Oh Yes, IT'S FREE

6 Rules For Asking For Help With Your Computer

As the so-called computer guru in my circle I get a lot of calls for help. I can usually help with an open heart and an open mind, but sometimes it just gets to be too much. I find that when I help people for free they begin to depend on me, and what begins as a favor soon turns into an expectation and my generous heart turns bitter and resentful. Here are a couple of tips from the perspective of the computer guru to help keep the helper/helpee dynamic from damaging your relationships.

1. Don’t Call your Computer Guru Just Because He’s Free

Oh Yes, IT'S FREE

For you, anyway.

Asking your computer guru for help will at first make him feel smart and important but frequent, unrewarded calls will leave him feeling unappreciated and used. Asking us to spend our time solving your problems before paying some else to do it sends a message that you don’t appreciate our time, skills, or education.

Saying “if you can’t figure it out I’ll take it to Geek Squad” is like stroking a cat’s fur backwards.  We like it better when you can say,  “Geek Squad couldn’t fix it… can you help me out?” We’re largely fueled by ego, so consider ways your words can gas us up.

2. Make an Effort to Solve Your Problem First

Tech support flow chart

This really is how we computer gurus solve problems. Really.

Calling someone with a certification in computer science or IT to solve a desktop computer problem is like swatting flies with a .50 caliber sniper rifle.  It’s probably overkill, so don’t be afraid to help yourself before calling in the “big guns.”  This means you should be willing to pay someone to look at it first, or at least try to fix the problem yourself.

Computers aren’t mystical black boxes: they do exactly what people tell them to do. Unfortunately sometimes we (or a virus, or a hacker) tell them to do something that we didn’t intend and that’s when problems start.  Dig in. Get your hands dirty.  If you’re willing to Google the problem you’ll more than likely find the answer. That’s probably what we’ll do anyway.

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3. Listen to your Guru, and Don’t Call  with the Same Problem Twice

The last time your computer guru helped you, he more than likely told you how the problem happened, how to avoid it in the future, and how to fix it if it happens again.  If you call your guru a second, third, or fourth time to fix the same problem, he’s probably going to be mad, albeit secretly. He may begrudgingly help you again, but in his heart he’s frustrated that you didn’t appreciate his expertise and his time enough to listen the first time around.

4. Don’t Inconvenience Your Guru More Than You Have To

Unless there is a good reason not to, you should be willing to bring your problem to the person willing to fix it.  Think about it: why should someone have to drive out of their way to fix your computer (for free) when your computer can just as easily come to them?  I can’t count the number of times I’ve found myself at someone’s house twiddling my thumbs for hours waiting for an antivirus scan to complete or a software update to download.

I can pretty much guarantee that my Internet connection is faster than yours.  If I fix your computer from my house there won’t be any waiting for downloads, and if I do have to wait for a virus scan or diagnostic test to complete I can do it in comfort (in my boxers, watching B-horror, gorging on a box of Bottlecaps or Nerds… don’t judge me).

5. Respect Your Guru’s Personal Life

There’s a good chance that you’re not the only one asking your computer guru for help. He or she has other friends and relatives calling, none of which are aware of the other’s cries for help. These small favors slowly erode your guru’s personal time until there’s no personal time left to speak of. Keep this in mind next time you think of making that call.

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6. Respect Your Guru’s Boundaries

The circle of handouts is ever expanding. There are certain people I’m happy to help: close relatives, close friends, and coworkers. But every once in a while those people who are “on the list” manage to weasel assistance out of me for their inner circle and I soon find myself fixing computers for total strangers. It’s one thing to give them my business card and say “he knows what he’s doing and he’s affordable.” It’s another thing to say “he’s my cousin, so he’ll hook you up.” Don’t volunteer your guru without his permission.

Summary

There is a mentality about computer professionals that needs to change: people often treat us differently than other skilled workers like mechanics or plumbers or engineers. Though most people wouldn’t think of calling their cousin the auto mechanic several times a week to do pro bono work on their car, it doesn’t seem to be a problem when their cousin is a programmer or a network administrator. People tend to assume that we love computers so much that the challenge of fixing their problem will in itself be our reward. But it just ain’t so.

So remember: treat your computer guru with the respect he deserves and the seriousness that he’s earned through his education and experience. Let him know that his help is appreciated and that the privilege of having it will not be abused. If you keep this in mind, you and your computer guru can have a long and healthy relationship.

2 replies
  1. Jeff says:

    I just fixed a coworker’s future in-law’s computer. I guess I need to send her rule #6. But I fixed it with the help of another post of yours :-)

  2. Brian Reich says:

    Thanks Jeff, I’m always glad to hear someone actually found one of my posts helpful. As far as Rule #6 goes… that’s one of my biggest pet peeves. As the IT guy at work I don’t mind helping people with their personal stuff once in a while and in fact I kind of expect it. But when it spreads to their uncle’s cousin’s former college roommate… well, they’re getting a bill :)

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