Windows

The computer doctor is in


I have noticed an interesting phenomenon among my co-workers. As the IT Manager, it is my job to maintain the servers, the computers and the network. I am responsible for security and for the continual availability of the data on our servers to all those who need it. I think I do a pretty good job of that. In fact, it's hard not to. Once technology is put into place and is tuned properly, it just runs and it just works. The secret is in choosing good and reliable technology.

So here's the phenomenon: I practice what is called MBWA - Management by Wandering Around. I learned it from a wise CFO I once worked for. It never ceases to amaze me the number of times I will meander by someone's desk and have them call out to me to get my attention. "Hey Tim," they almost shout, "What's up with Vista? We're having all kinds of trouble with it. Can you help us go back to XP?"

Now, get this. I have not yet implemented Vista in our offices. In fact, there is only one Vista computer in the entire enterprise. So I ask the employee on which computer he is having problems. "Oh, it's my daughter's new laptop that she got for Christmas." I've heard this complaint a lot lately. It seems that Microsoft has done a great job of selling Vista primarily in only one place - in the retail and mail order stores aimed squarely at the consumer.

"Sure, I would be happy to help you," I say. Under my breath I mutter, "Why didn't you ask my advice before you bought it?" It has been over a year since Microsoft rolled out Vista. I have written about it several times on my personal blog but am still of the opinion that there is really no need for Vista. It doesn't offer much advantage over XP and in fact, requires an investment in beefier hardware that simply doesn't justify the cost. In other words, it's just not worth it.

This post isn't about Vista. That just happens to be the example I used. The point of this entry is the phenomenon where people seem to feel this innate tendency and need to complain about something when they see the IT Manager even though things are otherwise going extremely well. There's nothing wrong with this employee's work computer. Email is flowing, servers are serving, clients are talking, the Internet is there for anyone to use and abuse all day.

So why do they feel that they just have to share some technological deficiency in their life when I happen to come into the room? Are they just trying to make polite conversation? I can do without the complaints about Vista, but if it's not Vista then it will be about their home wireless network or about their printer at home that is no longer printing. In other words, I get dumped on a lot with stuff that has nothing to do with our computer equipment at work.

I guess I don't mind working on an employee's personal computer problems, as long as the boss knows about it and especially if it is the boss that has asked me to take care of it. But for the most part, it gets a little annoying to be asked every day about computer issues that have nothing to do with work. It's like I'm expected to provide free computer consulting to every co-worker as if it's part of my job description. I guess that's to be expected if you're the expert.

Sometimes the co-worker will listen to my advice and sometimes they won't. I almost always recommend a course of action that they need to take to remedy or further diagnose their problem. Once they ascertain that I'm putting the burden back on them, they quickly turn the conversation to something else. I guess they feel better that they have talked it over with their IT Manager. I sometimes feel like a psychiatrist to all the employees.

What do you think? Is it OK for co-workers to use the IT Manager as a resource for their personal computer problems?

41 comments
Nice Techie
Nice Techie

I know the feeling, only for me it isn't my co-workers, it is my wife and her friends. I am considered the resident computer geek to my wife, who so generously hands out my very little free time to fix one of her friends computers at home. Everytime I sit at a computer, I see the same thing, no AV, Limewire is running, and no firewall activated. Computers 101 should be a class people have to take before they buy a computer.

dean.owen
dean.owen

or indepth problem solving? Free advice can be easily given. We are viewed as the experts so it's natural that people turn to us for advice. One organization I worked for had an automotive shop onsite and the mechanics were always being asked for advice. They gave it but they wouldn't fix your car for free. If people don't take your advice? So what? Free advice given in casual conversation has little to no liablity attached to it.

