The top 10 peeves of a support tech

IT pro Becky Roberts discovered that in the support field, certain workplace aggravations seem to persist regardless of the industry or environment. See if your annoyances match hers.

IT pro Becky Roberts discovered that in the support field, certain workplace aggravations seem to persist regardless of the industry or environment. See if your biggest annoyances match hers.

We all work in different environments, in different industries, with different departmental structures, different installed bases, and different users. But as support techs, we share the common goal of helping people and computers live in harmony. Over the years, I've worked in a variety of industries, from commercial aircraft manufacturing to management consulting, from a chemical plant to a ceramics factory. And although the hardware, software, and people have changed, the irritants have had an alarming tendency to remain the same. So here, in no particular order, are my top 10 persistent peeves.

Note: This article originally published in 2005. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Users who insist on giving you their diagnosis of a problem rather than a neutral description of the symptoms

A classic example of this is the VP who constantly tells me that the T1 is down whenever he can't browse the Web or log into SAP. Instead of describing the symptoms, the VP tells me, "The T1 is down; fix it." This type of behavior is doubly annoying. Not only does it complicate the troubleshooting process, but it is also often difficult to disabuse the user of his misconception, leaving him, in this instance, with a false impression of an unreliable T1.

2: Users who hover around asking questions while you're troubleshooting -- and worse, making suggestions

As much as I like to share my knowledge and educate users, I don't want to do so while I'm struggling to figure out exactly why Ethel can't print. This is particularly irritating when dealing with an apparently insoluble problem, as the user's probing questions, which I can't answer, are a reminder of my incompetence.

3: Users who deny having done anything that may have caused the problem

This is the "What? World of Warcraft is installed on my computer? I have absolutely no idea how that could've happened" phenomenon. In one instance, a summer intern from the local university MBA program called the help desk to complain that he couldn't access the network. A quick survey of his computer revealed that it no longer contained any files beginning with the letter n. The intern vehemently denied having deleted any files whatsoever but eventually confessed that he didn't have anything to do so he thought he'd delete all the files he didn't recognize. Why he started with the letter n remains a mystery.

4: Being treated like a user by tech support from another company

I dread problems that result in a call to the manufacturer's tech support department. I will experiment, read manuals, Google the error message, and sacrifice chickens on the keyboard before I will call a tech support number for a problem I can't resolve. My pride simply can't handle answering the most basic questions: Have you checked that the printer is in fact plugged in and turned on? ARRRGGGH. Get me out of here. Please, please, please, put me straight through to your highest support level because I can guarantee that I have tried everything you are going to suggest at least three times. Oh wait, never mind, the power strip was turned off....

5: Purchasing departments that change purchase requests

I understand and appreciate that part of the role of the purchasing department is to find the best possible price, but I do not appreciate it when they substitute what they consider to be an equivalent item because it is cheaper. One particularly irritating instance of this was an order I submitted for Kingston RAM for a Lexmark printer. When the RAM arrived, I failed to notice that it was Golden RAM instead of Kingston. It simply didn't work. A quick check of the Lexmark documentation confirmed that Golden RAM was not acceptable, but as the RAM was now "used" it could not be returned. The purchasing clerk had made the substitution on the advice of our VAR, as there was a special on the Golden RAM that made it a third of the cost of the Kingston RAM. This proved to be a very expensive attempt at cost savings.

6: Internal junk mail

We go to great lengths to minimize the junk mail being sent into the organization, but there seems to be little we can do to eliminate the jokes, photos, and movies being shared internally. Policies preventing or in some way restricting personal mail are of limited use unless mail is manually screened or spot checks are made. Merely using the corporate e-mail system for sending the occasional personal message is not a big deal, but when people start liberally using "Everyone" or create folders for "Recipes," "Baseball," and "Boy Scouts," I tend to get a little annoyed.

7: Users who think part of my job is to spend my lunch break telling them how to fix their home computers

During one particular job interview, my prospective new boss announced that he would hire only people who "eat, breath, sleep, and think computers 24/7." I stood up, shook his hand, and told him I was wasting his time and wished him luck. Not that there's anything wrong with being computer-obsessed; it just so happens that I'm not. If I were, I would probably welcome having my peanut butter sandwich interrupted by, "Uh, every time I try to access the Internet, this message pops up and then the mouse freezes. What's the deal?" I'm more than happy to help people out. I just resent being asked at work where I'm a captive audience.

8: Users who complain about not being able to use a new application, when they "didn't have time" to attend training or read the documentation you painstakingly prepared

I find this situation especially irritating because in most cases, the user really didn't have time to attend training or read the documentation -- so it wouldn't be fair of me to vent my frustration on the user. This is a symptom of the far bigger problem of expecting too much of too few employees. Instead of being irritated at these people, I find that they have my deepest sympathy, as they are usually the most overworked and pressured people in the organization.

9: Being summoned to a user's office to resolve an urgent computer problem, only to be kept waiting

This is extra annoying when the person in question is on a personal phone call with her husband to discuss plans for the weekend. I never know how long to wait. Leaving instantly would seem churlish, but once I have waited beyond a certain length of time, leaving and having to return a few minutes later simply increases the total time wasted. Fortunately, in all but the most intractable cases, treating the user as a used car salesperson by starting to walk away usually elicits a cooperative response.

10: The positioning of the IT department in the organization

During the course of my career, I have reported to an office manager who reported to a regional office VP; to an IT manager who reported to the CFO; to an IT manager who reported to another IT manager who reported to the CFO; to an IT manager who reported to a committee; and to a department head who wasn't sure who he reported to. Whereas most departments know where they are positioned within a company, no one seems to quite know what to do with IT. All too often, the IT department is made into a subdivision of some other department, which then has unfair control over the IT resources. In other instances, each department or division has its own IT function, which may or may not have a well-defined relationship with corporate IT.


Okay, you know what bugs Becky -- now it's your turn. Do you face similar aggravations -- or are you plagued by other issues? Feel free to jump in with your opinions and your own pet peeves.