DIY

Do you ever help a user with his home computer?


There's a person working at our firm who asked me for some advice concerning his home computer - his wife's computer, actually. For some context, I'll say that he's a retired gentleman, a World War II veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, and an absolutely wonderful human being with a huge heart and a lot of idle time on his hands. He works for us as a part-time courier; he comes into the office in the early afternoon to pick up whatever might have to be delivered, and spends a few hours delivering and picking up items to and from our clients.

He's not very computer literate, but his wife uses a computer for e-mail and to help her with a home business that she dabbles in. Her knowledge of computing might be best described as limited, being able to do the basic stuff, but if one little thing is out of place or goes awry, she's pretty lost.

He approached me the other day and asked if I had any ideas of what might be wrong with his wife's computer. It appears that their son, when visiting not too long ago, used the computer to check his e-mail, and ever since their own e-mail hasn't worked. In addition, they cannot check their online banking information. At least those are the two symptoms I was told. He speculated that perhaps the passwords somehow became corrupt and/or they became infected with a virus. They called someone to come into their home to fix it (presumably a qualified computer contractor), who, after two hours, couldn't fix the problem. This technician also checked Google to see if they had any recommendations, but still couldn’t figure it out.

By the way, when I said “…..checked Google to see if they had any recommendations .. and .. speculated that the passwords somehow became corrupt and/or they became infected with a virus …..” that was his description, which is why I phrased it as I did -- it shows a huge disconnect and lack of understanding, and falls under the category of listening to what he meant, not necessarily what he said.

In the end, this technician didn't fix anything, the computer still had the problems, and he charged them $150 for two hours of his time trying to figure it out, only to tell them that he didn't know what was wrong. Sorry, I can’t fix your problem -- $150 please. (I know what I would have told him what he could do with the bill, but that's beside the point.)

I went on to explain that whenever I was faced with a perplexing problem whose solution remained elusive for more than around 30 minutes, the worst-tcase scenario was that I simply reformatted the drive and reinstalled everything -- a task that might take only a couple of hours, more or less, in and of itself. I wondered out loud why this technician didn't suggest that as a solution, to which shrugged shoulders was about the only answer. Maybe he thought the computer just wasn't worth the expense, the gentleman said. He then asked if I had any older computers that I didn't need anymore lying around. (He knows that we often offer older computers, parts, and pieces to employees.)

Well, I'm going to break my long-standing rule of not getting involved in helping people with their home computers. I think I'll have him bring the computer into the office, and I'll take a look at it after hours; or maybe I'll go over to his house to fix it. (The only person I've ever made a house call for was my brother!) Either way, I'll probably fix it with my worst-case scenario solution, reformatting and reinstalling. I'm sure I have an extra hard drive lying around here that I can use so I can get a clean install on a drive without having to worry about the original data. After it's up and going again, I can transfer the data over later.

After I fix it, maybe I'll get the name and number of the guy who jilted them out of $150, and shame him into giving them a refund. Or maybe I can come up with a creative idea to get him to waste several hours of his time. I don't know how other independent technicians might operate, but if I wasn't able to fix a problem such as this, I wouldn't have the nerve to charge them for it.

79 comments
dcolbert
dcolbert

Clearly you do not help home users or SOHO users. The first thing you'll find is that a wipe and reinstall is out of the question, because they have lots of personal data on there that they haven't backed up, are uncertain of exactly where or what it is, but will go nuts on you if you lose a single byte of it. You *might* get away with a Win32 reinstall/repair... although most embedded malware will happily survive that to reinstall itself, these days. The second thing is that the story you got about the tech guy visting and charging $150 and not fixing the problem is probably not the whole story. I usually dodge these kind of jobs by saying, "Is it the PC, or your data? If it is the PC, it'll cost you more to have me fix this one than to go out and buy a whole new one. With the money you save, have me copy your data and restore it to your new, better, PC and buy a decent AV application, keep it updated, and stop surfing porn sites"... Or something to that effect. Lifetime Corporate IT guys should probably stay as far away as possible from the SOHO/Home User Consulting gig. It isn't even remotely the same world as you are used to. Not a slam - but unless you've somehow bridged from the consumer/PC to the enterprise/server world, you're unqualified, even if you think that isn't the case. I mean, when the guy with GeekSquad and retail sales experience comes looking for an IT job, don't you ask him, "Yes, but do you have any real-world, hands on experience with server class equipment"? Two way street, there. I mean, really, it is like the Doctor or Lawyer who considers himself an armchair PC/Tech wizard. Just because you got a medical degree, doesn't mean you should be opening the case to your Dell.

jtlo38
jtlo38

Being retired from a major BIS company, I enjoy computers and have several different models. I take the time to help anyone I can, with both, advise, and house calls. I try to be upfront with anything that is beyond my knowledge and recommend any free assistance sites where needed. Sometimes, my peers feel that if they do not know how to fix, how could I know the same (chuckle). My efforts are generally appreciated, tho. jlongmir@bellsouth.net

dave
dave

I take all requests from people I know or work with. If they ask what I want to be paid I always say a six pack of one of my favorite brews is enough, or even a dozen fresh baked cookies will do. I work in a 11 doctor office with 100 desktops/laptops and 5 servers and believe it not everthing works well enough that your troubleshooting skills start to go stale. It's refreshing to tackle one of those blue screen jobs or bugged up home computers once in a while.

