You know one thing I love about being a “computer person?” No matter where I go, I usually meet people who like to talk about computers or technology in general.

You know one thing I hate about being a “computer person?” Same thing.  Everywhere I go, I meet people who want to talk about computers.  Like medical people who don’t go to parties to talk about bunions, I don’t always enjoy being approached in a social setting by someone who starts out saying, “Hey maybe you can tell me what’s wrong with my computer…”

Don’t ask me to cook in some hack’s kitchen

Let me explain why I bring up the subject of casual/social consulting.  This past week, I wrestled with whether I should write about an episode of “IT arrogance” I had witnessed firsthand.  Then I got a phone call that made the decision for me.

A friend of mine couldn’t wait for us to get together socially.  She called me at my work (where I’m consulting) from her place of work to ask if I could help fix her computer.  “Well, that depends,” I said.

“I was hoping you could tell me how to set up my email,” she said.

“Mm-kay.  That’s an unusual request. What’s going on?”

To sum up, her computer had contracted a virus a week before.  Her employer’s in-house help desk person tried without success to remove the virus, which had not spread beyond her machine on the network. After four business days without a computer, they gave up on the infected machine and bought my friend a new computer.

Two days after the arrival of the new computer, my friend still had no email.  She said she was falling behind in her work, and she was frustrated because she had to borrow someone else’s machine any time she needed to check or send email.

(I know where my friend works.  She is one of about 40 full-time employees.  They have one person whose duties include “IT support” in addition to some marketing and sales duties.)

I said, “I would love to help you, but there’s no way I can talk you through installing email on your machine, since it isn’t my network.  Your IT person would have a cow!”  (The truth is, I don’t mind cleaning up after someone else’s mess, but it usually happens after the “bad” IT person has been fired and I get called in as a consultant.)

My friend was despondent.  She was clearly at the end of her rope, so frustrated by the lack of support by her own “computer person” that she felt compelled to call a friend outside the company to try and resolve her issues.

I said, “When you ask about it, what does your IT person say?” 

“I don’t have time right now.” “Everybody else’s email is working.”  “I’ll try to get to it.”

Folks, I thought that kind of “IT arrogance” went out of style in the mid-1990s.  Apparently I was mistaken.

We got your new printers, but good luck installing them!

The “IT arrogance” I witnessed firsthand was even worse.  At the company where I consult, two fancy-schmancy fax/printer/scanner/copier devices were wheeled by the Tech Support crew into the spots where a couple of plain-old printers used to reside.  The users (customers) were ecstatic.  “What are they named, Charlie?” I heard one of the users ask. (“Charlie” is not the real name of the analyst.)

“Oh, I don’t know, you’ll find them.”


“But I already printed two documents to the old printer.  Where’d they go?” one customer asked. “Well that printer’s down on the second floor, so I guess you’ll have go to find it yourself,” the technician said, laughing. 

I was shocked at the arrogance, the nonchalance, the sheer audacity of this alleged “professional” person.  (cue theme from ‘Rocky’) Because if it were my shop and they were my customers, I would have (a) labeled the printers clearly with IP addresses or device names as soon as they were installed, and (b) quickly and cheerfully told my users how to access their fancy new printers.

But no.  The tech and his assistant disappeared to perform their next task, while we all scurried back to our PCs to look under Printers and Faxes for some sign of the new printers.

Once we finally discovered which obscure text descriptions matched the machines on our floor, we were able to print.  But we couldn’t fax, and we couldn’t scan images.  Why? The email database had not been ported over (or re-keyed) from the old printers into the new ones. And the Address Book function was locked!  It took two days of emailing and calling Tech Support to get someone BACK up to re-enter the addresses we needed so we could do our work.

Lessons Learned

I realize that fully 90, maybe 95 percent of all tech support / help desk professionals are not arrogant, uncaring, lazy types who do the bare minimum to get by each day and still earn a pay check.  But that 5 to 10 percent of help desk analysts who think they’re better and smarter than their users (customers), they are making a bad name for the rest of us.

Setting aside the common-sense axioms that “the customer is always right” and “without users, there’d be no need for an IT department,” don’t those bozos ever consider the cost to the company of their second-rate support?  My friend without email — frustrated for days, unable to perform basic tasks. How much productivity did her company lose during that week or so that her machine was down?  Perform the same analysis for the department of 20 people sharing two printers.  Take those 20 people who wasted at least an hour apiece worrying and fretting about which printer to use and multiple those 20 hours times their salaries.

All that waste, all because a couple of smug techs thought they were too busy to be bothered. In the immortal words of Stevie Wonder, “Heaven help us all.”