“The Computer Guy” — I can relate

Hesitantly, I responded: “I work in computer support.”

The transition to silence was immediate. All eyes suddenly turned to me, raised eyebrows all around. If you hadn’t heard my response, judging from everyone’s reaction you might think I said something outrageous like I was a male stripper or a gynecologist — but I knew the awkward silence would soon be broken by an overwhelming outpouring of computer questions.

Another site I read, Lifehacker, will often post a similar article around the holidays about how to be a good computer guy when you head home to visit the family. For some people that’s great and all, but I’m with the above article — it sucks!

In my personal experience with family, it comes in the form of questions year-round over the oddest things, generally starting out with “Have you seen this…?” which can be anything from a website to a gadget to something extremely loosely tech-related but that I must have an opinion, no expert opinion on. When I go home for any holiday, it can be a standard family visit. Most often I’ll have my notebook computer with me and all the time have to deal with the eavesdropper and over-shoulder stalkers. “What are you doing?” as if my computer must be a creature of pure techno-magic and not the same type of machine as the one on their desks. And at some point between 12-24 hrs before I’m set to leave, I hear “Can you take a look at my computer?” which is accompanied by a laundry list of items, many of which require more technical savvy than I’ve got or at least need a trip out to the store which we’d have to be crazy to attempt around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Add to that, they never remember or write down what I tell them so the fixes I make may be ignored for months until they get desperate.

With friends it’s a little different since most of my friends work in IT, but then its a much more social approach and almost always with respect to the web. I don’t deny that my Google-fu is pretty strong, but that doesn’t mean that others should contact me with a “Do you know how to find xyz on the web?” without first trying for themselves. Or it comes via IM, often phrased with an attempt so subtle that it’s almost like they aren’t asking for help, merely proclaiming their ignorance and leaving it out there for me to offer my advice or a solution. When I spot this and say something like “Yeah, that’s a toughie” or similar, then I see the passive-aggressive “Well, I guess I’ll figure it out eventually” in response which I do my best to ignore.

Part of the symptom comes from the fact that working in IT can mean a lot of things, and often our parents and friends never recall exactly what we do, so when asked they say “Oh s/he works in/with computers.” Now I work in web development, a friend of mine codes, another works in usability… when I think about it, I don’t have any friends that specifically work on a help desk which is usually what people have in mind when they think of someone working in IT.

It’s just a symptom of our culture, I think. My generation and those after it were the ones that were unafraid to learn about the new machines, we were the kids in the house that set the clock on VCR or taught the family how to use the microwave. We were often confronted with a parent buying something electronic and calling us into the den saying “Help me set up the new…” with the assumption that we could easily navigate the outlets and plugs and horribly written manuals of the day.

My favorite point in this article is Reason #8 – You’re An Expert Of Bleeding-Edge Technology Products, Aren’t You?

The computer guy often finds himself in situations where someone is asking him for advice on a pending investment of the technological variety.

“I heard about (some hardware or software product) that can do (something desirable) for me. I brought you these (advertisements/reviews/printouts) because I wanted your recommendation. Which would you buy?”

Although the inquiring person sincerely trusts the computer guy’s judgment over their own, in almost every instance the real objective of these meetings is to ensure their own immunity from making a risky purchase.

If it turns out to be a bad investment, and they cannot get (the hardware or software product) to do (anything desirable), then you will be their personal scapegoat — “But honey, the computer guy said I should buy it!”

So. Very. True.

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2 Responses

  1. Fredo says:

    [W]hen I think about it, I don’t have any friends that specifically work on a help desk which is usually what people have in mind when they think of someone working in IT.

    As far as I’m concerned, we have Microsoft to thank for that. ❗

  2. Neal says:

    I’m that guy. I feel your pain. My grandmother actually asked me last night “how to get her radio to 94.4.” I suggest she try the dial. Turns out 94.4 is not a valid station here in Atlanta and she was actually looking for 94.9.

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