I got several phone calls at work late last week, mostly having to do with formatting and printing the term papers the boys finished up (after pulling an all-nighter). Most of the issues were solved by my telling them to click something or another. The only problem that wasn’t in that category (transferring a file from Mrs. Fetched’s computer to Daughter Dearest’s) could have been avoided by typing the file on DD’s computer in the first place.
Twenty years ago (I tell ya, things were different in my day! Men were men and sheep were nervous! Um...) the company I worked for bought Macs for our department. I admit to being less than impressed with them after the initial enthusiasm wore off — it took several years of improvements for the Mac to first win my respect and a couple more years before I came to love 'em. But I digress. I spent the first couple of days just exploring the menus in various programs, clicking buttons, and generally seeing what I could make the thing do. I ran into things, clicked around until the problems went away, and got confident with its limited scope.
It wasn’t too long before my co-workers ran into the same problems I’d already hit and solved. People would mention off-hand a problem they were having, I’d say, “oh, try this and such,” and it would work for them too. After a few of those, I was suddenly the “Mac Guru” and everyone in the company — including IT — would ask me for help. Since my extension was 4573 and the IT helpline was 4357 (HELP), I’d get wrong-number calls (at first) asking for assistance and then people would start calling me before they would call IT. All because I fiddled around with things.
And that, dear readers, is the Techie Secret. In fact, it’s so much a part of our psyche that we have an acronym for it: PBUSH (Push Buttons Until Something Happens). It’s so simple, and it explains a lot of our frustration with non-techies. We’re not really any smarter (well, not much smarter) than the rest of you, we’re just more curious. Any hairy hoary knowledge we’ve obtained, we’ve obtained the same way any animal does: faced with a constraint, we poke and prod at the door, especially that little latch thingie, until it pops open and we’re free! Over time, we figure out what works and what doesn’t, and we use that knowledge and confidence to attack the next gate. Beyond curiosity, there’s no innate talent — it’s all the kind of skills that anyone can acquire. Why are you calling us when you could just click around and figure out how to fix it on your own, probably more quickly than you can describe the problem?
One of the first questions you’ll hear from a support person, formal or not, is “what have you tried to fix it so far?” If you’ve tried anything that didn’t work, both of you save time because the support person can skip those suggestions. It also gives the techie both an idea of how complex the problem might be, and how involved you’re willing to be in the solution. Every platform typically has a handful of first responses — like fix permissions and run drive checks on MacOSX, rebuild the desktop on older MacOS systems, or reboot and run spyware checkers on Windows — that clear up 80% of the issues. By running these simple maintenance routines, either on a regular basis or when problems crop up, you give yourself a great deal of power over your balky toy/tool, and save time for everyone.
Careful, though — that sense of empowerment might lead you to look into those other problems, the 20% that routine maintenance doesn’t fix. You may find yourself typing error messages into Google to see if there’s any information out there (and often there is). You might start looking at those mysterious programs that came with your operating system and running them just to see what they do, perhaps finding a nice tool in the process. Eventually, when another non-technical friend has a problem, you might be the one to suggest a fix. Before too long, they’ll be calling you.
PBUSH usually isn’t dangerous to your computer, but it can turn you into a techie. Beware.