hyposave
hyposave

I'm in a similar situation as you. But given your Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) style, you don't have much of a choice. IT people are sort of like doctors. People want to ask our advise, the same way you might ask a friend who's a real doctor. Its free and its usually solves the problem. At work, when I'm at the server station, or at a computer working on software, everybody knows not to disturb me (including my boss). But when I'm wondering around, I don't mind the free consultation. It increases my "office value". And the bosses are usually aware of it and it shows in my bonus :)

barrettavery
barrettavery

Yeah, that is a tough one. I deal with that just about everyday. What is really bad is when they ask for my advice and then do 180 degrees of what I told them to do. There is part of me that enjoys being the expert and the one people come to with their computer problems. However, it makes it hard to get my projects done; which then looks bad on me in the Boss's eyes; even though he is one of the culprits :) What I have done to solve some of this issue is I will give them as much advice or verbal help as they feel they need for free; however, if I need to do any physical work on their home computers I will charge them and treat it as a side job. I do not get many of those, but when I do it's kind of nice to get paid for helping someone out. At the same time I do not feel like I am being taken advantage of; which happens a lot to us IT geeks. Granted if it is just a few minute fix then I will not charge them, but if it will take me more than an hour, I will charge them and work on it at home during my own time. That way the company is not apart of it; my work ethic would not allow that. So my answer to your question would be yes and no. I would say yes, but only if you feel like you are being compensated for or are not being taken advantage of. I would say no if you feel like they are taking advantage of you, that is not fair to you. Just my opinion, there is a win win solution here. -Barrett-

mikifin
mikifin

I am old enough to remember the first TVs. I remember listening to radio (no TVs). When the first PCs were sold the story was: "They are easy to use..." That was a crock and now we are living with the legacy of this snow job. Well, when people ask me about PC problems I give them a copy of a list of books they should read and then ask them to come to me when they have done the reading if they can't fix the problem.

egarnerit
egarnerit

I choose to look at it this way. Frequently the IT Dept., and me since I am its head, is looked at as the "Bad Guy." We make everyone have strong passwords and come up with new ones every 90 days. We deny them access to YouTube and the like. We won't let them install games and other shareware/freeware on their PCs. Etc. Therefore, if I can help them with their computing problems at work or at home, I become their "hero" and relations are improved. My reputation goes from Big Brother, making sure everyone is behaving; to big brother, taking care of them.

dave
dave

A few moments of your time goes a long way to fostering a friendly atmosphere at work. I have several grateful coworkers whos pictures, music, or whatever was recovered from nonbootable computers and did nothing more than run BartPE and copy files to a USB key. Maybe 10 minutes of your time. And yes I am the bad guy to, but that little extra makes a difference.

don.gulledge
don.gulledge

Having been around a long time, I find that in the early days (80???s) of the PC you could tell anyone about anything and they would believe it. Today, users are more savvy because there???s more information available for them to read and understand things. So, it???s a lot harder to say ???Yes, you got the fastest PC and your secretary has the slower machine??? and make the lie work as before. That being said, there???s always freeloaders no matter what profession your into where people try to pick your brain. For us in IT, there???s never been a better tool for promoting and keeping good user relations. The trick is not to slide off the edge and get entrapped into a bad situation. That???s why I keep my help to advice and information, but not any hands-on work (especially for money) for people I work with. It???s like an office romance, they never work out well and you always pay a price for the relationship. So, the trick is to offer them consulting, but not any services. If I want to moonlight, then I would do it with clients that I don???t work with. Most people like to have a second opinion. They want to make sure they???re not getting sold a brass dollar and mainly want to double check with someone they know and trust like their IT guy. This I don???t mind, but welcome because of the PLUS it makes in the relationship and viewpoint of the users. If it???s someone just looking for a free ride, then I blow them off gently with the excuse of not having enough time or something gentle so I can walk away. The trick is to be able to separate consultation from service.

rick
rick

I sympathize. However, I do charge actual money for the help I'm asked to provide. Not a whole lot, and the amount varies by the ability to pay. I find that this helps the 'customer' take some responsibilty for thier actions or lack thereof. I don't feel bad about this either. Rick Clark

Kjell_Andorsen
Kjell_Andorsen

As the main IT guy in our office I get alot of these questions as well. I've just gotten good at explaining to people that I'll be happy to deal with their personal computer problems OUTSIDE of work hours and that I'll be happy to charge them my special Friend/Co-worker rate which is considerably lower than my normal rate. Most of them understand where I'm coming from, a few don't, but they eventually come to accept I don't work for free.

