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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Commentary on Users

I work in I.T.
For those that do not know, I.T. is an abbreviation for "Information Technology."
At its simplest that is a fancy way of saying "Tech Support" even though, for many (myself included) it is MUCH more than simple technical support for the end user.

That said, most I.T. professionals have to work with end users from time to time. Some on a daily basis, some rarely. But end users are the inevitable reality that provides I.T. professionals with work.

We are at an interesting time when many of the end users did not develop in a world with computers as an everyday fact of life. This is an interesting sociological development but, as it relates to I.T. it is something VERY important to remember. What it means is that some users simply do not grok computers. At all. Even a little. Everything about the idea of a computer is foreign and scary to them.
Other users understand the concepts of computers but lack the knowledge to use them properly.
I work with people in each of these categories every day. I am happy to work with them and I do my best to not express frustration with them when a task I think of as simple is a barrier to them.

My patience, however, has limits.

When a user gives bogus excuses for not being able to use technology I will stop them. The most common one of these is "I'm too old to use a computer." I am particularly offended by this because the "I'm too old" complaint is charged on multiple levels.
  • The first is that many old people who point out their own age are looking for some sort of respect or discount or special treatment because of their age alone. I don't buy into that. You EARN respect from me. Everyone starts out the same and those who earn more respect get it and those who earn my disdain get that, too. This, of course, is a pet peeve of mine and a side-track from the core content of this post. 
  • The second reason I dislike the "I'm too old" comment is that it is self-prejudicial against the speaker. They're limiting their own options based on their perception of what old people should and should not be able to do. 
  • The third thing that bothers me by this is that it is blatantly not true. No one is too old to learn and no one is too old to use a computer. I have met people in their 90s using email and the internet on a daily basis. Unless you are older than they are you have no place telling me you're "too old" to use one. 
  • Lastly, I have a problem with it because it is a lame excuse to try and hide intellectual laziness. When you use the "I'm too old" excuse you're really saying to me "I'm too mentally lazy to even try."
Another problem with users is something I began jokingly referring to as SCARS. SCARS stands for Sudden Computer Acquired Retardation Syndrome. This is what happens when someone who is an intelligent person capable of reason and rational thinking turns into a complete idiot whenever they sit in front of a computer. I fail to understand this disease. I suspect it is a combination of many things including the fear of breaking an expensive tool, fear of the unknown and fear of looking stupid (ironically, letting SCARS affect you makes you look stupider than if you were to try to use the machine and do things in an odd way).

Mostly, though, my limits are exceeded when a user is blatantly hostile toward myself, or any of the I.T. staff here. Being hostile to the people who are there to help you is NEVER the right way to get the help and support you need. This is a lesson that is true in EVERY aspect of life and one everyone should keep in mind more often.

I know I try to be cordial and nice to whomever I am speaking with when I am seeking support and assistance. I don't always succeed, but I do try.

None of these categories represent the majority of my users. I think that this is something that many (perhaps most) I.T. professionals forget. Most of your users never ask for your help because they accomplish what they need to accomplish on their own. Those that ask for help are the ones that need it the most (either through malfunction of equipment or user) and we all need to remember that the users we never hear from are the ones we like to have.

So I am going to end this post with a thank you to the end users who never need my help as well as a bigger thank you to those who are constantly supportive of the help that I.T. professionals provide and the hard work we do.

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