A Mac Success Story
February 21st, 2001

I received an e-mail from a Mac user a few days ago that I would like to share. For the sake of anonymity I will call her Jane. Jane said she had come across some of the success stories that I have previously covered and thought I might like to share hers. I am delighted to do so.

Jane is not the typical "Computing With Bifocals" reader in that she is currently in her late 20's. She grew up in a small town in Texas. While still in high school she gave birth to a son. She lived with her parents and finished high school with their support. Once out of school she needed a job. Opportunities in her town were pretty much limited to "slinging hash" at the local truck stop or fast food restaurant. These jobs paid minimum wage and there were no benefits. She says she was fortunate that her son had no chronic conditions requiring constant medical attention, but she desperately wanted insurance just in case.

She finally decided to move to Austin to get a job. She hoped that she could get on with the state because of the benefit package. Her parents gave her $500 and two bus tickets and she and her son set off to explore the big world. The first problem she encountered was rent. The very smallest apartments in Austin started at $600 a month plus bills. The second was getting around to apply for jobs. The third was finding (and paying) a sitter to look after her son while she looked. She told me that her mother has suggested that she leave her son with them until she got settled, but she didn't want to be away from him. After a couple of weeks in Austin, she wished that she had done so. When she finally got a job it was in housekeeping for one of the state agencies - making $1,200 a month. With food stamps and low-income housing she was able to get by. After a year she felt secure enough to think about the future. She said she decided that the only way she was going to make a living wage was to gain some office skills. She found out she could take night classes to learn how to do office tasks and how to use a computer. She was able to trade baby sitting nights with a neighbor so she started taking classes, limiting herself to one a semester. The computing skills classes were a real challenge because the only way she could practice was to stay late, using the lab supplied by the school. That meant her day started at 5 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m. that one day a week.

One day at work she fell asleep in the break room during her lunch break. A supervisor from one of the divisions in the building where she worked saw her and asked if she were ill. Jane just told her that she had stayed late the night before at school and was really tired. The supervisor sat down with her and asked all about what she was doing, what her future plans were, and if she thought she would like office work. Jane said she did like it, but the computers really confused her. She found them hard to use and spent much of her time starting over. Students were required to do their work and save it to a floppy and she said it was not uncommon for her to have to restart the computer 2 or 3 times a night just to finish her assignments. The computers she was working on were from the Dark Side of course. She felt she was falling behind the "younger" students. (I started to smile when I read this part of her e-mail. Does anyone remember when, in their late 20's, they looked on someone in their early 20's as younger? I remember being in graduate school in my 50's and looking at young people in their late 30's as the younger students I had to keep up with).

The supervisor with whom she was visiting offered her encouragement and went back to her office. Later in the week the same supervisor asked Jane to stop by her office during the lunch break. Jane said she walked into the office and saw a "great big box with a red bow on it." The supervisor who had befriended Jane told her that the box contained a Macintosh computer and a Hewlett-Packard black and white printer along with gift certificates for ink refills. The computer and printer were second hand. Apparently the supervisor, who was a Mac user in her real life, had upgraded and had been saving the old computer until she found someone who really needed it. Now, this doesn't surprise me at all because I am aware of numerous Mac users who have passed their Mac's on to someone else rather than sell them. It seems to me to just be part of the philosophy of the kind of people who use Mac's in the first place. All of this took place 5 years ago. Jane's son is now 8 years old and Jane has worked in an office setting in state government for the past 3 years. During that time she has received one promotion.

Jane concluded her story by telling me that the day she received the Mac she was planning to drop out of school. She had decided she was not capable of using a computer and that she should stop spending the money for classes and stay with her housekeeping job where she at least had the insurance she wanted. However, she took the equipment home and set it up by following the few steps that the donor had written out for her. She said she could still remember that feeling of amazement and sense of accomplishment when she turned it on and it worked right off the bat. She said from that night forward she was able to practice a bit each night rather than trying to cram it all into one night at the end of a long day of work and class. She also noted that she had to learn how to use ClarisWorks to practice her typing skills, but that even that had increased her confidence.

Jane and her son still have that Mac and the printer. Even with her current job she can't afford to replace it. What she does have is a computer she can depend on and a job that allows her to support herself and her son independently. She gives a lot of the credit to the supervisor who helped her out, but none of it would have happened if Jane herself hadn't had the perseverance to stick it out and the opportunity to use a Mac.

Web Help Sites

I am still getting recommended web help sites from thoughtful readers. I will cover all of them in the next few weeks.

If you have any questions, comments, or tips, let me know and I may include them in a future column.