Friday, March 14, 2014

Pay It Forward - the different levels of support for a friend

I had a chance to pay back someone in a way I didn't realize I knew enough actually have it work.

It's great when that happens, you certainly get a warm feeling when you are able to pay it back.  Or forwards depending on your view.

I'm That Guy.  The one most people call for tech questions.  If I can just fire off a quick answer without spending a lot of time on it, I don't generally mind.   Most Tech People are that way.

Hey, my computer is acting funny!
Did you try turning it off and on again?

Hey, my CD isn't reading!
Did you try cleaning it off?  Did you try turning it off and on again?

That last bit is the mantra of most tech people - so much so that the British comedy "The IT Crowd" would mention it on average more than once an episode.

When it gets to the more complex things, doing free support becomes something that you need a lifeline for - "Call A Friend" like the quiz shows do.

We all do oddball projects on the side.  I have a habit of taking old hardware, repurposing it or reusing it.  I've passed on old PCs to people for years now.

Sometimes you can just set something up and let it roll.  One of those fringe things I got into a while back was setting up servers, whether they are windows or not.  It's not always the kind of thing you do right the first time.  "one and done" isn't always the case.  If you find someone who makes these things look easy, they've made the mistakes before and it might just be old hat.

I've been setting up linux servers for my own use and never really thought all that much about it.  Most people don't want to try to learn new if they can avoid it.  Path of Least Resistance.

I have "done it right, done it wrong, done it right again".  That's the learn while you do process.

It's a different way of looking at things.   I had this discussion with someone who was learning Windows at the same time that I dropped my old Linux Laptop on him.  He told me that very thing followed by "It really isn't hard, just slightly different".

But we all have someone that knows a bit more about a subject.  I'm a great generalist, I can tell you what you want to get your job done as a functional tool.  But when I get stuck, I have my lifelines to call. 

The other day, one of my lifelines called me.   Strangely enough I was able to answer.   Setting up Linux on standard hardware is fairly simple if you get the right tools.   Setting it up on "non standard" gear can be impossible.

The problem is that if someone did something they may be able to do it again, but can they tell you if they had?   That's the difference between the levels of support.

Level 1 "Have you tried turning it off and back on again"
Level 2 "Did your spreadsheet crash?  Have you got the file access from the server..."
Level 3 "Do you have permission to use that resource?"

And it gets more specific from there.

No matter what the hardware or software you're using, it's worthless if you don't know how to use it.  That may not be YOUR problem since most documentation is missing something.  The difference is that someone in a higher level, that person knows how to bridge the gap.

The specific problem I'm thinking of was some bad documentation.  Even after you read it, read it twice, then a third time, it didn't quite work out.  A person did one task and set it up for you to repeat.  Except they forgot to complete the documentation so that someone who doesn't know the product would know how to repeat it.  They needed to build a bridge between the two steps when there's a missing step in the middle.

A non baker forgetting that bread tastes more complex if it rises completely.  But more complex may not be what you want if you are making bagels.

A tech guy forgetting that in order to get the Wifi Card to connect to the network, they need to get the drivers for this thing.

A lot of playing with computers is just luck.  Getting the right piece of hardware and making sure that the software is set up correctly.  Following instructions are great, making sure the instructions are correct is a step further that somewhere, usually, something gets skipped.

So, did you try turning it off and back on again?  You did?  Is it working?  Great!  Now, go install...

I'm just glad I was able to help someone who has given me a LOT of help in the past.  It's a strange project you had, and there were a lot of bridges to build in order to make that documentation work.

With a lot of us, the fun part isn't using it, but merely getting it running.  The first time you start your car after you did the full tune up and making sure you didn't switch two of the wires on the distributor cap.

Remember Red Wire is always Positive, Black is always Negative. Otherwise it would be bad, Mmmkay?

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