Giving support can be a two way street

We never stop learning and the places we get our learning from can be many and varied. Here are some reflections from my years of support and training.

I've been knocking around in the support world for a fair few years now, and the more I learn, the more I realise that I don't know it all. I suppose I have my own way of working and my own habits. I use a PC in much the same way as I always did and stopped taking notice of the help screens, more out of laziness than anything else.

Having made this terrible confession, I now have to defend myself. In the process of supporting other people I often see keyboard shortcuts and other tricks that I didn't know.

I found out the Windows Key+E  from a user who had been using it for years; in return, I showed him ALT+TAB, which I used heavily before I adopted twin screens. Years ago I had an interesting conversation with my late father who asked which of the three methods for accessing the spelling checker in Word was the "correct" one. I am not sure that he was convinced that it was entirely up to him which one he used; he grew up in a time where people learned the "correct" way to use a tool. I remember him despairing at the way I held a claw hammer or a saw, and he saw the PC, which he took up at the age of 70, as another tool to become skilled at. Before his death at the age of 75, he became an expert user. It got to the point where I could no longer supply ready answers to the increasingly complicated questions he asked — to the point where he achieved a university degree which, sadly, was awarded posthumously.

I think that the point I am trying to make is that we all have plenty to learn, and we can learn from all kinds of sources.

There's a PC skills magazine in the UK that is aimed at the novice PC user, and I often flick through it to see what the computing trends of the day are. Sometimes it seems to re-hash the same old advice, but with new screenshots. I have seen the same advice published for Window 98, 2000, XP and now Vista.

The Windows Key+Break is a good one for support professionals to use, and yet many people still go the long way around, mainly because that is the way they have always done it.

What I took away from these experiences was this: whenever I picked up a tip, no matter how small, I try to pass it on to at least one other person because when you give a piece of knowledge away, you lose nothing yourself. In fact it, reinforces your own skills and makes you more useful, something that can only improve your worth to whatever entity you are supporting.

As with most support people, I too have a regular flow of support calls from friends, family, and neighbours, and although I try to be selective with the support I give for free, I usually try to help, with the proviso that there should be some cost to the recipient, usually in the form of a reciprocal favour, such as help with a home project or a donation to a good cause.

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