Turning Screws


I’m getting ready to expire.

Well, not me. Let me rephrase that.

I’m about to let my ACMT expire. This is the certification Apple requires technicians to have to work on in-warranty Macs. I will be an “Apple-Certified Macintosh Technician” for just a few more days.

I’ve carried this certification for years. All Mac Geniuses have it (although it is named differently for Apple employees), as do any techs working at third-party Apple Authorized Service Providers. Both are line items on my resume.

There are several reasons I’m not renewing it this year, but the big one is that I simply don’t spend much time taking apart Macs anymore. Sure, I do out-of-warranty hard drive upgrades and that sort of thing on a freelance basis, but I’m not taking apart more than half a dozen machines a month. Since no one but Apple Stores and Apple-Authorized Service Providers can get parts like logic boards, my repairs are fairly limited in scope these days.

In short, the time (and money) required to study for and pass the ACMT test just isn’t worth it anymore.

Being an ACMT means being a mechanic. Computers are just machines that need fixing. At their core, computers are just interlocking components and connectors, and that kind of thing breaks. All the time. Even in Apple’s hardware.

There’s something that’s very satisfying about taking something apart, spending time with it, and having it work properly again. Besides the immediate results that come with a successful repair, there’s something strangely peaceful about working with one’s hands.

Another great part of being an ACMT (at least to me) is seeing how Apple refines its hardware over time. The pre-unibody MacBook is probably the best example of this. While Apple never got around to fixing the top case cracking issues, it did work hard on the inside of the MacBook over several generations to make the machine stiffer and lighter.

The MacBook was a very balanced machine. With some models, removing the optical drive would cut enough weight for the machine to rock back on its hinge, due to the LCD’s weight. As display panels shed weight over the years, so did the insides of the MacBook. The RAM release levers, for example, started out as solid pieces of metal, and eventually were replaced with groove plastic parts which weighed less. Cable routing became neater, and Apple moved to smaller connectors and fewer internal metal components.[1. Ask any Apple hardware guy about the C-Channel on the early MacBooks, and start counting the curse words.]

Many people look at this type of work and consider it boring, or beneath them. That’s a sad statement on how many people view manual and skilled labor, honestly.[2. If you don’t understand this concept, watch this video of Mike Rowe at TED. Be warned — you’re going to need headphones. Skip to the 15:19 mark if you just have a few moments, or don’t care to hear a lot about how to castrate sheep.]

Being an ACMT can be draining. The work can be repetitive and tiring, for sure. It involves bleeding and cursing. Things break. Parts don’t work. Screws get lost. Customers yell.

Working in that chaos, I found something therapeutic that I haven’t been able to replace.

I’m happy with my current work. It is exciting, and covers a wide variety of topics. But there’s something about having a screwdriver in hand that I just can’t get over.

I don’t think I ever will.