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

I've been caught out a few times with home help. The general rule is no no no, but there must always be flexibility, a veteran or someone who has given to society I will help. Someone who sits at home and expects to get everything for free gets a bill. I will do work for free for someone who also does things for other people. Simple really.

Joe_R
Joe_R

I suppose I might have the same one. Thanks for your post.

gnielsen
gnielsen

The only thing is I tell them that if I can't fix it without reinstalling its their problem. I would do on average 1 a week but like drinking, I am trying to cut down. As a Serviceman in the RAAF it was the done thing to do 'foreigners' for people and the payment was usually a 6 pack for minor jobs to a carton or more for bigger jobs. Now I use some of the already suggested ploys like they'll lose data if I need to reinstall, or quote an hourly rate above the norm because I have to do it after hours, even the 'it could take a few weeks because I have heaps on' trick. What I won't do is charge someone for not doing anything, and if you don't like doing it yourself, get a (very large) mate to visit the person and ask for a refund for services not rendered.

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

got burned. Now I just say I'm not Insured should anything go wrong with the 'fix'. So - never do it exept for my immediate family.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Probably a lot of merit to that. Thanks....

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I provide free labor for the members of my church who can't afford it. In a few cases, I've even paid for small things like hard drives and video cards out of my own pocket. Let me encourage you to go get that jerk who made a Veteran pay for nothing!

Joe_R
Joe_R

Any ideas?

Calimar
Calimar

Pick some random, unimportant .DLL files, open them with a hex editor and make some random entries. If you really want to have a blast, there are always things like adding a mersenne generator as a startup service and then complaining of slow performance - if done properly it shows up as a NTVDM.exe process and can be a real bugger to kill off... did that as a test for one of our techs once - took him over two hours to figure it out and undo the damage... Maliciousness is only an Astalavista search away...

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

Maybe some email correspondence (throw-away address) requesting a service call way out in the boonies.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Thanks for the laugh!

Ryan.McCloskey
Ryan.McCloskey

hey joe, use the senility factor of the Veteran to your advantage. Have the veteran call the tech over again to fix a different problem (make it sound so easy, like he can't turn the Caps Lock off)... When the tech rings the door bell, have the old man standing there with a 2-barrel rifle pointing at the front door. Either you or the wife slowly opens the front door (unseen) and the tech can be looking down the 2-barrel. The old man says, "who the hell are you walking on my property? Oh right, you're the jack@$$ that charged me $150 for nothing!" That ought to get him to think twice about charging the customer for no work done ... Then you can end it with "you have 10 secconds to get your .... one.. two.. ten! you filthy animal" can anyone guess the movie? :)

Joe_R
Joe_R

But I'd always stop short of putting the talk into action.

h1t3ch
h1t3ch

For some of us that have consulting business, thats another client in our books. Yes I'll help anyone who needs it, but I have better business ethics than what the previous tech had. I'm fairly confident in my tech skills and if it was something that I couldn't fix within 45 mins. I would of quickly went with a reformat option.

Joe_R
Joe_R

In this case, it wouldn't take a lot to make things right .

ray44420
ray44420

If I have to work on a computer after hours there are conditions that must be met. 1. She is cute. 2. She makes me dinner. 3. Beer is provided. Things like this improve my attitude immensely.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

If you call up the Task Manager--R click the bottom Task Bar>L click Task Manager;then click the Processes Tab---you just might be able to stop the crash by ending a Process.If it is a Windows Explorer stopped working problem then I end the Dr Watson Process.

trackpads
trackpads

We do and while we were deployed we sponsored a few end user computer 'rodeo's where IT Tech could volunteer their time on a saturday. The users would bring in personal computers and we could share insights and allow us to install the latest anti virus on their computers. The anti virus piece alone was a big help becuase it cut down the number of transferred virus to their work systems.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

for a small company to do. Larger companies prohibit the use of home systems to be used, however it still happens. But having employees bring their systems in for some minor maintenance such as scanning for virus, and installing AV seems like a 'perk'. Good Job

rbenros
rbenros

I try to avoid it but if I do I will charge for it. Time=Compensation. Everyone I help get payed for what they do... Why shouldn't I get payed for what I do, regardless of how easy the solution my be.

jdclyde
jdclyde

First rule of thumb, they drop the system off to me and I will take it home to work on. If it is close, I will go to pick it up and have them SHOW me the problem, if not I will set it up and work and have them show the problem and then take it home. I will also inform them because I am going it on my time, plan on a few day turn around. If they are in a hurry, take it somewhere else. I tell them up-front that there will be a good chance that the solution is a wipe/reload, and to track down their software. If I don't have the time or it is a problem that I am not familiar with, I will decline. In a case such as you described, I would help the old boy out. And yes, shame the wretch that stole the $150 for doing nothing. You can't charge someone to fix something if you didn't fix it. At MOST, you can have a "Bench charge" minumum for your time, but it HAS to be stated up-front. Guy sounds like a weasle.

snuke
snuke

all the time! mostly, how it happens is, i'm visiting someone with my dad (let's say a workplace or someone's home) and they are telling my dad something like: i could show you that, but my computer's broken, and my dad replies: let my son fix it, would only take him a few seconds and than he pushes me into it.. can't say i enjoy it everytime, but fingering with technology = better than anything else for me :)

Magic Alex
Magic Alex

I am almost always happy to help people with their computers, the thought of sending a friend of mine to a "Tech" like the one described above makes me shudder. $150 for 2 hours of sitting in front of someones PC is just plain silly, and then charging them after not being able to fix it is absolutely unforgivable. I wouldn't do that to someone I didn't know and I most certainly wouldn't do that to someone I do know. A lot of posters reply with excellent solutions on this site for free, regardless of the time spent to analyze the problem and subsequently type the solution. Why not do the same in the real world? Knowledge, much like blood, is in you to give.