PhilH123
PhilH123

Im the It Manager for my Company running servers, vista and Xp workstations and .... macs Like many others, I fell about laughing when I read this article. But hey why can't you be relaxed about this- you are the God - they are the worshippers... take the adulation! And never forget..... never say no to anyone- they may be your boss one day!

brian.mills
brian.mills

I'm not even the manager, but I get asked at least once a week for advice or help with a home computer issue. It's been going on since before I got into the IT department with my company, just because I was the guy that knows computers. It can get annoying sometimes, especially if I'm in the middle of something else, but I've always considered it a compliment that my coworkers consider me to be at least somewhat of an expert. If I end up working on a home computer at a coworkers house or if they bring it to me to work on, I do require payment, but I don't charge much, just enough to make it worth spending my free time working on it. Most people seem to be content with just asking for advice, probably because it's freely given during work hours.

The Listed 'G MAN'
The Listed 'G MAN'

Sorry Mr Mills I do not have any cash...will this do? 'Sliping noise' Bum-chigga-wa-waaaaaaa

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

hmmm, are showtunes playing or something? Please take it to the back room :^0

brian.mills
brian.mills

Not sure my wife would approve of the payment methods you appear to be implying...

mad2ogs
mad2ogs

I always get paid, office is office, outside work is work, e need payment.

fossiltech
fossiltech

I recently saw someone wearing a T-shirt with the following statement on it: "No, I will not fix your computer."

The Listed 'G MAN'
The Listed 'G MAN'

No, I will not fix your car No, I will not diagnose your ailment No, I will not drive you there No, I will not represent you today No, I will not print you a t-shirt

Tig2
Tig2

Once upon a time, I was a hardware technician at a large medical insurer with a campus location comprised of seven buildings. Four days a week I wore trousers and a polo. On casual Friday, I tended to wear that particular tee-shirt and jeans. The end users thought it was funny, anyway.

Kjell_Andorsen
Kjell_Andorsen

It's kinda funny, my girlfriend gave me that shirt for Christmas and I happened to be wearing it one day when a certain "friend" (the kind you only hear from when they need something from you) came over to (once again) try to get me to do work I typically bill $75/hr for in exchange for a $5 fast food meal. Stopped him dead in his tracks.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

"Sure, I would be happy to help you,"I say. Under my breath I mutter, "Why didn't you ask my advice before you bought it?" I would venture to say that this kind of thing happens to all of us at various points in our lives, in and out of IT. We respect the opinion of someone who we perceive as an expert in their field and so we attempt to find ways to garner his/her help, advice, opinion. I can relate to being annoyed by this, and I can relate to being 'the annoyer'. The ones that annoy me the most however, are the ones who obviously email me or corner me in a hallway before ever bothering to seek out a solution independently. And the ones who come to me time after time after time with the same problem - but they haven't followed my advice or they wouldn't have the problem AGAIN. This applies to clients, students, OH, friends, family, coworkers... Ugh. Such is life. Someone, somewhere is bound to annoy me regularly, and it's a good bet that I annoy others regularly. edit: attempt to get rid of those funny looking symbols that sometimes take the place of quotation marks and apostrophes.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

On a brothers problem I spent 30 minutes writing out step by step instructions to a soon to fail hard drive. 3 weeks later, I gave him step by step instructions over the phone. 2 weeks later, he dropped off his system to me (didnt have the time to follow my instructions either time) with a non-booting system. Then I was told the sob story of photos not backed up, 3rd party sw keys not backed up, etc. After spending 3 hours trying to recover data to no avail, I called and told him he probably lost it all. But later, I tried something else, and it worked, I was able to recover most of the data.. Although I looked like a hero, that was 5+ hours of my time that could have been avoided if he had even attempted to follow the directions that I gave him.

