Can you recall when you knew absolutely nothing about computers and/or the IT field? Perhaps you can recall how you felt when you asked for assistance with what other people considered a simple matter. Jeff Dray recalls such an experience and explains what he took away from it.
We begin our story…
I descended into the murky pit of IT over 15 years ago after a formative experience. I worked for the post office in the old Friar Street office located in Reading, approximately 40 miles west of London. One day I was asked to go upstairs to “the computer” to print out 13 copies of the National Savings Bank list of stolen savings books. I was equipped with the following:

  • An eight-inch floppy disk
  • A piece of cardboard from the packaging of a shirt

This second item may seem a bizarre accessory for the well-dressed computer user, but it had great significance. On it were written all the instructions for completing the job.

The computer room
I entered the inner sanctum where the machine stood in solitary splendor on a small table in the middle of the room. You have to remember that in those days there was a great deal more of a mystical aura about IT than there is today. It was a top of the line PC with twin floppy drives, the sort of thing that hasn’t been in use for many years. No hard disk, a green and black screen, and a staggering 32 KB of RAM.

I set to work carefully following the instructions, such as “press switch marked on/off.” The problem was that I had no prior knowledge of computers, and when I hit a wrong key, I had absolutely no idea of how to get back to where I should have been.

I was duly chagrined when the “Man Who Knew” came along and got me back on track by pressing a single key, which I later learned was called backspace. His look of utter, withering contempt was quite painful for me. My long and tarnished career in help desk and user support all stems from that moment.

The things I remember
Even though this was some time ago, I still recall my feelings during those few moments when I had made an error using the machine:

  • The feeling of uselessness due to a lack of any training.
  • The annoyance I felt because of the attitude of the “Man Who Knew,” whom I might add was normally a pleasant enough person. On this occasion, however, he managed to make me feel very small.
  • The desire to never knowingly inflict this feeling on someone else.

I’m a better tech now because of “the computer”
Now that I have become one of the “Men Who Know,” I understand the temptation to ridicule the user when they make mistakes on their computers. I instead collect these stories in the hope that one day I can make a fortune by publishing them in a highly desirable volume. They can provide light relief in a sometimes stressful occupation.

What you have to remember is this; you work with computers all the time. For others, computers are tools that are used to assist with business matters. When a client recently said to me that I must believe he was silly for not understanding how a PC worked, I asked him what he did for a living. He explained that he was a civil engineer. My reply to him was simple. I told him he knew more about computers than I would ever know about building bridges.
How do you handle users who don’t understand even the simplest thing about computers? We want to hear from you. Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.