Jaqui
Jaqui

actually, they won't let me donate, even though I am in a minority, I do not even have herpes simplex [ cold sores ]

Peconet Tietokoneet-217038187993258194678069903632
Peconet Tietokoneet-217038187993258194678069903632

My business is in computers and if someone is having difficulty then i would assist in any way possible, if i can not get the computer to work there and then i would take the computer in question home and fix it, if it was not reasonable to take home then i would set an hourly fee to which i get every bit of info i can about the problem and then get on with the task of correcting that problem. No problem with the people paying once their computer is up and running the way they like.

KaryDavis
KaryDavis

I enjoy helping my friends, family and co-workers and have done everything from basic repairs and simple "how tos" to total rebuilds (repartitioning., formatting, etc.) The one rule I have is that I will not accept payment. Not accepting payment keeps the work on the level of "helping out" and is less likely to cause a misunderstanding or jeapordize my relationships. I am also lucky enough to have a boss that allows me to work on co-worker's home machines during down time at work, so I'm able to handle those issues without sacrificing my off time. I do get compensated tho...I get to hang out with my friends and family, we laugh and have a good time while issues are resolved. Plus I usually get a special dinner, treated to a movie, etc. which extends the pleasure I get from helping out.

CavalierX
CavalierX

I could never be the kind of "computer person" who is surly about helping people out, or acts put upon when people ask for advice. I have no problem dispensing free advice or making recommendations about hardware or software, or giving simple directions. If it gets complicated or requires actual work done, I tell them I'd rather do that on my own time, and either quote them an hourly rate for my services or recommend a few small computer shops that are reasonable. Nearly everyone understands that. That way, when I have a question about something not in my field, I have a huge infobase from which to draw. And no hard feelings between me and the users.

support
support

I offer advice for free, and if the user is willing to bring the equipment in with them I am willing to take a look at it in my spare time; but I let them know that the spare time may no come anytime soon and I charge a minimal fee for it. If I have to go onsite I charge a bit more per hour and I split the difference for my time if I can't figure out the problem (which is extremely rare, the only time I can remember was with something that was totally out of my control).

Joe_R
Joe_R

If you're like me, you probably shy away from helping people with their home computer. Do you ever make exceptions? And what would you do (if anything) about the technician I mentioned in the original blog?

PC_Techie, MCP
PC_Techie, MCP

I had a user who had the infamous Windows XP Anti Virus -- Virus. She took it to a local Geek Squad, who not only charged her $150, but didn't really fix anything (she still had the problem). She asked me if I could take a look at it, and being the professional that I am, I was able to fix her problem in less than 30 minutes, and only charged her $20. I am so sick and tired of the amount of $ techs charge for PC services. They only charge a huge amount of money, because most likely, the average user doesn't know how to fix it, and will pay almost anything to have their PC working again. I'm a Christian, and believe in treating with people with integrity; that's why I don't rip users off for a job that only takes a few minutes to complete. Have you seen what Geek Squad charges for the most simplest thing? I could make a pretty good part-time income, by charging a fraction of what Geek Squad charges.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Places like Geek Squad have high Overheads and need to charge high prices just to pay the rent and advertising. While it is a Rip Off if people chose to take their computers to places like that they get exactly what they deserve. Just because they see adverts doesn't mean that its a good place just one that has to factor in a lot of expenses to each & every job that they do. Provided that they actually fix it that's OK as no one forced them to take their computer there but when the do not fix things that's just plain criminal. Col

andy.baron
andy.baron

SLA Agreement between me (the computer fixer) and you (the person who needs his computer fixing). My Commitment to you I will visit your house and fix your computer. Your commitment to me You will feed me, give me coffee/beer/wine/g&t (delete as I feel appropriate), I will borrow any CD?s and/or DVD?s I see fit.

richard7
richard7

I put an ad in our local paper advertising my services to upgrade or repair computers and resolve network issues. I'm a Boston Red Sox fan so the last line of my ad said "Yankee fans pay extra". That little quip got me lots of calls. Anyhow, I would go to people's homes and generally completed the task within a couple of hours. If it was going to take longer because I needed to do a little research, I took their computer home and eventually fixed it there. I managed to resolve every situation that came my way. If I did not possess the knowledge to fix a computer in the amount of time I believe it should taken, I did not charge for the time I spent researching an issue. I never expected people to pay me for on-the-job training. I also charged much less than $75.00 per hour. Every customer was completely happy with the service and the cost. I will have these people as customers forever and they will recommend me to their family and friends. The idiot who charged $150 without resolving the situation will never be recommended by this couple. In addition, they will tell their friends and family to never hire this guy. So how much did he really gain by charging so much for so little..??