tep0583
tep0583

I'd be willing to bet he'll expect you to preform another 'miracle' the next time he gets into a jam. I almost hate coming through in situations like this, because you inevitability become the "magic man" and the guy they come to first or after everyone else has failed, with problems that really don't have solutions they like. many times, I'm tempted to tell people that I'm "all out of magic" for those solutions that would require it.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I do expect that he will want more 'fixes'. And the funny thing is that not just him, but the whole fam seems to put off asking until events where I show up. Like B'days, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.. Once I am there for something else, and conversation goes quiet for a few seconds, someone always brings up 'oh by hte way, my computer.....'. However, I usually get out of it by saying 'email me later'. LOL -- works about 80%. In this case, I made the effort to call him and tell him that it was unlikely to recover anything before attempts were finished. This gave him a reality check, that his data was all gone. I repeated the importance of backups, and gave suggestions about backing up, and backup options. All I can do is hope that it was a lesson learned, and hope that he didnt take it lightly.

Oktet
Oktet

I just found it too time consuming on my part, especially when you do it for free. I figure I could either spend some hours fixing or giving informal advice and hope that the person I am giving advice to is actually listening and not just hearing what they want to hear. Or I could spend my time doing something fun like learning some other new technology instead of just fixing easy and already known technologies.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

no kidding. That is the biggest drawback. I have other things I would rather be doing, and other things (like my jobs) that I am paid to do. So where do I steal the time? From myself of course. I have half a dozen clients I support that pay me in some fashion or another, and anyone else who bugs me gets a standard response 'borrowed' from TiggerTwo - 'Google is your friend.'

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

if you don't care enough about your data to keep it backed up, don't come crying to me begging me to find and retrieve it. I won't do it. I nag and nag and nag about backup. You don't listen? Tough stuff.

chad
chad

Mozy is free. Yes you need an internet connection but, MOST everyone does these days.

Oktet
Oktet

you can tell people about the need to backup, and they look at you like you are stupid. Even after fixing the computer, and you re-iterate and sing to them about the need to backup, they still don't do it. I was at Blockbuster doing a freebie fix on one of their security PC's after fixing, the computer, I told the manager about the need to backup the computer and the use of a UPS, she just looked at me like I was nuts, thanked me for fixing their PC, and I left thinking what will happen if they have a power surge or power spike that will damage all the data? Will they say I did the damage, because they did not listen? Or will they hunt me down and sue me? That's why I don't fix computers for other people, unless you are running a business or have them sign a form waiving their rights or any legal obligations they have of suing you after you fix their computer. That is the nature of the beast, even though you think you are doing a good deed. Let the little PC shop in the neighbor hood do that stuff.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

before I was done trying to get the data. So that he would have an 'oh sh!t' moment, to think about for next time....

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I refuse to even discuss problems that begin with, "My kid's at college, and he / she downloaded something to their laptop..." Get the re-install disks and have fun. You and your child can use it as a quality bonding experience.

formerly CallPete.com
formerly CallPete.com

MESSAGE DELETED

tep0583
tep0583

Once you work on a machine, especially for money, you OWN all future problems, even ones caused by them NOT heeding your advise. You'd be surprised just how much MORE pushy people can be when they think you "owe" them a fix. Often the person just isn't technically savvy enough to know the problem is totally unrelated or of their own making. Many times you hear, "But I thought you fixed this..." It doesn't matter how many times you explain to them its an entirely different matter. They either don't understand or don't care to. I avoid stuff like this like the plague now.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Sure, I could get $100 for restoring the H/D. Then when an completely unrelated component craps out, the owner will say it's my fault. The $100 will buy a lot of aspirin, but it won't go far towards replacing his system. I don't want the hassles. See the link Tim provided above to why you shouldn't do home support.

