Confessions of a Computer Geek: I Could Help you, but I Won't

I have a confession to make: I play favorites. Having worked in two tech support/help desk positions, along with playing geek squad to friends, family, and even design clients, I have helped a lot of people with various technology problems, but admittedly they have not all received the same level of service. There are people for whom I will bend-over backwards to make life easier for; likewise, there may be a few for whom I may drag my feet a bit, or do the bare minimum that I have to in order to fix their problem and make them go away; if not a coworker or a paying client, I may deny service outright. The latter groups of people are on what I call my naughty list.*


Are you on the naughty list?
Photo by Stillframe

The offenses that can earn a person a spot on my naughty list vary, but it is actually very easy to avoid being on this list (although less easy to get off off - I tend to hold grudges). Does your tech support have a naughty list? Probably. If you've ever treated any sort of support staff poorly, your not likely to receive good service in return. That's Karma for you.

Therefore, I would like to make a few recommendations for people dealing with any sort of tech support or IT staff. The following list is your golden ticket to making nice with your IT department; gifts of coffee and chocolate don't hurt either.

  1. Have Patience

    Technology does not always work; computers are human fallible too. If technology were perfect, there would be little need for tech support (except for maybe the entertainment value of our sharp wit and wardrobe choices). While this means good things for our job security, it also means than eventually your various gadgets will cease to function properly and you will have to put in a call to tech support. I realize that by the time people call me for help they are usually frustrated and angry, however, I don't appreciate it when the anger is projected toward me; the negativity disturbs my chi and in order to maintain balance in my chi, I will avoid such negativity in the future. Also, remember that although it may have only taken a few seconds to break your computer, it will probably take longer to fix, if it can be fixed at all. It will take even longer to fix if a higher priority (read: nicer customer) comes along.

    Moral of the story: Don't yell at or be short with your tech support; be flexible and reasonable.

  2. Tell the Truth

    Few people like to admit their mistakes; even fewer like to admit they made a mistake when they should have known better. Students are particularly guilty of this (damn those under-developed frontal lobes), but adults can be just as guilty. It is amazing how often I get the "it just stopped working" explanation when I inquire as to what a user was doing when their computer broke. In general, I found that the more times a person says "just" in their explanations, the more they are hiding. Were you really just doing a Google search on educational podcasts, or were you searching for free (and probably, ahem, illegal) music and downloaded a file that was loaded with malware? (For the record, Limewire does not install itself and then download virus-infested copies of Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits). If you want your computer to be fixed, your tech needs to know what went wrong in the first place. We tend to be intelligent people and will figure it out eventually, but it helps speed up the process if you tell the truth, the WHOLE truth, about what caused your computer to go bad.

    Moral of the story: Don't plead the 5th. Give tech support all the details (no matter how juicy) as to what you were doing when your computer went haywire. Your computer will get fixed faster and you'll feel better too.

  3. RTFM, a.k.a. Follow Directions

    For those unfamiliar with geek speak, RTFM stands for "read the fucking manual". It originated when noobs (newbies, the unskilled) would frequent technology forums asking previously answered questions. If a person calls me several times a week with the same exact problem, I get very annoyed. (If the last five times you called I asked you to login again, what do you think I'm going to do this time?) If you don't follow directions, you really can't be helped; you will continue to make the same mistakes, and tech support will eventually give up.

    Moral of the story: Follow directions. If instructions are lacking, ask for them, then follow them.

  4. Be Willing to Learn

    Not everyone groks technology, and no matter how hard some people try, they will always have technical difficulties. But really, I don't care how many times I have to explain something, as long as a person is willing to learn (admittedly, I tend to technobabble and need to repeat myself in English anyway). However, if you lack the initiative to help yourself, why should anyone else make an effort to help you? I once had a person ask for help importing contacts into Outlook, so I said I would forward to her the instructions on doing so, as it was a quite simple task. Her response:"Couldn't you just do it for me?" She didn't want me to show her how to do it or to help her do it, she just wanted me to do it for her. Sure, I could have, but then where would she be the next time she needed to do this and I wasn't around?

    Moral of the story: Don't ask for a fish, inquire as to how best to fish.

  5. Say Thank You

    If you are anything when dealing with tech support, you should be appreciative. For me, being thankful and showing genuine appreciation trumps all else. There are some who are constantly needing help and often with just the little things; some even realize they are high-maintenance and apologize for being "a problem child". However, many of these frequent fliers are some of my favorites. Why? They are incredibly thankful for everything I do for them and they show it. They may even violate all other items in this list, but if they admit their mistakes and are nice about it, I am very forgiving. I have found that a nice thank you will warm even the most curmudgeon of support staff.

    Moral of the story: Be nice and say thank you.

*This is merely a metaphor referring to how I feel about those who have scorned me somehow. There is no actual list, so don't go sifting through my stuff to see if you are indeed on my hit naughty list.


  1. This is so true! And I sometimes lose patience even with some not on my naughty list; even a smile that says thanks would be all that's needed sometimes. I'm so glad to read this and know I'm not the only one who has these thoughts. Whew! a great relief to know I have company. Maybe it'll help assuage the guilt I sometimes feel (but not enough to change my behavior.) Confession is good for the soul.

  2. I figured I wasn't the only one with a naughty list. Stay tuned for more confessions!