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

However if he was working for a Boss he had to charge something to Fix the Computer. As none of us here know what actually happened it's very hard to say much at all. While very few of us would consider charging for unfinished work we also don't rely on this as our primary source of Income do we? But how often have you heard of a Doctor not charging for a incomplete Job or a Unhappy Patient who claims that the Doctor didn't do enough. How often have you ever heard of a Doctor declining to submit a bill for Services Rendered even if the Operation was 100% successful but unfortunately the Patient died on the Table? Or the Lawyer who failed to get the person off the charge that they where charged with no matter that they where as Guilty as Hell. These people sell a service just like you or me and they get paid regardless of the outcome of anything. If I was doing Home Service as a Living I just couldn't afford to drive for a few hours to a job spend several hours there and not get paid for at least some of my time which could have been used elsewhere far more effectively in earning money. When everything is said and done that's what it's all about some one trying to earn a living. I remember a complaint to my employer that was made a very long time ago I walked in placed 1 Drop of Oil in a machine and charged the woman $65.00 for the Service Call. The fact that I had begged this person to apply the oil there and she didn't or that I had to drive for 2 hours to a Unmarked Street to find the house and needed to ask directions because it was a New Estate which was not in the Street Directories or with Street Signs up was beside the point. To her I had walked in applied 1 drop of Oil and fixed the Problem and then had the audacity to charge her for the time that I spent there. The fact that it was a 75 K single way trip there when I knew where I was going and took 2 Hours each way wasn't important or even considered by the woman as I had just walked in fixed the problem in under 1 second and that was all that was important. Didn't matter how guilty I felt or the fact that I spent over an hour there that I didn't charge for she insisted that she shouldn't have to pay for my time when actually she was no where near covering the cost of fuel involved in getting there and back to the office. Not to mention how much money wasn't earned by the Company because I wasn't in the office for the best part of a Day or that I had to drop all my existing work to make this one person happy. I didn't want to go out there but was given no choice and I even had to drop everything after she complained to the State Manager that she couldn't get a Service Call the Same Day as she had rung early enough to get her needs meet that day. She was insisting that I should have done it for nothing and done the complete service as well without charging. Some people can be unreasonable and I have found that most don't want to pay for any service that they get. In all my working life I have only ever had one customer complain that a Repair that I did was Too Cheap and even then I think that one was a Crack Pot who wanted something to look new when it was over 30 years old. Didn't matter what was said because I didn't charge her the same amount as the Quote and had it returned in a week instead of the 6 month + that I originally quoted to get the parts in I hadn't done the job properly in her eyes. The fact that I fitted Paint Damaged Parts after clearing it with her wasn't important and the Fact that the machine worked perfectly was beside the point I just didn't charge her enough for the repair. Personally I don't think that you'll find many Techs who have had that complaint ever let alone more than once. :^0 Col

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Those places are not professional. Can you name me one other profession who does the same thing? You will not see that with a Car Mechanic, Plumber or anyone. Even the quotes that they give are flexible so if you take your car in to be fixed with a broken Bearing on the clutch of a AC Compressor you may end up paying for a new Compressor or a regas which technically the car doesn't need because only the bearing has collapsed but you may need to remove the compressor to fix the shot bearing or when you pull the clutch the front seal may come out with it. You just never know what is going to happen with Mechanical Things only what should happen. The Fix it or it's free is not a sign of a Professional Business it is the sign of a Part Time person who isn't interested in Full Time work and a Full Time Income. If I send one of my guys out to a job they are going to submit a Bill for going there you had better believe that no matter what happens the Customer is going to pay to have one of my staff going out there. However if they bring it in and it's not fixed that's a different story I can afford to eat some time quite easily but with other expenses that's just not going to happen. A job that can not be done in the shop doesn't take a Tech out of production for a long time they can play with it when things are not busy but if they are driving to the job & Back that is a lot of time that they are not earning any money. Besides we still don't know here what was offered to this customer if they refused to allow the guy to take it back to base to fix they should pay for the time as they stopped the repair from occurring. This is all too difficult to even argue about because none of us have all the facts and just going on what one side says is dangerous at best. Tell me one person in IT who would offer a Opinion on a Computer Problem without first knowing the facts. That is the point here more than anything else. Also why shouldn't we be compared to a Lawyer or Doctor we spend as much time at Uni/College as they do and are held responsible for our actions so why should they get all the perks are you implying that we are not as Professional as they are. In my experience I can honestly say that I have seen higher levels of Professionalism from a Garbage Collector than from some Doctors and Lawyers but none the less they are not questioned but someone who has gone through as much schooling as they have need to justify their conduct to keep in the good books. Sorry but that just doesn't make any sense to me at least. Col