balalake
balalake

Do you know something, Tim? You are saying something that I just haven't had the courage to say for years. Until the mid-90's, I had much the same sort of job as yourself, but throw in telephone, facsimile and mobile radio systems as well. I lived, ate and slept I.T. I took it home with me, I took it on vacation with me, I dreamed about it. I was regarded as the font of all knowledge. Yes, Palmetto, I felt honoured by being regarded with some esteem. Then I retired (early). I now spend some six months a year living in the States where I teach I.T. part-time, and sort out peoples PC problems. All of this on a voluntary basis - I never charge for my work; I do it (a) for the love of the work, (b) because I love people, and (c) because I can. I feel it keeps my mind working. However, the trouble with being the 'expert' is that people are constantly taking advantage. I regularly take 'phone calls from both friends and complete strangers almost demanding that I go to their homes and resolve their problems. Understandably, their problems are the most important ones - to them. The problem is of my own making. I should charge for my work, but I don't have the heart to charge my clients - they are mostly elderly, and often they are my ex-pupils. It is very frustrating being at the beck and call of so many people though. I am often greeted on the street with, 'Oh, hello. By the way, my PC is ...... Can you come around and have a look at it sometime?'. The follow-up telephone call comes two days later with, 'You said you would come around, and I am still waiting.' I suspect that we somehow have a social responsibility, and we can never really retire - we just stop earning a regular salary. Do medical doctors ever retire? Clergymen? Police Officers? As they lower my box into the ground, I just know that somebody will be standing nearby saying, 'He never did get around to sorting out my XP problems.'

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...why do they feel that they just have to share some technological deficiency..." You're kidding, right? They're looking for help, and they consider you to be qualified to provide it. Take it as a compliment; they're putting you in the same category with doctors and other professionals who receive questions at informal gatherings. If it bugs you, search around TR for an article "Ten ways to decline to provide home support", or something like that. EDITED - I didn't initially make clear that I agree with your annoyance at these questions. That's why I have the afore mentioned article in hard copy on my wall, along with "Ten reasons you shouldn't provide home support".

piercedtiger
piercedtiger

I know the feeling! I was contracted out to a client with 250+ people. Most of them could barely use the computer on their desk at work, let alone setup a home network. I had employees, managers, account owners, and HR coming to me with questions about home computers. Some wanted to know what to buy so I'd read through the list or ad they sent me and pick the best one for them. Other times I'd tell them to bring it in and I'd throw it on the bench. I charged $25/hr to remove spyware, viruses, etc. so their PC would work again. I didn't want to be used for free support and service, but I knew most of the people didn't have a lot of money so I charged a small amount. Gave me extra cash (sometimes $100-$200/week), and kept them from paying out $70/hr at some of the other shops in town. (Some of those shops led to my business because they screwed it up in the first place.) I even had a couple people toss in some extra money because they were so happy it was fixed, and running better than when brand new!

chad
chad

Glad to see I am not the only one that gets asked for home support on a daily basis. Its funny if I where a carpenter and someone asked me to come over and install cabinets (on my own time) they would have no problem paying but, if you spend 2 hours fixing a computer that a user's kid screwed up more often than not you get a thanks.

raicsl
raicsl

Yes I agree and disagree. The same thing happened when I worked in a Corporate IT Department. The IT Manager was a young whiz kid who seemed to have all the answers and was constantly badgered as he walked around. I disagree because now I perform the same role in a smaller organisation and that allows me to share knowledge with the workers and my workload is diminishing. I am left with the 'meatier' bits to deal with. Of course there will always be plenty to do in an IT environment and IT Managers seem to be able to 'bend their head' around problems that stump the general population. I agree - take it as a compliment because IT stuff we take for granted is bloody near impossible for the general population. Les - Central Coast NSW Australia

MikeGall
MikeGall

I don't mind helping people. My problem is inheritantly the problems people have are with new hardware which I never have touched. Example: we are all windows with a few Solaris workstations. I get a question like: I just bought a new digital camera and want to connect it to my 1 month old Mac but it doesn't work what should I do? Or my internet doesn't seem to work at home. It's like yeah, I've used every new workstation including Macs, have dealt with every ISP, know wether DSL or cable is better in your area, don't mind helping you configure your $10 wireless router that I never would have bought (even for home use), etc. I want to be helpful but most times it just ends up: 1) Wasting both of our time because I'll have no idea what the hardware configuration is. 2) Makes me look like I don't know what I'm talking about. It does go to the other extreme with hardware too, someone will dump there 8 year old laptop on my desk and tell me that it is running slow what can I do? They tend to be the type that if you say "buy a new laptop" say but that is expensive. Well so is my time, get out of my office ;)