I’ve spent the last thirty years or so working in what I’ll vaguely define as the “tech industry”, which has included jobs doing everything from grunt-level helpdesk work to being a build engineer and some light development work. It’s not a great industry to be in if you like stability – there is always someone younger and smarter than you lurking in the shadows, and that’s ignoring the very real threat that whatever you’re doing could be moved overseas to be done by someone for half the price.
So, one of the best things you can do to keep your job is to find a really good niche to be in, and my niche has traditionally been “working on that one weird piece of tech that nobody else wants to.”
As an example, I once got a three-week contract job for a company that had a Windows application that plugged into an ancient IBM AS/400 mainframe, and I managed to show enough enthusiasm for the AS/400 that I turned it into nearly three years of regular paychecks.
In my current job, I am one of a few “Mac guys”, and it’s not a terrible niche to be in. It lets me play up the stereotypical Cupertino Snob image and everyone gets a good laugh out of that.
Anyway, I keep up on all of the technology I need to know for my job by, well, having far too many computers around. I use Windows PCs for gaming and heavy-duty video encoding, I have a Linux server that hosts VMs and is used for backing up all the other computers, and I always have two Macs around – one to serve as a media server and one to serve as a productivity machine. I’ve been cycling through Macs every few years, and that brings me to the entire point of this post.
Essentially, every few years I buy a new Mac that becomes my work box, and the last Mac becomes the new media server. This started in 2006 when I bought one of the first Intel Mac Minis, then continued in 2009 with a Macbook Pro, 2012 with an i7 Mac Mini, and most recently a late 2015 21″ iMac.
The iMac was not a great purchase, but it’s not entirely its fault. I went for the model that had a traditional hard drive, just as applications were starting to be designed around SSDs, and the result was absolutely glacial performance. Doing something as basic as launching Outlook or Excel meant that I was staring at a bouncing dock icon for over a minute, seething and willing it to LOAD FASTER. The iMac has a decent CPU – it’s a 2.8Ghz quad-core i5 – but it is just painfully bottlenecked by the drive.
At any rate, I eventually got so frustrated that I bought Office for Windows, installed that on my gaming PC, and relegated the Mac to being a scanning station for my paper reduction project.
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I needed to get some screenshots of Mojave for a presentation… and I didn’t have any Macs handy with Mojave installed, which was a problem. I didn’t especially want to upgrade the version of macOS already installed on either my media server or on the iMac, because I was worried that it would break applications that I need.
Still, I had a spare SSD lying around, and an Inateck external drive enclosure that I’d picked up because it was kind of cool.
OK, drive enclosures aren’t “cool” by any means, but this one has a neat feature – a built-in USB3 hub.
All of the ports are wrong-side-up, so I need to remember to plug things in face-down, but that is a small price to pay for the extra functionality.
Anyway, I did a clean install of Mojave to the external drive so I could boot off it and get screenshots, and then I needed to install Office and… wait, this thing is actually not painful to use. I’d launch Excel and it would bounce twice and open.
That seemed a pretty good start… but I only had 250GB to play around with on this SSD and that just wasn’t going to work for the long haul.
I had a second drive enclosure hanging about, this one a Sabrent 4-slot enclosure that is basically designed for the career geek who has a lot of small drives stuck in the parts bin. It is sadly not bootable, but it works well to consolidate a bunch of disks.
I put in a 250GB SSD and a pair of 500GB traditional hard drives, with a slot to spare. I put Steam and Battle.net on the SSD and am using one of the 500GBs as an iTunes drive, with the final 500GB drive just kind of there for… well, I’ll find a use for it, and there’s an empty slot in case I need even more room.
It feels rather silly to have an internal hard drive in this Mac that isn’t being used for anything – everything I’m doing is running off an external drive. On the other hand, a computer that was one step above paperweight status is suddenly useful again.