life of a tech
Though I love to design sites, my full-time job (i.e., the one that pays the bills) is that of an Information Technology Technician (I.T. Tech). It's a thankless job, and one that requires me to be a jack-of-all-trades wherein computers are concerned.
I am part of a 2-person team responsible for all training, installation, troubleshooting, maintenance, and repair for over 200 people and systems, including desktop computers and field laptops. I dabble daily in software, hardware, networking, and Internet-related problems. I am also the web master and designer of our company's large website, a valuable public tool, which receives an average of 1350 hits/day.
Saying I have no idea what I'm going to face when I walk in the doors every day is putting it lightly.
The most common problem I have on this job are the headaches. Dealing with computers is nothing compared to dealing with the computer-illiterate, already-agitated people that call me up or drop into my office.
Most of my users seem to lose all form of common sense when they sit in front of a computer. Normally sane and fairly intelligent people become drooling idiots once the they hit the power button (if they know to even do that). I deal with my fair share of these and have garnered a large number of hilarious and nutty stories. See the insanity for yourself:
The Power Button Does Wonders
A guy called in saying his computer was broken. We asked him to try and sign on, but he said he couldn't. After some back and forth questions, he revealed that when he "lifted the lid nothing happened". Finally, we asked him if he'd turned the computer on. "How do you do that?" he asked.
Apparently, he'd never turned his laptop off - he just closed the lid every evening and lifted it up every morning. When the batteries ran down, and it didn't turn on when he lifted the lid, he thought it was broken. He had no clue about the power button.
One man brought his laptop to my desk - with nothing else. I asked him to get the power cord for me, as his battery had run down completely. He came back with the printer cord. I spent five minutes trying to explain the difference between the printer and power cords. He still didn't get it.
Full Hard Drive
We had someone call and tell us that his hard drive was full. I doubted this seriously as he'd just been issued the laptop a few months before (20 gig hard drive), and it was brand new. Come to find out, he'd just filled up a 3 1/2" floppy. When it came up and told him it was full, he panicked and called us, saying that the entire hard drive was "full".
The Burping Laptop
I just had to add this one. It's not unusual for our employees to customize their laptops - change the desktop wallpaper, adjust the colors, etc. Nothing big (most of them don't know how to do much else). However, I had one guy bring me his laptop for repairs.
"I kind of changed the sounds," he told me as I started it up. He looked kind of sheepish, and I told him that was ok - thinking he thought he might get in trouble for doing so. Then I heard it. A loud, deep belch. Then again and again. Every sound the laptop makes had been replaced by a recording of himself burping. It was humorous, if not a bit odd, the first two times. As I continued to work on it throughout the day, though, I had to mute it. I can only imagine what the woman in the cube next to me thought!
My phone rings and someone tells me: "When I go to check my email it says 'server not found'." I think for a minute. Always assume the most blatantly obvious (i.e. stupidest) possibility first.
Me: "Did you dial-in yet? Are you online?"
Him: "You can slap me next time you see me."
It makes up for the stupidity when they realize it somehow, though.
This is a classic - people like this shouldn't be allowed access to computers. I'd sent out an email with an attachment of a Windows security update and instructions on how to install it. I told them to save the attachment to their Desktop (figuring that was easiest - otherwise they'd never find it). From there it was basically click and launch.
One person printed out the instructions so she could look at them while she did it. She sat at her desk, reading over the paper in her hands and when she got to the part where the instructions read "Double-click the icon now on your Desktop", she looked around her cubicle, confused, and asked:
Where's the icon?
I'm not making that up.
An employee who worked out in the field called me up saying his laptop was frozen.
He told me:
I can't turn it off if I hit the power button. It won't even do anything when I hit those buttons - you know, Circle, Alter & Delete.
First off, Dr. Watson is a software utility that's included with Windows that helps detect, decode & log errors with Windows programs. Sometimes you'll see it come up when an error occurs. The other day I received an email from an employee who was trying to view the website but kept getting errors. It read as follows:
I keep trying to open the webpage, but keep getting kicked out and then I get a message from this Dr. Watson, who is not my primary care physician. I don't know who this "quack" is, but I would like to be able to get into the website.
The entire dial-up system changed for our in-the-field employees and we had to issue them all new passwords. They were case-sensitive, so 99% of the people that called in crying, "I can't get in!" were typing something in wrong. I spent a good week and a half reading passwords out over the phone and getting these people set back up. One, in particular, really stood out though: Me: Okay, write it down just as I say it. Lower-case 'r', lower-case 'e', upper-case 'T', number 3..."
He interrupted me:
Um, is that an upper-case 3 or a lower-case 3?
You Want Me To Refresh WHAT?
A woman calls me and states she cannot get into our website. I check it out, and everything is up and running fine. I ask her if she's tried refreshing her browser. 'Re...freshing...my..browser?" she asks.
