I was recently able to get an insight into the workings of an IT help desk from a completely different point of view. Every kind of business or organization now has an IT presence and a source of support. It was fascinating to hear some users discussing their support team.


I have just spent a night in a large National Health Service hospital after surgery to correct some damage to my shoulder. After the operation I was recovering on the ward. My bed was next to the nurse’s station, and I spent most of the night listening to their conversations. I was not able to sleep and passed the time indulging in one of my favorite occupations — people-watching.

Having made us all comfortable and finished the routine tasks, the nurses sat at their station discussing work stuff. I was amused by the gossip and character assassinations of colleagues, but my ears pricked up when the topic of conversation rolled around to their IT services and, in particular, their help desk. It seemed that during the day, support was provided by the in-house team, but at night it was outsourced. The night shift were complaining about this.

On one of my nocturnal trips to the bathroom, I noticed that the nurses were having a problem connecting to their patient database. I was on the point of offering assistance when something stopped me. I was the patient here and not the IT guy, yet I felt guilty that I had walked away from a problem when all my instincts told me that there was a user who needed help. For a while I felt a little guilty, but common sense soon put me back in my place in bed.

Does anyone else ever find it hard to let go of work and become the customer?

Should I have offered help or was it totally not my place to interfere? The problem was a fairly normal one; from my position in the corridor, I could clearly see the Caps Lock on the keyboard and it would have taken a second to advise them to turn it off.