gnielsen
gnielsen

I don't think you can possibly compare a Doctor or a Lawyer to someone providing a service to repair a machine that we know should be fixable. A lawyer is working with the unknown (as is the Doctor in a way), not knowing for a fact if the client is innocent or guilty. It is a fact of life that Doctors can get it wrong but not normally for the lack of effort. With our industry, repairing computers or similar items if you can't fix it you can't expect to get paid. Most companies have a quote price that then comes off the repair cost if you decide to go ahead but if they then can't fix it for the price quoted do you pay the quoted price for the work done to that point and then take the item to the dump? I for one wouldn't be paying anything. This AD is on the page I am replying to --- On-Site Computer Repairs Visit Web Site We come to you Gold Coast to Brissy No callout fee. Fixed or it's FREE! www.geekmobile.com.au --- That says it all, fix it or it's free. The Company should take a hit to save it's reputation. Remember the old story that if you upset one person they will tell dozens but do the right thing and chances are they'll tell no one. I don't know too many 'Bosses' who would want the reputation that they charge for doing nothing. As for your 'Drop of oil' call, my last Boss 16 years ago, had a policy when calls came in for remote locations (more than 1 hour travel) they had to wait for more jobs for that area or they had to pay the travel cost including Techs down time. Needless to say, we never went out of town often without multiple calls to do.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I do think it is despicable that the tech who previously worked on the computer charged them for two hours of work when the problem had not been solved. Having said that it is not unreasonable for a tech to charge a minimum fee for coming to the customers site. A good business practice would have been for him to admit that he was unable to solve their problem and waive all fees other than the base housecall fee.

Calimar
Calimar

I work in what is essentially a manufacturing plant, and most of the users here are not very savvy with a computer. I have several users that go to the local Best Buy to have their personal computer worked on, and come back $200 poorer and very confused. I prefer to help them understand what is actually happening and help them when possible. I will do most minor things for the price of the parts (install new hardware, mirror damaged HD to new and clean up the mess, migrate profiles to new computers, etc.), and occasionally even work on a computer that someone?s kid got infected with malware. The only catch is that they bring it to me so that I can use the tools and resources available in my office, and I inform them that this is a ?spare time? service ? breaks and lunch only. The way that I look at it is this - when they take their computers to one of the 'big box' stores here in town to get it fixed, they have no idea what is being done, how much it is actually worth, and no way to know if it was done right - and most of these places have escape clauses on their work. One user took her computer in for a BSOD issue and the tech blew out the dust bunnies and gave it back to her and billed her $100! The computer still exhibited the symptoms so she took it back, they did an assessment (another $100) and recommended that she buy a new HD (another $100) and they would install it (but not mirror her current data) - she refused the service and paid the $100. When she showed me the assorted write-ups and bills as well as let me test the computer, I informed her that 1) she got soaked to the tune of $200 and 2) her computer was still under warranty from the manufacturer and she could get all of the repairs done for free. I don't know what recourse (if any) she will choose, but I know that I can provide a better level of service and be more accountable to the people that I help than one of the 'box stores' can... I almost always choose to help the people around me. There are exceptions to who I will help. If I get a chronic user that is always doing the same thing, I will cut them off, but I have been a Network Mercenary for too long and have had to clean up the messes that are left by the Geeks on Call, Geek Squad, and others that seem to have "have you ever modified your own computer" (exaggeration implied) and then rely on their own KB's and Google to fix problems - nothing wrong with Google, but sometimes you need common sense and intuition as well.

karateckie
karateckie

...is that we will work on user's home machines if they bring them into work, however it is at our convenience and only in "free time". The nice thing about this, is that it leaves the avenue open for us to help users and make sure their machines are up to date with AV and such. However it also allows for us to tell them, "Yes, we work on home machines, however we do this on company time only when we have downtime. So it may be awhile before you get it back." If this is acceptable, great! The users that leave their machines are ready to handle the withdrawl symptoms of not checking personal email (and probably complaints from their kids of not getting on Myspace) every night, and the users that can't handle that (lots of them) don't bring in their machines and call a consulting company instead. So far as I can see...it works pretty well, in the five months I've worked here, I've only been asked 5 times about home computers, and three of them were simply "advice sessions" and no real work involved. And on another note, if someone did approach me who needed computer work and couldn't bring in their computer, and wanted me to come to their house, it would be a case by case basis. I would most likely do it for free. If the problem ended up taking longer than say, an hour, I would probably recommend to them that they either take it to a shop or bring it in to the office and let me work on it in my ample supply of free time.

Joyce.Lippens
Joyce.Lippens

Yes, I make exceptions and they usally end up being nightmares....Something I am currently working on....learning to say NO! As far as the technician...buyer beware. Make sure you call a reputable firm and get it in writing! It's like going to a mechanic to get your car fixed...if they don't do anything but still take the time, you WILL pay billable hours.

zlitocook
zlitocook

If you know what are doing and have training and experince. Why not help others with computer problems? Why should a person with limited money have to go to a store that charges full price? There are why too many people that can not afford computer repair store prices. So if they can not do this where do they go? I fix and restore computers for free for people who can not afford the big shops.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

What most of us paid so much to learn? Don't get me wrong I don't mind helping people in the slightest but if I was wearing my other Hat as a Mech Engineer how many people do you think would approach me asking for improvements to be designed for their Cars because they couldn't afford to have a Mech Engineer on Salary? Of have the conveyancing done on their house for free? I'm not sure what it is about working IT but what we know isn't valued by anyone and we are expected to do it for free while the same doesn't apply to other Professions. Col

