Summer 2015 /Untold Stories/

Not Your Ordinary Help Desk

Melanie Sisneros ’94 is playful with her space and serious about her work.

Photo of Melanie Sisneros ’94 at her workstation

IF YOU WANT a sneak peek into the personality of Pomona’s Desktop Support Specialist Melanie Sisneros ’94, you might start by visiting her workstation.

Clustered in rows that fan out across every surface are dolls, toys and figurines—a stuffed Fix-It-Felix Jr. plush can be spotted alongside Cruella DeVille. Harry Potter posters paper the walls above her wildly colorful desk.

“I had to downsize when I moved from my old office,” says Sisneros. She points out several well-dressed Bratzillas and explains their rivalry with Monster High dolls.

Also surrounding her work area are boxes and boxes of the latest Apple computers, waiting to be opened and tested. Sisneros is as serious about her work as she is about staying true to herself. A member of the Class of 1994, Sisneros has been working for ITS since she first began work study at Pomona.

“The first job application somebody handed me was for the computer center,” she recalls. “I didn’t know anything about computers, but I needed to fulfill my work study, and it was a job application.”

If you had asked that younger Sisneros whether she thought her career would involve computers, she’d have laughed. “I hated computers when I was little!” she exclaims. “We had this horrible Tandy 1000 RadioShack-brand piece of junk that I could never get to work right. When I got to college, I was quite surprised that I ended up liking computers.” She attributes this interest in part to the late Professor of Psychology William Banks, who was responsible for the acquisition of Sisneros’s first computer of her own, an all-in-one black-and-white Mac with a power supply problem. “That’s when I really started to play and discover,” she recalls.

Sisneros’s method of discovery was entirely her own. “My high school job was working at Long John Silver’s, a fish shop, where I started drawing a comic strip about these little cartoon fish,” she explains. “So once I discovered SuperPaint, an illustration software on my Mac, I started making it on the computer instead. I would print it out and tape it on the door of my dorm room, and people would walk by and read the latest installment.”

Sisneros took to working with computers like one of her cartoon fish to cartoon water. She worked for ITS for four years as an undergraduate before accepting a post-graduation internship, which she held for several years before being hired full-time.

Now, she works as part of ITS’s six-person Client Services team, where her job includes providing desktop support for several academic departments. One of these is the Department of Classics, in which Sisneros was a major. “I’ve always felt that at liberal arts colleges, you learn how to think,” she says. “Regardless of what you study, you learn how to look at things critically. I use that training every day in doing IT support.”

Sisneros spends a big part of her day answering the phone at the ITS service desk, taking walk-ins and responding to help requests submitted through the College website. Much of her job consists of configuring computers, which can either mean connecting remotely or taking time to visit the offices of professors and administrators across campus.

In Sisneros’s eyes, technology is just a tool. One of the joys of her job, she says, is helping users understand the tools at their disposal and match them to their needs. She recalls a brief stint at Computer City in the mid-’90s, where customers would come to her for help “learning computers.”

“What does that mean?” she laughs. “You don’t ‘learn computers;’ you use them for something. I don’t want to learn vacuum cleaners. I want to clean my floor.”

However, what keeps Sisneros excited about her job isn’t just her love of technology and of helping others fit it to their individual needs. “People have jobs where they’re in a rut, day in and day out,” she says. “For me, every phone call is something new. Every person that walks up to the desk brings a new challenge, a new problem to solve. There are new versions of software, new viruses to fix, new everything.”