It's always Computing 101 in tech support

There's no such thing as a dumb question? These three help desk cases may test that old adage

Here's a tip when you work in tech support: Don't assume anyone knows anything about anything. From assistants just starting out to top executives with years of experience under their belt, there's no telling who'll put in a help desk request that's so basic, it barely qualifies as technical at all.

Still, it's our duty to help get them back on track. If we happen to hang on to these encounters to get through too-serious days -- well, they don't need to know.

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Back to basics: What is a computer?

I was working at the company's IT help desk and received a call from an assistant who was having computer problems. Her only statement: "The computer won't turn on."

I asked for clarification: Was it the computer or the monitor? There was a pause while she thought about it, then answered hesitantly that she was pretty sure it was the computer. She'd pressed the power button a couple of times, but nothing happened.

I went through the routine steps, had her check that the monitor was powered on and all the cables were plugged in. She said yes, but still nothing happened to her computer when she pressed the power button. I even had her verify that the power indicator wasn't lit. At this point I expected a hardware failure. It was time to see what was happening in person.

When I arrived, I had to hide my surprise when she showed me the "computer" in question. It was a laptop docking station, monitor, keyboard, and mouse -- with no laptop in sight.

I then had to explain that the system wouldn't work without the actual laptop, as the dock was just an accessory that allowed her to use the laptop in tandem with the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. It was not a computer.

Where's the laptop? I asked. She explained that her manager had it with her at a conference out of town. We were at the manager's workstation, and she had called asking for a file from a shared network drive to be emailed to her. The assistant had assumed that she needed to be on her manager's computer to access the file. I explained how the network drives worked and showed her how she could retrieve it and email it from her own computer.

I'm proud to say that I managed all this with a professional demeanor, while internally laughing hysterically.

When in doubt, blame the hardware

Everyone providing internal tech support at one time or another has encountered the executive that absolutely loves, but does not necessarily understand, technology. I'm certain there are literally thousands of such stories. Here are two.

One of my most memorable personal interactions of this type occurred when I was working for an agency that hired a new executive to run one of its divisions. I was assigned to set up this executive with the usual equipment: smartphone, desktop computer, and a laptop with VPN access so that he could connect to our network from home or while on the road at conferences.

The first time I met the executive in person, he spent 20 to 30 minutes telling me all about his rooted Android phone, how he never calls tech support, and how he had been offered the CIO position at his previous company but chose to come work with us because the job was more challenging.

"This'll be interesting," I thought -- while hoping we wouldn't have to cross paths again anytime soon.

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