PC_Techie, MCP
PC_Techie, MCP

For family, and really close friends, I don't charge anything. I have made myself a good reputation at my sister's office, so once in a while, I get a call to install a printer or help them with their wireless network. I usually charge them $35 to install a printer; it's cheaper than going to a PC repair shop for them.

joe.krisanda
joe.krisanda

I have two people that I make house calls for on a reasonably frequent basis. The first is a sweet lady that works with my mom. She is very computer illiterate, and only needs to do the very basic things on a computer...email, internet, and family pictures. She is from India, and everytime I go help her with her computer she cooks a huge Indian meal for me...I never leave hungry! I enjoy going over there to help her (and eat some lunch). The second is another sweet older lady, but she is positively convinced that her computer is out to get her (she says it's "The Vista" lol). She has just enough knowledge of computers to get herself in trouble. I have quickly learned that 99% of her problems can be solved over the phone, and I have learned that a 30 minute phone call beats a 3 hr house call any day! I have no problem making a house call on the weekends. I never ask for money, but if it's offered I generally won't turn it down. You have to draw your own line, if it becomes too much of an inconvenience then you have to say no. If not, give it a try...you might get lunch out of it!

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

Sometimes I will offer advice, however there is a rare ocasion that I do help them. But to deter this I inform them that I will get to it only during downtime, and it may be a week or more before I can do anything on it. Usually they will take it to a shop, or listen to my advice instead of bringing it to me. If they are asking for an upgrade, I just refuse. Even my brother asked (for his girlfriend), she just wanted to swap the comp into a new case (because the PSU died), so I flat out refused. No idea what was wrong with the PSU, and why a whole case was bought for it, and what may be wrong with the mobo -- didnt want the extra time required to deal with it.

david.weber77
david.weber77

At one point in time I used to help our users with their home pc issues, to the extent they would bring them to me for hard drive wipes and what not. Then having to also support my own system, my girlfriends Mac (which was a technically new environment to me since I usually stick to windows support) and my mother's home pc it became too much. It got to the point that all of my free time was spent fixing everyone else's pc issue and not doing what I wanted to do with the time. So compensation or not, I just plain out refuse. I will give out advice for free all day and tell them what I think they should do to solve the problem, but as soon as the words "Well could you..." come out of their mouth my head starts shaking no.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Depends on the Person asking for help. If they are like Old Women who want it set this way and nothing else is acceptable I would leave Sleeping Dogs Lie as you have no idea of what the original approach to this Guy was. He may have been prevented by the people from doing what he wanted and then tried to fix it within the confines of what he had to work with. I've spent 3 hours once showing a guy how to Open Office 2003 on a new NB because it was different to his old one no matter that it was the same version of Office on the same OS and appeared in the same place in the Menu with the same Icons. Because it was a different computer Office was [b]Totally Different[/b] his words not mine and even with the 2 units side by side he was still insisting that there was a difference though I couldn't see it. Well one was bigger but as he had moved from a 14 inch NB to a 17 inch NB with the same Screen Resolutions it was naturally bigger but was still in the same relationship to the rest of the screen. As you have no idea of what was told to the Tech or what he was exposed to it's not your place to think that he Robbed them. Sure I wouldn't charge for something that I couldn't fix but then again under the right conditions I would if I had given them every chance to opt out first. Or something like driving for 3 hours to spend 5 minutes to fix something that was a simple fix and I had walked them through it over the phone before agreeing to come out. I wouldn't have a problem with charging if it was something like that, that happened. Sure places like Geek Squad are rouges but as they are still in business they must be getting a lot of repeat business so they must be doing something right to satisfy their customers even if I personally wouldn't be satisfied with their efforts. As for looking on the Net for a solution again it depends on what was asked for. Like today I spent 3 hours looking up Authors only to find that my mother knew all that I had dug up and didn't want the Books Written List but wanted to know who published the books and where to buy them. Didn't matter how often I pointed out the right way to look up something she insisted on looking up the Author then the Book by that Author and then look for places selling it. As you have absolutely no idea of what happened here it's not only Dangerous Ground that you would be stepping onto but also unprofessional. Sure if you know it all from more than the one source it's a different story but with what has been provided here there is no where near enough information to even begin to decide what is wrong with the computer other than the fact that the Son has added his Mail Account to the Mail Client to get his mail. Col

Joe_R
Joe_R

I know these people, both of them, and they are the nicest people you could imagine. She's the type of person to ask how she should do something, not insist on making it a certain way. And it's a pretty simple setup - Windows 2000, an Office package, Internet, and an e-mail client (Outlook Express, I believe). Nothing more - it ain't rocket science. I'll let you know what I do to fix it and how long it took.

