I could probably write a book about this week’s employee spotlight participant. From changing course to go into IT, to having to turn in one of his bosses to the FBI, to moving to California with $500 in his pocket, Joel Pijanowski, Client Services Support Engineer II, is a fascinating person.
He’s also one of ZAG’s engineers who works on the support front lines, making sure incoming issues are resolved and clients can get back to work.
Joel grew up in Michigan and decided early on he wanted to work in the medical field. “I wanted to be a paramedic, but my dad begged me to work in IT with him,” he said. His dad owned a small computer shop, where Joel’s first job was building PCs. It seemed to come easy to him and he quickly realized he could make a living playing to his strengths.
And while he spent the last 8 years in San Jose, where ZAG is headquartered, after the pandemic turned the world upside down and the company welcomed remote work, he made another change and headed to Lakeland, Fla. It’s here he talks about how he came to ZAG and the lessons he’s learned through the years.
How and when did you get your start in the technology industry?
I worked with my dad building PCs in his computer shop early on, but honestly, didn’t like computers much. I thought I wanted to do something in the medical field, like become a paramedic. But my dad was insistent that I get into IT. Later, my dad went to work with the Detroit Public Schools in the risk management department as a contractor. I ended up leaving after two years because the leadership was breaking the law by overpaying contractors and receiving kickbacks. Ultimately, I had to call the FBI to report what I found. After that, I went to work for a local computer shop in town, running the store, answering phones, troubleshooting for customers, going onsite, and building PCs.
A life-changing event brought me to California. I sold my car, quit my job, and bought a one-way ticket to Southern California.
Why did you decide to join ZAG?
When I started looking for work, Southern California wasn’t as good for IT work, so I started expanding my search. I had two interviews set up – one with ZAG. Once I met Client Services Manager Austin Ahern, I clicked with him and I liked how laid back he was. He offered me the position and I didn’t even go to the second interview I had scheduled. I joined the Client Services team and then went over to the Client Operations team for a while but ended up back in Client Services where my strengths were with talking with clients and troubleshooting.
What are the responsibilities you have in your role at ZAG?
Basically, we’re the front lines for the clients. We do break-fix support and handle everything from fixing a printer jam to dealing with an entire network outage at a site – we deal with a wide array of things for clients, then we make decisions on how to escalate a problem to the next level (and when). One of the things I like about ZAG is that we’re trusted to resolve the issue or escalate it based on our abilities.
How would you describe your job to a class of kindergartners?
I’m basically a problem solver. Things break and I fix it. I help people get back to work on their computers.
What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t in IT?
It would probably be in animal training. I once became an obedience instructor at PetSmart, but I was super shy teaching my own classes so I didn’t pursue it long-term. That was my dream job.
What do you like most about your job?
The flexibility of all of it. We’re given our own path to do the things we do in our own way. We’re not reading from a script, so we get to be our own individual. The ability to work from home has also been a huge benefit as well.
What is the best career lesson you’ve learned so far?
That I will never learn all that there is to learn. I am constantly humbled by this job and in the role I play. There’s never a plateau. There are always new things to learn no matter what.
And for more personal questions…
What was your first job?
My dad had his own computer store in the 80s, so I was always around there. I helped build PCs (40-50 a week) for my dad.
Do you have any hobbies or interests you’d like to share?
I enjoy gardening, cooking/BBQ, camping/hiking, video games, and I used to volunteer at a wildlife center in San Jose for many years (pictured above is Joel and his friend Marley). I also enjoy checking out new places, like whiskey distilleries or craft breweries.
Name three words that describe you.
Empathetic, understanding, easy-going
What’s a fun fact about you that people may not know?
I play guitar and I write my own music. I never wanted to play anyone else’s music.
What is your dream travel destination?
Iceland was on my bucket list and then I traveled there before the pandemic. But, if I can pick, it’s any random island. I love backcountry backpacking and being able to do that on an island while camping is pretty amazing. Check out Channel Islands!
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say that no matter how many times you make mistakes or fail, it’s a process you need to go through. Keep growing from it. And you never stop doing that. Stop being depressed about the past or anxious for what the future holds, live in the moment and enjoy every second of it.