Tech Support

I do a lot of tech support for my friends, I’ve worked in tech support for years. I have noticed there tend to be two types of tech support calls. There are calls about serious problems that need tech intervention. But more often, the calls are from someone who hasn’t done a single thing to research their problem. These calls can be frustrating, my friend calls and says “I’m in Photoshop and I can’t get the thingummy in the whatchamajigger” (that’s a direct quote) and it takes me an inordinate amount of time to figure out he’s trying to find a path command in the layer palette. Sometimes I just look in the program’s help file, once I figure out what the question is, the solution is easy if you just look in the help files. I don’t mind so much that the solution is trivial, I just mind that it takes so long to figure out the question.

I’ve recently been thinking of my first tech management job, I was Service Manager at ComputerLand of Glendale back around 1981. I told the boss I didn’t feel qualified, he said, “don’t worry kid, after 3 months you’ll have seen it all and know it all.” And he was right, the daily grind of repairs and tech support seemed like old hat after a few months. But there were ongoing tech problems, I remember one problem that seemed to take way too much tech effort, or at least, way too much of my effort. When the first memory cards for the IBM PC came out, the technicians could not figure out how to set the DIP switches. All day long, the techs would interrupt me with questions about setting the switches, when they could easily have figured it out for themselves. It was easy, you just set the switches to the binary address of where you wanted the memory to start. But none of the techs knew binary math, so they were always baffled.

I decided to close the shop one morning for a class to teach the techs how memory addresses worked and how to do the binary math. We went through all the fundamentals and they seemed to get it. We went through the manuals and worked out how the cards functioned. I demonstrated the formula to calculate the addresses. I described as many ways to solve the problem as I could figure out, and gave them all the tech support phone numbers I called when I couldn’t figure it out. Then I gave them a written exam. The exam was just one question, I didn’t even want the solution, I just wanted them to describe at least 4 places to look for the answer, “How do I configure Memory XYZ at location ABCD?” My point was to teach them how to find their own resources to solve problems, before asking me. But I was astonished when the techs handed in their tests. Every single one of their lists started the same way:


1. Ask Charles.

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