Am I speaking Greek here? "Yes," I try to explain. "You may just need to hit the Refresh button on your browser window."
"Br..browser window," I hear her mumble to herself. Then to someone else in the room, "She says we have to re...fresh the..um..brow-ser window?"
She then puts me on hold. When she finally gets back to me she states that "it's working now". Wondering what the problem was, in case it's something I need to know or can help someone else out with, I ask her, "So you Refreshed and that's what it got it working?"
She was silent for a few beats then stammered, "We got it working now, thank you" and promptly hung up.
This woman was obviously calling me from an office, and sounded to be in the clerical profession - meaning she works on a computer at least 8 hours a day/5 days a week and she had no clue what "refresh" or "browser window" was. I can get the browser window part, not many people call it that, but how can you not know how to refresh - or how can you act as if you've never heard those words uttered before in your life by anyone??!
Windows Explorer vs. Winfile
I got into an argument with an employee over the phone when he insisted Windows Explorer was not installed on his new machine; though I told him a few different ways to access it. I knew it was on there as it's standard Windows-fare and comes with all versions of Windows. He finally came to my office and I showed it to him and he stated, "That's not what I'm used to seeing." Come to find out he was looking for Winfile - which we usually add to the new systems since it no longer comes on Windows. He didn't know the correct name for it.
No, I Don't Know Your Password
The new computers have passwords that must be changed every certain number of days. I sent out a memo explaining to everyone that the passwords were their responsibility, that we would have no way of knowing their password and that if they locked themselves out there was nothing we could do. If that happened, they needed to call the i.t.-department-over-our-group-of-agencies and have them reset their account. Simple enough, right?
Do you know how many people have called me since that this-is-a-mandatory-read memo was sent out asking me either:
- Do you know my password? I can't remember it.
- I'm locked out. What do I need to do?
- Can you unlock my account?
How am I supposed to know your password? I'm an i.t. tech, not a flippin' mind reader. I don't telepathically know what all 70+ people in the office change their passwords to.
What Part of This Are You Not Understanding?
I had one bright individual call me seven-times-in-a-row because their account was locked out. I told them to call the i.t.-department-over-our-group-of-agencies, as they have been instructed to do numerous times. This didn't work because even though they unlocked the account, said individual could not remember their password. I assured them that I didn't know it and had no way of knowing it and that they needed to call the i-d-o-o-g-o-a back and ask them to "reset the password" rather than "unlock the account".
This really confused the individual who, after calling them three more times and kept asking them to just unlock the account, couldn't figure out why they still couldn't get in.
"Can you come down here?" I was asked. I refused, trying, once again, to explain that there was nothing I could do (we are not allowed to reset or unlock their accounts). I couldn't even call the i-d-o-o-g-o-a for them as policy states they can only unlock systems for the person it belongs to. I guess they eventually got in.
The kicker with that incident was, unsatisfied with my answers, they went over me and to my supervisor and asked him to come and help them. Little good it did them, as he refused and told them the exact same things I'd told them.
If You Don't Know, How Am I Supposed to?
We found out employees were downloading games into their computers - along with all of the accompanying adware and spybots that came with them. Since this was causing serious problems and computer crashes, I sent out an agency-wide email informing everyone that downloads have to be pre-approved before implementing and that we must be advised of any previously downloaded software on each computer. I then received an email from a man asking me to come and look at his computer so that I could tell him if he'd downloaded anything on to it.
Oh, You Wanted That Open?
I was troubleshooting a problem with an employee over the phone. We'd just opened up a small window so I could show her how to check her email file size. The next step involved something in the same window so I went right to it. Me: Ok, right next to what you just looked at in that same small window is a box called "Compact" - do you see it?
Me: It's right next to what we just looked at.
Her: I don't see it.
Me: Are you still in that window?
Her: Oh no, I closed that window. Did I need to leave it open?
Then she couldn't remember where to go or how she'd opened it.
The Dumbest Thing Ever
Someone is having trouble dialing in - when he does he gets an error message. Of course I never in a million years would've guessed that the only problem was that he was typing in the wrong password - because he doesn't remember the passwords by which programs/windows he enters them into, he remembers them by the order in which he enters them. The sign-on-to-the-computer-password, then the dial-into-the-network-password then the sign-on-to-the-email-program-password. I'm serious. So when I, after playing around a bit, asked him to type in his password, he didn't look at the window to see what he was typing a password in for, he just typed in the password he always types in first - so rather than the dial-into-the-network-password, he typed in the sign-on-to-the-computer-password, because they look SO MUCH alike!
Have you ever seen a standard Windows sign-on and a standard Windows dial-in window? That's what I'm talking about here - nothing more confusing than that. I mean, oh-my-GOD!!!!!!!