Ryan.McCloskey
Ryan.McCloskey

Hey Joe wanted to say great post here. This is a dilemma that a lot of us techs are put in. Wanted to first start off by providing you with some suggestions as I've been in a similar situation. Definitely check into the firewall settings. Also, check from the ISP if they are blocking any access from their end. I had a similar situation and a call to the ISP to reset their blocks I believe fixed the problem. Though I can't remember now that the exact solution was. I know trying a different browser (Firefox) to try logging into the bank website helped me confirm whether it was a computer-specific issue (firewall, browser problem) or if it was a ISP/router-specific issue. Well I'm 23 and I definitely do work on the side, regardless of who asks me. I also view it as a potential learning experience in future support problems. I charge my co-workers, and senior citizens a discount from lets say a law firm. Price discrimination is an acceptable form of marketing in the business world. However, shame on you people that is only willing to help this retiree just because he was a WWII veteran. Yes, that's a great status to pay your respects to, but you should be willing to help out of pure respect that someone called on you to provide them with support. That person should not have charged him for 2 hours of work. He was obviously taken advantage of. That's like the plumber or the car mechanic that tries to charge you without fixing the problem. Though I probably wouldn't take any proactive measures other than telling the couple not to refer to him again and write it off as sunk cost. oops, back to work!

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I was never thinking about that but the not being able to Log into the Bank Account is a different thing. However the problem here is the the Owner/User wasn't the only person involved the Son was also involved here and without knowing what he has done which seems to be where the problems started is the real problem here. Kind of reminds me of a Doctors Surgery that I got Blackmailed into doing a couple of Christmas's ago. Started out as a [b]Simple[/b] job of removing the Old Server App and installing a new one as the Medial Program that they used required a new SQL DBase that comes on 2003 R2 SBS. Apparently according to the Software makers they needed to change the OS of the Server to the R2 version. Seemed pretty simple at first till I had the new OS loaded and couldn't find the Patient DBase. Before I started I had asked what had been changed from the Defaults with both owners Insisting that [b]Nothing[/b] had been changed and to help me had crippled the old Server OS. So with a lot of Trepidation I started to install the new OS and hoped for the best. Well when I eventually found the Patient DBase I just asked why it had been moved and I was told Oh Yea I did move that to get a better Speed when connecting from the different Doctors here. Then I set the DC to accept the various workstations and when none connected I had to go digging and found that they where using Static Addressing again not a real problem but it would have been nice to have been told so I knew what to look for. :( Again when I told the Owner why it wasn't working and that I was currently reconfiguring all the workstations he again said I did that but I haven't made any changes. :D Well it took something like 3 reloads because the Owner was constantly [b]Helping me[/b] and not telling me what he was doing I would come in early in the morning and find all the settings changed so after trying to repair what had been done since I had left the place I just gave up blew away the OS and started from scratch as it was faster. Only took 3 days to get right probably a lot less if I didn't have to constantly reload the system to fix the gapping Security Breaches that had been introduced by my [b]Helper[/b] when I wasn't around. Burt I was seriously thinking about Electrifying the Keyboard after the first bit of Help. But the point is if I was told that some Ijot had taken 3 Days to install a Version of 2003 SBS R2 my first reaction would be don't they know what they are doing [Yes I was seriously questioning my self long before this ended] but there are way too many things that can be altered/messed with and Domestic Users seem to enjoy altering settings just to see how long it takes to fix up. Sure I know that isn't the actual idea but it feels that way at times. :^0 Col

Navy Moose
Navy Moose

Numerous times I was asked to provide assistance for help with home machines. I'm busy enough with doing IT work at my job, I don't want to do it on my time. In the case of the gentleman described in the blogpost, I might make an exception. I've helped some WW2 Veteran neighbors for free. I got to hear some pretty interesting sea stories for my work.

rsaulpaugh
rsaulpaugh

...but the last time I found myself in between a husband and wife who slagged each other over a Win98 laptop. The modem could no longer connect & that modem driver was part of the sound card setup (remember those?) That was not a happy home visit and since then I've decided its better for me and the Geek Squad if the laptop goes to the shop - I mean when was the last time a mechanic or an MD for that matter, paid someone a home visit!

Joe_R
Joe_R

He joined at 18, and was promptly sent to participate in the third (or so) wave to invade Europe in 1944.

pcwizz22-techrepublic
pcwizz22-techrepublic

Judging by all the responses, it looks like it is an individual thing. My full time job is a PC support person at a large company but on the side I have a PC repair business. A number of my co-workers have asked for my help even after visiting my website and seeing my prices. Because they are co-workers, I tend to give them extra service or a discount. As far as the original post, I feel like I am being called upon to do a service. If I do not perform that service, I do not charge. Even though the guy spent two hours and "time is money", if you don't end up providing the service you were called upon to do, you shouldn't be charging people. That's just my business ethic.

Joe_R
Joe_R

My apologies. I didn?t mean to imply that you wouldn?t help a vet. But I did say ?you?, didn?t I? I fell into the trap of using ?you? in the general sense. You shouldn't do that ..... I mean one shouldn't do that ..... I mean a person shouldn't do that ..... and especially, I shouldn't do that. I phrased my message awkwardly. I did realize that you have, and will, help vets, as will I.

Navy Moose
Navy Moose

I've done free IT work for WW2 Vets, two of my neighbors, who unfortunately are not with us today, I did free work for. I got to hear some good sea stories from these two gentlemen. I've also helped these neighbors by shoveling them out and taking their trash barrels out. I still do this for their widows. When it comes to doing free IT work, I am far more likely to help out a Veteran than someone who did not serve.

Moxy79
Moxy79

I was one of those boyscout geeks that believe that if you know about something that a large majority of people dont know alot about. That you should use your gift to help others. I help people out all the time. I actually enjoy doing it, depending on what it is I get compensated at a resonable rate (its not my primary job so I can afford to charge a small percentage of what people usally charge....this means you geek squad) But I will gladly work for food....you got a virus and you want to cook some mac and cheese for me?? Ill be right there!!!

