opinion, there’s entirely too much slavery going on, and it’s hurting our economy by cutting off the income of people who should be out there consuming.

Within a few minutes of posting the opening, I got a resume and cover message from Julio Ramirez, a young man who seemed to fit my three needs: (1) self-initiated computer hobbyist who had dabbled in programming and/or networking, (2) a customer service attitude of respect and friendliness, and (3) long-term interest in broadcasting or something like it. I hired him the next day even though responses were still piling in. Some resumes were short on something, some were vastly overqualified and might suit a future full-time opening (or they should work independently!), but this one was just right.

So Julio and I have had our first week together, running and punching in UTP cables with another helper one day, finishing for me a complex batch file for a CALM Act audio monitoring program another day, and assisting with a commercial cueing problem I had been dealing with. Once a graphics student, he even had a logo designed for my badly ignored website before we could even get started. He’s learning new skills faster than a classroom lecture would give, and I’m clearing my TO DO list with rapid relief.

If you have some work to do that you’ve had to sideline while you grapple with your day-to-day, consider hiring someone from that huge pool of underemployed technicians out there. While you aren’t likely to find someone you can send to the transmitter for a quick fix, most broadcast work these days involves microprocessors and the kind of technical problems you can solve with Google searches, a technical mind, and time.

I took the big step to employer, and we’re going to have a terrific summer.