The best was how I caught on to what he was doing (I didn't know what he was typing in). I heard him repeating this mantra as he went to type in the password a third time, "Ok, it's the computer password first, then the dial-up password, then the email password...I think." He thinks? Oh he really shouldn't be doing that. No telling what could happen then!
He was typing passwords in the order he's used to seeing them come up from when he turns on the computer, not depending on what he was signing into!
I'm still in shock from the sheer dumbness of the entire situation.
The Mystery of the Missing Keys
Not long after issuing new computer systems to everyone, my supervisor walked into a gentleman's office to find most of the bottom keys missing from his new keyboard. The CTRL, Windows & ALT keys were gone from both sides. When asked what had happened to his keyboard, he replied that he had removed the keys since he was always "accidentally hitting them while typing".
I Don't Need No Stinkin' Password
I'd just issued a laptop to a new employee and provided him with all of his passwords. He called me up the next day to ask me:
Hey, this password you gave me for my email account - do I have to type the whole thing in?
I was tempted to just say "Nah. We just give you all those superfluous characters to throw you off."
Dial-up Cable Modems
An employee called me from his home complaining that he couldn't dial into the network. He said everytime he tried to dial in he was getting an error message. After having him tell me step-by-step what he was doing, I knew he was correct on the procedure. Me: Okay - let's try something else. What do you have plugged into the modem on your laptop?
My cable modem.
Which is great because he's trying to dial-in with a phone connection profile that goes through the phone modem. I tried to explain to him why this wouldn't work, but he just kept telling me, "I understand it's set up as a phone connection, but I want to use my cable modem - it's faster, you know."
You Mean I Can Burn CDs?
I issued a new laptop to a gentleman today, and was going over the basics with him.
Me: "Okay, this is your CD-Rom drive - it's a CD Burner & DVD player..."
He interrupted me: "What? It's a CD-what?"
Me: "These new laptops have a CD-burner on them."
Him: "A what? Uh...I don't know what that is."
Me, stunned: "Oh...um. Okay. It's so you can burn CDs..." I see the blank look on his face. "You've never heard of burning CDs?"
Him: "No, that's something I've heard my son talk about - 'burning' CDs but I don't know anything about that kind of stuff." (This guy is only in his mid-40s)
Me: "Well, okay, don't worry about it then. This is where you put the CDs."
A Kilo is How Much?
Email received from employee:
I CANNOT GET INTO OR SEND EMAIL. IT SAYS I AM OVER THE KILO BYTES. WHAT DO I DO?
Underscore vs Space
I recently spent a good 10 minutes and 5+ phone calls with one individual who didn't know the difference between a space and an underscore (_). He was trying to dial in to the network, but was getting a "wrong user name or password" error message. Me: Are you sure you're typing your user name in correctly? It should be FirstName_LastName.
Him: Yes, it's FirstName space LastName.
Me: No, not a space. An underscore. It has to be an underscore.
Him: Yeah I have a space between them.
At this point I assumed he was calling the underscore "space" - people tend to pull shit out of their ass when it comes to computer terms. Wallpapers become screensavers, icons become buttons, a mouse becomes "that pointer-thingy". I realized I was wrong when he called right back saying he still hadn't gotten in; this is already about the 4th call wherein I've told him he HAS to put an underscore.
Him: I know I'm typing this in right - I think something's wrong with the computer.
Me: There's nothing wrong with the computer. The error message you're getting means you're typing something in wrong. Are you sure you're putting an underscore between the FirstName and LastName?
Him: I have FirstName space LastName - just like you've been saying.
Me: Do you have that little thing between FirstName and LastName - it's next to the zero key and you have to hit shift to use it?
Him: No. Let me try that.
He came back a few minutes later to tell me he'd gotten through.
Email? Dialup? - What's the Difference?
Person-calling-in: I can't get into my email-program-we-use. Me: Ok, what error message are you getting?
At first he didn't know the error message (they never do). I waited while he tried whatever-he-was-doing again to make it come up.
Person Calling In (PCI): It says Error 619, Invalid user name or password.
Now I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is the error message that comes up when you cannot dial-in - which you have to do to get into the email program. Users like to tell you what they'd like to do rather than what's really not working.
Me: You're not having a problem with email-program-we-use. The problem is that you can't dial in.
PCI: But I can't get my email.
(To myself) No shit, idiot. But you have to DIAL IN to get to the email program and since dialing in is what you CAN'T DO - THAT is the problem!
Me: Okay, whatever. That error message means you're typing in the wrong user name or password. What did you type in?
PCI: I typed in "password" for the password. What it's always been.
I love how they argue with me and try to tell me how it is and how it's always been. If they're so damn smart, why in the hell are they calling me at all?!
Me: It's not "password" and it has never been "password". When we set your dial-in accounts up we gave you a password, it was 8 digits and alpha-numeric. Do you have it written down anywhere?
