Monday, July 03, 2006

"Worst Tech Support Ever..."

I've come to the conclusion that being "The Computer Guy" among your group of friends, and worse, your family; is roughly equivalent to being "Comic Book Guy", combined with the worst aspects of being a doctor and a lawyer.

No-one wants to be comic book guy.

The Geek has expressed his frustrations with being the computer guy today, in a quite artful analogy, that I found quite fitting:

With increasing frequency, I hate being "the computer guy".

By way of explanation, an analogy would be the guy who designed the hydroelectrics of the Hoover Dam being besieged by his relatives to help them plunge their toilets because they couldn't penetrate the mysteries of household plumbing.

You see, I work every day with systems and networks that cost Billions of dollars (with a "B"). In my current position I am one of three people responsible for the overall architecture and design for ALL of the systems which run one of the worlds largest retail banks. Last week I signed off on 5 million dollars worth of projects that I could have given the thumbs down to at any time. I DID give the thumbs down (actually sent back to the drawing board) on about 2 million worth of stuff.

People ask me to fix their computers all the time. Friends, Family, Associates etc... Most often their problem is spyware, or a lack of regular maintenance and de-crufting. The normal stuff that accumulates through using a computer over time and clogs up the pipes as it were (which is really an apt metaphor actually).

In that situation, yes, I'm the hydroelectric dam engineer being asked to unclog a toilet.

The worst part is, though these issues people have arent really all that difficult to fix most of the time, they are extremely TIME CONSUMING, and thus incredibly tedious. It can take me a full eight hour day to disinfect and protect someones computer, and it's mind numbing, ass breaking work (literally, most peoples computer desks and chairs suck). Even worse, it isn't hard, but you have to know a TON about the systems and software involved, and about the core of the operating system, and you need to be patient, and COMPLETELY THOROUGH. You can't miss ANYTHING or else the whole thing will have to be redone.

This need for technical thoroughness, experience, and knowledge means you can't just give the job to some Tech/OpsMonkey type (there are some very good diagnostic engineers in ops, they aren't OpsMonkeys. Most of the guys working the tech counter at comp-usa barely rise to the OpsMonkey level); you actually need a half decent engineer to do the job.

Hell sometimes you just can't fix it at all there's so much crap, and you have to wipe it and start over; and THAT takes even MORE TIME (usually about a full days work, plus a half dozen hours over the next few weeks as they find stuff they need to get woring agian they didnt think of the first day). This puts you in for endless series of phone calls, and side trips and.. ARGH....

Hell, it's become so bad, and commodity class computers hate become so cheap; that is can be chaper to simply go out and buy a new computer, rather than try and fix the old one. Yes, people are actually jsut throwing their comptuers away after a year or two when they become so loaded up with crap they don't run right anymore; or if any components fail.

Which is I suppose a good thing for schools, computer recyclers, and guys like me, who can take the computers off their hands, and ptu int the 8 or more hours of effort required to rebuild them into something useful again.

Of course then they need helpt and support with their NEW computer because it doesnt have all their old programs and settings.. "oooh and all those nice games and screensavers that I downloaded for free from those fun sites with all the colorful animation and such amazingly clever people those russians, now how on earth someone got my credit card number I'll never know I'm so CAREFUL...."

I've got something of a solution for that; works on everyone but my mother.

When someone asks me for technical assitance with their computers, I tell them that if and when I have time, I'd be happy to help them out a bit; and keep them from getting ripped off. Then I tell them "But if it gets to be more than an hour or two, or there's serious work involved, I'm sorry but I don't work for free. I do my work for family and friends at half my lowest rate".

Of course they have no idea what half my lowest rate is. They pretty much always ask.

Then I tell them that half my lowest rate is $40 an hour; and that I usually make three times that for short term stuff like three or four hour jobs... oh and that I usually charge in minimum 1/2 day increments.

Further, I tell them that the shop rate for most computer places will be somewhere between my $40 and $80 an hour, plus extra for housecalls, and they usually have a minimum charge of two hours in the shop and 4 hours for housecalls; and it's likely the shop still won't fix the problem.

I tell them I'm not trying to get their business, I make enough during the week; I just dont want to spend my free time WORKING. I'd rather they took it to someone else, but most places would either rip them off, or do a shitty job for too much money, and I don't want that to happen to them.

Generally speaking when they realize that I make anywhere from $600 to $1000 a day doing this, and that paying a shop could actually cost them a lot MORE than I charge; they actually begin to get some appreciation for the value of the service they are recieving.

Then I usually don't charge them unless it takes up a silly amount of my time; or unless they make me come back a lot for stupid shit; but I absolutely WILL charge them if they take it for granted, if they abuse my hospitality etc...

Oh and I NEVER go out of pocket for friends on computer stuff. It's as bad as loaning a friend money you actually need to get back.

In the last year, other than random little stuff (which I get almost every day, or at least a few times a week) I've only been bothered about this stuff by someone other than my mother (and you pretty much HAVE to do it for your mother) a couple times. Oh I've had lots of people ask, but the second they realized what they were asking, they backed off.

The truth is, I'm happy to help my friends out when I can; I'd do the world for my friends; I just want them to understand and have respect for my time, and for what they are asking.