I’m a software developer. That means that I use programming languages to build apps to use on computers. And in a small-time operation that makes me the tech support on the software that I develop and maintain. Bigger organizations have a dedicated tech support staff for their custom software. It’s interesting to note that no organization that I’ve worked for believes or wants to believe that their systems are small-time. It’s like the 5-year-old kid that takes offense at being called 4. The functions the organization may perform may have a large and important scope, but the software doesn’t always reflect it.
Well, you may say, we have a user base of 300 people with 100 gigabytes of data with 50,000 lines of code. We’re huge! When in reality that’s relatively small. And it is all relative. I’ve worked on systems that serve several thousand people with terabytes of data and tens of millions of lines of code (medium-scale) and it felt HUGE.. But there are systems that serve many millions of people with an unfathomable amount of data and code. I am currently working on a system that serves 20 people with 203 megabytes of data. The entire system could fit on a USB thumb drive from 2002. When they interviewed me, they said that there was a lot of data. It’s the most small-time system I’ve ever maintained. It’s function is critical, though, so I treat it with a lot of respect.
In tech support, I’ve learned a few things. There are two kinds of users: normal users and power users. The power users are tech savvy and know how to use the full range of the software. Sometimes they know more about how to use the software than I do. They also know how to use office suites like Microsoft Office. They know how to map their network drives. They know how to set up network printers. There are only a handful of these people in a typical organization. Then there’s the rest of them. The
normal users. They may know how to surf the web, check Facebook, and use their email. That may be it! It just depends. They may know how to use Word, but not Excel and Powerpoint. The normal users are the people I support the most. Power users are mainly self-supporting. They can figure it out, and take pride in that. Without sufficient regulation, though, they can be dangerous!
My experience has taught me that it’s important to understand the level of competence a user has with technology. That takes a little time. No one likes to feel underestimated or overestimated. But when I come to your desk the first time, I assume you know absolutely nothing. I just helped a guy log into my software, run a report, and save it as a PDF on his machine. From my perspective, this is really basic stuff. It boggles my mind that you can be a professional anything without knowing how to print to PDF, but people just don’t know how to do it. But I sometimes forget that I have a 15 year career in IT and I’ve been fooling with computers since the 80s. This is where my education degree comes in handy. I know how to teach things on a fundamental level. I assured him that I would be available if he had trouble in the future. He probably will.
But the other thing I’ve learned, is that being judgy about it is unprofessional. Everybody knows that IT guy or that friend who makes you feel stupid about technology. They use very intimidating, technical language that goes over everybody’s heads. They make you get up from your seat so that they can do everything themselves out of impatience with you. I understand that guy, but I will not be that guy. Everybody wants to feel smart and respected. The truth is, we are all smart in our own ways. If everybody was as smart about technical stuff as an IT professional, I’d be out of a job. And I’ll make a confession. I call tech support just like everybody else.