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Don’t be that way

Chuck Edwards | | December 17, 2009

Question for all IT support professionals:

Ever hear, “The system is down!” when what they mean is, “I got an error,” or “I can’t log in.”

How about, “This report doesn’t work!” when what they mean is, “I’m not getting the data I expected.”

Working with servers and software all day every day, it’s easy to forget that customers don’t know as much about the technology you support as you do.  Sure, you KNOW this is true, but after a while every support engineer, DBA, or whoever starts to roll their eyes at the 500th time a user asks for a password reset because they locked themselves out.  When that happens, before you say or write something even a little bit snarky, it’s important to remember something…

YOU, my bit-pushing friend, are the oddity.

Most people – and I’m talking about real, normal, everyday folks here; the ones that USE the applications and websites you support; not your black-clad, chunky-glasses-wearing buddies in the meticulously contrived hipster coffee shop where you twitter over that hi-LA-rious NPR skit while remaining clueless about the impact of the Roy Halladay / Cliff Lee trade – don’t know how any of this stuff works.

They think a database is some kind of spreadsheet?  Right?  Maybe?

They don’t know what an OS is, but they know what Windows 7 and Apple are.  (Windows 7 are those ads on TV and Apple makes their iPod.)

Storage is where you put your stuff.  A closet.  The garage.

Linux…. Ahhh, WTF?

Think I’m exaggerating?  Think about your Grandmother.  Think about the millions of people living in the U.S. alone still without broadband.  Think about the 50-year-old elementary school art teacher, or the fellow pumping gas in central Wyoming.  Yes, I’m stereotyping (sue me) but even people who use the Internet every day for work or pleasure still have no earthly idea the difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit operating system or know what a CPU core is.  Or what a CPU is, for that matter.

Chances are you and I have no larger clue about their professional details than they do about ours.  And you know what?  That’s just fine.  We all have jobs because of that symbiotic relationship.  All of us.  We get to dink around with the latest and greatest in and they get to buy stuff on a website.  Or pay their bill automatically from their checking account.  Or chat with their BFF.  Whatever.

Point is, users will ask “stupid questions.”  They’re  going to phrase their problems from their perspective, not ours.  Get over it.  It’s our job to help them.  We listen, we gently probe for specifics, and we don’t make them feel bad about asking.  At least that’s how it should be.  We won’t be in business/have a job for long if we make a career out of flaunting our professional arrogance.

One day our kids will laugh at our ignorance, too.  Won’t it be nicer if they at least have enough respect to do it behind our backs?

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