MonthFebruary 2012

Hey, IT Guy

One Stop Answer Shop

There is an expectation that your IT guy at work is your one stop shop for any technical question you have.

  • I want to buy a new computer. What should I get?
  • Mac or PC? Which is better?
  • Can you look at my personal laptop if I bring it in for you?
  • I bought my new computer and I’m having this problem…

No, I cannot and will not work on your personal computer. I do not care how much you use it for work. I do not care how many hours you spend working on it at home. I don’t care if another tech did it for someone else you know. I am not doing it for you. I do not work on personal equipment. I especially don’t work on personal equipment outside of my normal work hours. If you’re working so many hours on your personal equipment then you need to talk to your manager about getting you a laptop.

No Means No
I am not trying to be mean. I am not singling you out. The simple truth is I could lose my job and you’re not going to pay my salary after I get fired so do not expect me to make you an exception. Rules are in place for a reason. Computers are complicated enough when they start with a standard setup. To work on a personal computer introduces thousands of variables to the equation.

  • Mac or PC?
  • What operating system?
  • 32-bit or 64-bit?
  • Is it up to date?
  • Is there antivirus installed and updated?
  • Is there malware?
  • Is there a strange configuration to account for a certain home environment?

Pandora’s Box

This is only the surface of the potential problems which can arise from working on a personal computer. The computer could be incapable of performing the desired function. Insufficient memory, hard drive space or incorrect version of an operating system can all be responsible for an application not working properly. There are thousand of applications in the world and some of them don’t work properly together and never will but those incompatibilities are not always known and are stumbled across by accident.

Lack of Responsibility

One of the biggest issues with working on personal equipment is the seemingly limitless amount of he worked on it and now it’s acting up issue. It could be days, weeks or even months since I worked on a computer. It could be something as simple as installing new memory, adding a printer, or installing a new application. It could also be something as invasive as malware removal, upgrading to a new version of Windows or data backup and migration. It doesn’t matter the scope of the work done or the time frame. There is no statute of limitations on “The IT guy worked on it and now it’s doing…” No matter what I did or how long ago, all future problems will somehow be my fault. All future issues will stem from whatever I did last time I touched that computer.

Next time you ask your IT guy at work to work on your personal computer, don’t pressure him. Don’t keep asking and expect to break him down. He won’t give in. In most cases, he can’t and will tell you so.

Word Break

I don’t smoke. I have never smoked and don’t intend to start now. What I do intend to do is take advantage of a previously smoker-only exemption to work. The Smoke Break.

I work with a couple of smokers and have worked with them in the past. They would disappear a couple of times per day for a few precious minutes to feed an addiction outside or in a special room.

I’ve decided to take advantage of this break as long as the weather is nice. When the temperature is above 60 and it’s not raining, I go outside to sit on a bench and enjoy the sun and fresh air for a few minutes.

I work in a basement 9 hours a day, 5 days a week without so much as a window, let alone a breath of fresh air. When the weather permits it, I go and sit on a bench under a tree and enjoy the day.

These brief moments help clear my head. Sometimes a problem I’ve tried to solve all morning will come to me. Sometimes I will get an idea for an other path to take in finding a resolution. Sometimes I write a few words that have bounced around my head.

Other days, I just sit and breathe the air.

Sites I Love: Boxoh

Getting mail is exciting and I don’t mean the electronic kind. In the digital age there everything is an email or a web page, I eagerly expect any packages headed my way.

I love it when I arrive home and there’s a box waiting for me. I feel like a kid at Christmas, especially if I don’t know what’s inside. However, more often than not I know exactly what it is and I want to know when it’s going to get here.

For that, I turn to Boxoh. I don’t remember where I first found it but I’ve used it ever since. The idea behind the site is simple. Boxoh promises “package tracking simplified” and it delivers on that promise.

The site is capable of tracking packages from the US Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and DHL/Airborne and I’ve never had it fail me. As long as the package was in the carrier’s system, Boxoh found it and told me where it was.

I love Boxoh because I can visit one site to check on the status of any package no matter how it is sent to me. I enter the tracking number in the box, wait a second and I’m presented with a map and the status of my package.

It’s fun seeing how many miles the package has traveled and which cities it’s stopped in on the route to my front door.

Status of package

This morning Boxoh said my wife’s Valentine’s Day present had been delivered and there will be marital bliss in my home. If you buy or sell anything online, you should be using Boxoh.

Areas of Expertise

I am a computer power user.
I am a car stupid user.

As good as I am with computers, I am clueless when it comes to cars. I can rebuild your dead computer, retrieve your deleted data, rid you of that annoying error message and cleanse your machine of malware.

I open the hood of a car and I don’t know the engine from the alternator. I see plugs and wires. There’s belts and more belts. I am as clueless as a newborn baby piloting a fighter jet. I got to thinking about this because of a post over at Jonathan Rentzsch’s blog quoted below:

@cieslak People seem to think that making stuff easy to use is only for the benefit of stupid users. Expertise comes in different flavors.
@bradlarson The same “stupid users” who fix your car, or perform surgery on you, or teach your kid a foreign language. Drives me nuts.

It got me to thinking how we all have our talents in different areas. My life has been technology. I’ve worked with journalists with a startlingly powerful command of the written word and research scientists hunting through the intricacies of Cancer seeking a cure. I’ve spent time in manufacturing plants and call centers.

Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve repaired computers, answered questions and explained technology to those whose interests and skills lay elsewhere.

I don’t understand how to manufacture plastics.
I don’t even pretend to know how Wal-Mart and Lowe’s get their light bulbs in the correct quantities on time.
I don’t know how to run a major city government.
I’m not a journalist or opinion leader.
I don’t understand DNA, cells or the dazzling array of equipment in scientific laboratories.

Everyday I work with people who have completely different areas of expertise. It’s easy for me to marvel at how they don’t understand why their computer is acting up.

I see computer problems everyday. I spend hours wading through forums, support pages and whitepages to understand how things work. I love unlocking the secrets of technology and how it does what it does. This is my area of expertise.

My job is reactive to the needs of the rest of the company I am working for at the time. I do not have a set job function. In that, I do not make widgets or recruit people. I don’t plan strategy nor do I deal with finances. My job changes with the whims of the day and can vary wildly hour to hour.

My career is its own unique area of expertise and is completely alien from those I work with everyday. Just as their job functions are totally alien from my work. The intersection is the use of computers and technology to accomplish tasks. Computers are what bring us together. They’re using the computer to complete a task. I’m making sure the computer can complete the task.

A task I’ve done countless times is second nature to me and an easy fix but will confuse my customer. A task performed by my customer countless times is totally foreign to me.
Everyone has an area of expertise.
Everyone’s area of expertise is different and we’d all do well to remember those differences.