Naughty and nice tales of off-hours tech support

An IT pro learns how to handle barrage of the off-duty tech requests -- and the interesting situations they bring

When you work in tech support, word gets around -- amazingly quickly, it seems. Overall I don't mind, and the gratitude can be a pleasant contrast to the surliness at work. The trick is drawing boundaries, deciding how to handle the request, and having reasons at the ready when I either accept or deny the inquiry. From there, I buckle up for whatever the experience brings.

There are rewards to helping people out, which can be as subtle as a warm welcome. For example, I volunteer for a state park in my area. Most of the volunteers are retired and don't have much computer experience, so I pitch in with my tech skills. Now, every time I walk into a meeting, the state park manager lights up and says something like, "I'm so glad you're here!! Nothing has gone wrong yet, but just in case, sit close to the projector so you can fix it quickly, OK?" Of course I oblige.

[ For more IT stories, read InfoWorld's "Stupid user tricks 7: True tales of extreme brain fail." | Get your weekly dose of workplace shenanigans by following Off the Record on Twitter and subscribing to the Off the Record newsletter. ]

Deny or accept a friend's request?

It's a little trickier when friends ask for assistance. To offset any unease, we sometimes set up a barter system. In exchange for computer help, one friend invites me to dinner. And another gave me an antique 1940s-era Royal typewriter in excellent condition, which they had no use for and thought I'd like to have.

At times I'm referred by friends of friends, which can sometimes lead to awkward situations, especially since I'm a single female. I won't forget the time I was at a woman's house helping her with her computer when we looked up to see her husband walking toward us stark naked! Or when a former co-worker asked for aid after a power surge fried the computer's motherboard, and he wanted to make sure the files were OK. They were, but the majority were pornographic.

Hi, glad you're here! We need your help

It's not just individual users who need assistance. Ever since my church got wind of my job, I've been pulled out of any number of classes and meetings to help with the computer in the clerk's office. One time, they couldn't type a word in what turned out to be a number field. I smiled, offered a solution, and went back to class. Another time they couldn't get a critical software update to work; it didn't take long to fix.

So far I don't mind helping out the church because they are grateful and don't call unless they're really stuck. Case in point: A call came in one weekend while I was cooking. It was the clerk's office on the other end of the line, and as the worker described the problem, his voice grew noticeably more panicked: "We're at the church, processing the donations, and we can't get the printer to print. If we can't print, then we have to do it by hand. If we have to process the donations by hand, it will take hours!"

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