That lamp’s busted

“Tech support is here to solve problems, not to enable ignorance.”

I said that. That’s an original quote, unlike so much of what I banter around. And it’s absolutely true and essential for anyone who manages IT to understand this.

I’ve said it often, but the worst thing in the world is when people start to think of the computer support as magicians. It’s all well and good to be a magician, right up to the day the little girl falls down a well and breaks her neck and the villagers get out the torches and pitchforks when you don’t bring her back to life.  If you let your users think you’re a wizard, then you’re going to be well and truly fucked the first time they expect you to do real magic.

It gets worse when you have overlapping IT units with disparate responsibilities.  On two different occasions, I’ve worked at a place with no less than three distinct IT groups who only meet on the org chart at the CxO level – or higher; at my first job, the only place they intersected was in the President’s office.  Not coincidentally, that place had an IT environment that, in 1997, I could only compare to Vietnam (or maybe now to postwar Iraq).  The problem is, users left to their own devices and not educated properly WILL think of all tech support as fungible, and thus become bewildered at best and hostile at worst when told that you have neither access nor authority to address their problem.

The role of an IT manager is to set expectations with the user base.  The first expectation to set is this: there is no magic lamp to rub.  There is no genie that can fulfill all of your IT needs and expectations at no cost.  Indeed, there will be a direct correlation between the complexity of your needs and the costs and issues associated with supporting them.  You can run four versions of Mac OS X, two flavors of Windows, have three kinds of cellphone OS, multiple printers, and still have support for your software, encryption for your security and remote control for immediate support.  It’s also going to require a large permanent staff and a great deal of money.  You can also have an IT environment where very little breaks and there’s very little expense associated with support. You’ll also all have desktop iMacs only, Office 2011 only, OS X 10.7 only, and zero administrative access to the computer.

It never works like that, though.  There’s always a little too much to support and not quite enough manpower or money.  And then there’s always the toy-boy who can’t help tinkering and installing all kinds of unsupported nonsense, or the user whose husband “fixed” her laptop for her, or the one who emails asking how they can upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. (Here’s a hint: look for a youngish guy in a tweed coat and a bow tie, preferably standing in front of a blue police box. Bow ties are cool.)

Again, I’m not asking for everyone to be able to do their own tech support.  I’m merely asking for the same expertise we’d expect of a driver: know which is the gas and the brake, know the difference between drive and reverse, know where the gas goes and what the red and yellow and green lights mean and that you don’t drive on the sidewalk.  Similarly: Know the difference between your computer’s password and your email password. If your email program isn’t working, check and see if webmail is working. If you can’t get on the network, see if the people around you can get on the network or if more people are down.  And when in doubt, yes, turn it off and on again and see if that fixes it.

And above all: if your technician sends you email, read it.  I mean, actually read it. Especially if it tells you what the fix it or who you need to contact for the fix. And if the tech’s name is right there in the sig file, don’t misspell it in the first line of your reply.  I mean, seriously, you may as well just open with “I’m not actually reading what you sent me.”

The tragic thing is that work’s actually going better than it did the first half of the year.