This is not a post about what a nice guy I am for fixing my co-worker’s computer. It’s a post about the efficiency of trading expertise.
I have a 19 year old co-worker from Iraq who has about half a year’s worth of English language skills under his belt. A few months ago he bought a laptop which he began using prolifically to (what else?) use Facebook, access music, and do whatever else it is that the average young adult does with the internet. One day, however, the computer became virtually unusable. “Computer fucked up man”, he said dejectedly. Apparently he had resigned himself to the fact that his once beloved laptop was now useless and there was nothing to be done. Apparently he had no idea who the fuck I was.
“I don’t work Tuesday” I said, “but I will come in to work. Bring your laptop. I will fix it.” He appeared doubtful at first although I assured him I knew what I was doing. His doubt quickly changed to hope and on the designated day I came in to work, created a little work station for myself, and proceeded to do my thing.
He thought it was a virus. As I suspected it was really just a shitload of malware along with some debilitating toolbars and addons. When I first opened up a web browser other tabs started popping open on their own with a lethal quickness. I can only imagine the difficulty he had trying to troubleshoot a computer with a lack of experience and a language barrier. What was next to impossible for him was simple for me and after disabling the addons and toolbars, uninstalling the malicious programs that come bundled with intentional downloads, and installing and running anti-malware, I got the computer running once again in good condition.
I returned the laptop to my co-worker and pronounced the problems fixed. A couple of days later at work, he pulled me aside to thank me for the work and said the computer is running very well. “No problem”, I said. “I put two Arabic songs on your computer desktop. Did you see them?”
“Just listen to those songs and type the lyrics for me in Arabic script. That’s all I want in return.”
He laughed but I assure him that this will be a big help to me. I’m good at reading Arabic but absorbing and understanding it verbally is still something of a problem. What I traded with this guy was my ability to troubleshoot his laptop, which he couldn’t easily afford if I charged him money, for his expertise at Arabic language which would have cost too much for me if I had to pay an actual language specialist. This is yet another example of how trade is not a zero sum game.