Joe_R
Joe_R

Great way of putting it. I suppose I'll work for food as well - or a beer, or glass of wine......

Moxy79
Moxy79

Dont get me wrong...it has bitten me on the butt more than once doing this. But the 90% satisfaction of doing this DEFINATELY outweigh the 10% crap people that I deal with. I do have my rules. I dont hand out my cell (email can be ignored lol) Im not the worlds personal IT guy. And I am picky about the people I help. For example, there is a retirement home near where I live that I take care of, and love taking care of, those people are great! (and good cooks lol) but if joe-schmoe comes walking up to me on the street and asks me where his "any-key" is...yeah, take a hike. Family?....working for my family for free is a privalage (and a curse)....thank god I have a small family and not so many computers in it lol.

WmTConqror
WmTConqror

Joe, I think you had a wonderful article. I don't know if I would tell my IT company they could have me for a glass of wine (I may be easy, but I'm not cheap) When I was younger worked on friends and family friends. This taught me a lesson that my dad had tried to tell me "if you don't value the work you do then no one will". One of my "people" I was helping, for an occassional dinner almost cost me my real job. He wanted me to customize his database, and spreadsheets so he could use them a specific way. This was great, and certainly something I could do, but wasn't what I was working on for him. Nor did I have the time to pickup being his sole IT source. I was changing a monitor out, and fixing an issue with a mouse. But he asked a question about Excel, and another about an old database (no not Dbase something flat file and dinky). I explained to him in general what could be done, and that was to him an invitation to non stop harrasment. I pointed him to other sources (who charged $$) and surprisingly he wanted me to do it for free. I am not saying that no good deed goes unpunished. We should share with those who are less fortunate. I am saying be sure you want that hours of work for a beer.

Selltekk
Selltekk

For minor work, I don't charge. However if I can see that it will take several hours, I quote an hourly rate that is considerably higher than any local shop in the area. That weay, they will take it somewhere else, or I will get paid very well for the work.

Joe_R
Joe_R

At least, not for people I work with. Get paid, and you're obligated to follow-up. In most cases, it would probably work-out alright, but.....

hcetrepus
hcetrepus

Yes I work on peoples home PC's. Not only theirs, but their parents and grandparents and cpollege students. I learned the hardway that if I am not charging something, I won't have any free time. People are always messin with their machines, and most think they are experts right up to the point they can no longer get it to boot! I would do nothing about the tech, he has to make a living too, however, I would obvisouly tell the folks who used him NOT to call him or his company again, and spread that word.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

It causes more trouble than it's worth. If someone has X,Y,Z wrong with the computer and you fix X,Y you can be sure that your reputation in the office will be that of having just slighly more skill and intellect of a senile toad.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Since most people in my office are twenty-somethings, and I have ## years on them, they probably think I'm a senile toad anyway!

MonkeyWithAKeyboard
MonkeyWithAKeyboard

I help our users with their home computer problems all the time, sometimes more than I'd like to. If it's a major issue, I'll charge them a little bit of money for my time. However, if I think it is somebody that may be able to help me out with something I might need, I'll do it for free and tell them they owe me one. That has saved my butt and my wallet more times than I can count so I guess it's worth it. As for the bad tech, I'd definitely call him and try to get a refund. At the very least make him feel bad for being such a jerk.

Joe_R
Joe_R

When I am asked, I'll be helpful in providing an opinion, but I never offer to look at it, and few people ask me to.

network admin
network admin

Same here. I'm asked questions all the time and I give my opinion. Even though my boss has told me I have to do it, in a subtle way, I make it clear I'm not interested in fixing their computer. As far as the tech is concerned, he needs to give this couple their money back! He ought to be ashamed of her/himself!

luizaaugustyniak
luizaaugustyniak

Maybe you're unapproachable (or scary!). I get asked every day seems like... Even though ppl know I'm still a student. Most of the time I can just tell them what to do though.

Jaqui
Jaqui

to get them to no ask me to as well. oh, what's that? you want me to wipe the hard drive, beak your windows disks and hand you an lfs livecd? cause that is all I'll do with a system running windows.

IT geezer
IT geezer

If I get a request for services I don't or can't provide I tell the requester that, and recommend a person or business I know to be qualified and reputable. Of course, I could do as you advocate - lie to them or perform deliberate and probably unnecessary destruction of the user's media and system. Nah, don't think I'll ever stoop that low. Maybe that's why I have all the consulting business I want - they trust me to do the right thing by them. I also get some nice reciprocal referrals from the people I recommend.

Joe_R
Joe_R

.....about Windows!

Jaqui
Jaqui

really want to know. :D but by threatening to remove their beloved windows, and cost thm for a whole new copy of it, they don't ask me to fix their systems. it helps that I'm not required to support windows anywhere I work, so those around me know I'm not a windows person. [ vista 1644, "a view or prospect," from It. vista "sight, view," noun use of fem. p.p. of vedere "see," from L. videre "to see" a vast expanse of unfulfilled promise. ] you know, something you see when you look out WINDOWS. :D

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