I don't know why I ask, they never, ever do. Heaven forbid you keep pertinent information around.
PCI: No, I don't have it.
Me: (Curious) Why did you change the password anyway? The password is saved - you shouldn't have to change it, just hit "Dial".
He didn't answer. And why? Because obviously he hasn't dialed in in some time. Otherwise he'd know the password is saved and already there. That's what all those little stars in the password box and the check mark in "Save Password" mean, genius.
Actually, you'd be surprised how many people tell me they "can't access their email" when the problem is that they can't "dial-in". When I try to explain that the problem is with their dial-up, not with their email, they always insist, "But I have to dial-in to get to my email! I can't get to my email - that's the problem."
My Brain This Computer Is Broken!
I like to call this one the Black Screen of Stupidity.
Person-calling-in: I think my computer is broken.
Me: Ok, what's happening?
PCI: I was out of the office for a few days and left it running.
Me: That's not a problem, go on...
PCI: Well, it won't start up. All I have is this black screen.
Me: Have you shut it down and started it back up?
PCI: Yes. I'm doing it again now.
In the background I can hear Windows starting up.
PCI: Nope. Black screen - completely blank.
Me: Are you sure your monitor is on? Because it sounds like the monitor isn't on.
PCI: Yes, it's on.
Me: You sure? I mean, you hit the power button? Did you try turning it off and on again?
PCI: Yes, I hit the power button right next to the green light.
There is a green light next to the monitor's power button, so I believed him. And if it was green and not orange, there was no problem with the monitor. I told him I was coming down. I did and found the problem... Power button next to green light = the computer's power button. The monitor was off. OFF.
I left, went into the bathroom, and banged my head against the wall for 5 minutes.
I had a guy call in who had forgotten his password. Luckily, we keep a record of their dial-in names and passwords and I was able to help him. I started to give it to him, but apparently he wasn't ready...
Me: Okay, it's going to be a capital T, a number 4, a lower-case s..."
He cut me off:
Wait a minute now. You have to slow down. I don't understand all of this computer language-stuff.
User names for our dial-in accounts are the user's first name, an underscore, and their last name (i.e. FirstName_LastName). You would not believe the people that are completely confused when I tell them to use the "underscore". I'd say 50% of the ones that call in have no idea what it is.
One today, however, took the cake. After explaining to him that he could get an underscore by holding down SHIFT and hitting the "dash" key, located between the zero and plus-sign keys, he asked me:
So it's like a line? Okay I got that. Now, how long do I need to make the line?
Personal Pet Peeves & The Ones Every Tech Knows
Here is a summary of the most common problems I deal with, and the aggravations they almost always seem to incur.
First, my list of ten (which grew to eleven), and then a smattering of some of the more common that will make any tech groan and nod their head in acknowledgement.
Empty That Recycle Bin!
They've gotten better now, but when the laptops were first issued to the employees that work out in the field, most of them had no clue what to do with them (and our office offered no training). This was all before I started, but our other i.t. person would tell me how they'd bring in their laptops for repairs and he'd find hundreds of items in the Recycle Bin. They didn't know how to empty it - actually, they didn't even know they were supposed to.
Basic Isn't so Basic
Things that seem pretty basic to the average (competent) computer user, aren't so basic to the technologically challenged. I can't count how many times I've had to describe what the "Desktop" or an "icon" was. "It's the little thing with pictures on it that's on your Desktop." "What's a Desktop?" I used to understand, but these same people have had their laptops for close to four years now and use them every day. More than once I've had people say to me, exasperated, "I'm trying to shut down and it just keeps re-starting!" Could it be because you have "Restart" chosen rather than "Shutdown"? It could. I even had someone tell me once, "Oh, the CD drive? I never use it; I don't know how."
The Trouble with the Mouse
The mouse just might be the hardest thing to learn how to use on a computer. Anyone who's ever worked in i.t., or just helped someone over the phone with a computer problem, knows about the right-click/left-click dilemma.
A usual over-the-phone help session goes something like this:
Tech: "Ok, I want you to right-click on that icon."
This is it - once you've said the magic words (right-click) you have completely confused that person for the remainder of the call. If they even understand the concept of right-click (most don't), they are going to ask you "Do I left-click or right-click?" every single damn time you ask them to click something. The standard response is "Only right-click when I tell you to." Sometimes this works; most of the time it doesn't.
I once spent 15 minutes on the phone with a man who kept left-clicking when I told him to right-click. I finally ended the whole mess by saying "Click the button on the mouse you don't normally click." Eureka! I use this phrase every time now.
Another clicking problem is clicking and double-clicking. It can make you want to pull your hair out if you're watching someone who doesn't know how to use a mouse do something on their computer. They double-click everything. Get them on the phone, and I promise you'll be spending 5 extra minutes every time you want them to "click once and highlight" something.
Computers will never replace good old-fashioned human stupidity.