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This is a question IT Support

Our IT support guy has been in the job since 1979, and never misses an opportunity to pick up a mouse and say "Hello computer" into it, Star Trek-style. Tell us your tales from the IT support cupboard, either from within or without.

(, Thu 24 Sep 2009, 12:45)
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I try to avoid jargon if I can
But sometimes it's inescapable. One word I don't like using because only cunts use it is "paradigm". But in this case it's an appropriate word. Computers have given rise to a plethora of jargon because so many of the concepts they espouse are brand new, comparatively speaking. The jargon which has risen in their wake isn't solely from a desire by the priesthood to keep the rabble ignorant; it's also there as a convenient shorthand for certain behaviours, perceptions, and actions, both on the part of the computer and the frustrated soul trying to use it. It really is a new paradigm.

I'm one of the priesthood, but I'm not one who believes in keeping my users ignorant as a means of ensuring my own employment, or as a means of demonstrating my intellectual superiority over them. The former wouldn't work (I'm not irreplaceable; no-one is) and the latter is just foolish. Quite the contrary, I want my users to know as much as possible about the mechanical thinking machines on their desks. I want my users to be able to interact with them freely and easily without being frightened of them. Or without pretending to be frightened of them as a means of covering up chronic laziness (but that's another matter entirely). I try to teach whenever I can. Unless absolutely critical, I won't take control of my users' computers; instead I will show them what they can do to sort out whatever issues they're having in the hope that, by actively doing something as opposed to merely watching, they might remember for similar occasions in the future. But I'm not a teacher, and sometimes my attempts at teaching fall flat. Sometimes it's due to my inability to teach, but sometimes it's due to the pigheadedness of the person I'm trying to teach. Although, one of the most rewarding experiences is showing someone how to carry out a particular task, only for that person to extrapolate from what has just been learned and jump ahead without needing to be hand-held the entire way.

What really frustrates me is people's outright refusal to learn. It's not so much an explicit refusal such as, "Oh, it's a computer, I don't need to know about computers; that's your job," as much as a subtle rejection of the whole shebang. It might not be an explicit rejection, but the shying away from learning anything at all about the gizmo is there nonetheless. People have been conditioned remarkably quickly (remember, computers in their current form - a PC on every desk - have only been around 30 years or so; prior to that they were monstrous behemoths kept behind locked doors, away from the unenlightened) to take computers for granted, yet wonder why they become frustrated when the computer doesn't operate in such an easy manner. Paradoxically, it doesn't occur to them that their own knowledge might not be up to par.

I believe two of the biggest problems here are the machines' complexity, and the generally poor user interfaces. Most household appliances are single-function devices. Kettles, toasters, washing machines, radios, televisions, cookers, irons, and the like all perform a single function and, usually, perform it adequately. They're not particularly complex devices, are pretty easy to operate, and pretty easy to fix, too, for someone with a bit of interest and savvy. Computers, on the other hand, are ridiculously complex. We expect them to perform myriad tasks, equally brilliantly, from databases, to spreadsheets, to e-mails, to theses, to web browsing, to illicit filesharing, to games, to, well, you name it. If it involves number crunching in any way, we expect a computer to do it. There are so many heterogeneous components in a computer, both hardware and software, all of which were, at some point, created by a human. A flawed human, one whom, despite best intentions, makes mistakes on occasion. Sometimes those mistakes creep into the computers, in the form of unwanted behaviour, security loopholes, and more. Hell, I'm supposed to be some sort of expert, judging by the job I do, but half the time even I don't know what's going on under the bonnet. The internal combustion engine is simplicity in comparison.

The user interface is not yet at the point of being able to respond immediately not to what we tell it to do, but what we want it to do. DWIM (do what I mean) is one of computing's holy grails, and it will be a very long time before it is achieved. I happen to believe it's possible, just a long way off. Until that time comes, we must learn how the computer behaves, rather than the computer learning how we behave. The people who design the interfaces are getting better at it, but they've a long road ahead of them. And therefore so do we, the users of the things. I'm as much a user as a support technician. I have to learn this stuff, too. The only difference is that I have to learn more of it, at a deeper level, so I can help others.
(, Sun 27 Sep 2009, 21:46, 3 replies)
A beautifully thought out and written response. A little bit of thought goes a long way when you're dealing with people AND machines, and the sooner people on both sides, support and their customers, realise this, the better.
(, Sun 27 Sep 2009, 22:00, closed)
well you got a click from me!
That is exactly the problem. The User-support interface. The idiot loop! One doesn't want to explain and one doesn't want to listen. I do have to say that (in my defense as the OP) I have a working knowledge to the changing oil level. Hell I'm on firefox and I'm a b3tard. So I was over playing a little, but I feel the revolution starts here of users who understand support and support who understand users :-)
(, Sun 27 Sep 2009, 22:21, closed)
There are three
simple things I expect from users, 1: Manners/courtesy, If you dont have any you dont get support. 2: The truth, the error message does NOT say "it wont work", tell me what it DOES say, and 3: if I have tought you how to do something 3 or more times and you still forget, write it down!! Stick to these guidelines and I will be calm, friendly and may even share a joke with you :)
(, Tue 29 Sep 2009, 16:34, closed)

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