If you are reading this article it’s possible that someone sent you this link. This someone might be a son, nephew, brother, cousin, sister-in-law, or friend who happens to help you out with computers when you run into trouble. They’ll usually be a programmer, system administrator, or someone who has otherwise picked up a reputation of being “good with computers”.
The intent of this article is to clarify a few myths and common misconceptions about your geeky family member or friend.
1. I have a problem, I must immediately call my geek.
Often technical problems can be solved by simply reading the instructions. If you just bought a new media player and you’re trying to connect it to your TV, you’ll simply have to find the page in the manual that talks about which port the cable connects to.
Likewise, error messages are often written in plain English and it may be possible to resolve a problem yourself by carefully reading and giving thought to what the message is telling you. For example, if you see a message that says “Your startup disk is almost full”, more often than not, it means just what it says and in order to appease your computer, you’ll just need to delete some files and folders that you no longer need (or move them to an external hard drive).
2. He/she knows everything about computers.
Your son or daughter might be “very good with computers” but they aren’t omniscient. Often they’ll approach your computer not knowing at all how to use the particular program you are having problems with and will simply use some logic and a few Google searches to find a solution for you.
In fact, googling for an answer is often sufficient, as it may lead you to find forums and/or blog posts where people have discussed the subject before you encountered it and already shared a possible solution. Often, you could do this without having to inconvenience your free technical support agent (ehm, I mean your geek).
If you tried and failed, then by all means give him or her a call.
3. It doesn’t cost him/her anything. He/she’ll fix it in two minutes.
Your friendly geek might be available to provide free technical support to you, but it’s not true that it doesn’t cost him or her anything. Often solving the problem requires more than just two minutes, plus a car trip to your location. In my experience, in an average case, he/she will be lucky to deal with the issue within an hour from the time of first contact to when he/she’s back home (unless they live in the same household).
If he/she doesn’t accept money from you for their time and help, because he/she’s family or an old friend, consider the possibility of still compensating them for their time. A gift and thank you card once in a while or a generous gesture might really help make them feel more appreciated for all their hard efforts.
4. Don’t worry. He/she’ll help you for free.
It’s not uncommon for proud parents or family members to pass along their geek’s contact information to family friends. If these friends are ready to pay the geek, then it’s not a problem. What’s not cool however, is to offer the use, so to speak, of your geek for free to friends.
Your geek is kind enough to help you out, but their doing so does not entitle you to pawn him or her off to other people.
5. My computer doesn’t work anymore since you touched it.
There is nothing worse than providing free technical support to people who asked you for it and then being accused of having caused new problems with their computer. No, if your geek is even remotely competent, they are not the cause of your computer’s slowness or that Windows is crashing.
Are you sure you haven’t installed something new after they left? Deleted some files you shouldn’t have? Picked up a computer virus? The culprit is rarely the expert.
6. He/she said not to, but I installed it anyway.
If your trusted geek discourages you from installing toolbars, smileys, dubious registry cleaning software, and adware, don’t go ahead and install them anyway. These programs will cripple your computer and you’ll end up calling him/her back to fix your computer once again. Listen to your wise geek. 🙂
7. I’ll forward this email. What’s the big deal?
Don’t forward chain emails to your geek (or at all). Your geek has seen countless chains and knows that in most cases they are obvious hoaxes. And even when it’s not a hoax, many requests for help are tragically expired already by the time you see and forward them. For example, that child looking for a bone marrow donor might, sadly, have already been dead for a few years, and your forwarding will only cause more people to contact the grieving family.
If the geek replies to your message with a link to Snopes, don’t be offended. It’s nothing personal. Learn from the episode and refrain from forwarding such emails (or sharing stories, before fact checking, on Facebook for that matter).
8. He/She is too distrusting. This is a great deal.
If your trusted geek tells you that something on the Internet is a scam or fishy, trust them. Whether it’s a foreign prince, a gorgeous lover you never met in person, the opportunity to work as a secret shopper, or someone posing as your bank asking you to verify your login credentials, you are dealing with fraudulent emails that have been designed to prey on your trusting human nature.
Trust your geek on all things pertaining to technology and the Internet. In fact, feel free to ask him/her about the most common types of online traps, so as to hopefully avoid ever getting caught in one yourself.
9. I have this great idea. Can you make it for me? We’ll go 50–50.
Implementing a startup idea is not an easy task. In most cases, your brilliant iPhone idea or service cannot be created without serious effort, time, and often money. We are talking weeks or months of full-time work.
Would you ask your cousin who is a construction worker to build you a house for free, aside from the cost of materials?
Even if your idea has merit, asking your geek to implement it doesn’t entitle you to 50% of the profits in the unlikely scenario that you they pull it off.
Ideas on their own are not worth much. If you are an equal partner in the enterprise who spends as much time taking care of business and marketing as the programmer does on technical aspects, then and only then, will you be able to command a fifty-fifty arrangement.
10. Zuckerberg made billions. Why can’t you?
“Hey John, I saw on the news that Zuckerbursomething made billions with Facebook. Why don’t you do something like that as well? We’d all be set for generations to come”. Do you know how many Zuckerberg and Facebooks are out there? They are statistical outliers of the highest degree. Essentially your geek has the same chance of winning the lottery as they do of ever becoming the next Zuckerberg.
Don’t get us geeks wrong. It’s possible to create fortunes online with applications and sites, but very few manage such an unlikely feat. If your geek is really good at what they do, ambitious, and works hard at their startup night and day, they might see their business become viable. Perhaps with a good dose of luck, they might even manage to become a millionaire. But don’t count on or expect your family geek to pull it off, or let alone make billions. And by the same token, do not look at your geek as a failure because they’re not off buying their own private island yet. They may be excelling at their job and doing wonderful, helpful, and/or innovative things day and in and day out, which is something to be proud of in the tech field just as much as it applies to any other career path.
There you have it. Treat your geek with respect and you’ll be able to enjoy their free technical support and the service of an expert who is ready to help you out at the drop of a hat for years to come.
If you are my typical reader, chances are that you are the geek that I’m talking about in this article. Please feel free to forward this link to those who could use it. ^
I originally wrote this article for an Italian blog back in 2012 and it proved to be fairly popular in Italy. A few days ago I stumbled upon it again by pure chance, so I thought I’d translate/adapt it to English. In Italian it had clear undertones of being written tongue in cheek. I’m not sure if the same came across in English, but don’t take it too seriously. 🙂 ^
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Antonio Cangiano is a Software Developer and AI Evangelist at IBM. He authored Ruby on Rails for Microsoft Developers (Wrox, 2009) and Technical Blogging ( The Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2012, 2019). He is also the Marketing Lead for Cognitive Class, an educational initiative which he helped grow from zero to over 1 Million students. You can follow him on Twitter.