No, I Will Not Fix Your Computer

Work in IT for any length of time, and it just happens. Whether you are a technician or an analyst, EVERYONE thinks that you want to or can fix their personal computer. And if by some chance they don’t want you to tinker with the family boat anchor, they desperately want advice on choosing the best piece of technology for the money. 

It doesn’t matter who the person asking happens to be (friend, relative, acquaintance or stranger) the conversation starts off with one of the following:

“So, you work with computers? Cool, you see my computer is doing”¦” which usually ends up as a saga of how the ungrateful piece of technology happens to be behaving.


“Oh, you work in computers? Well, I am in the market for ____. What are your suggestions? You see, I do not have a ton of dough right now and I really don’t want to spend a lot of money on it.”

Most of the time I silently groan and play at being interested in what the person has to say. If nothing else, their story will be great fodder for laughter later on.  Usually, I get a story about how the PC won’t go on the Internet, or how out of the blue it is horrendously slow. Or perhaps they got a Windows popup that said their little bundle of circuit boards was infected. Being a good tech care giver, they clicked the link provided in the popup and downloaded some software to clean the so-called infection. But the popup never goes away and they don’t know what to do.

Once the story has been told, I start asking questions. What kind of errors are you getting? Is your PC hooked up to the router/modem properly? When is the last time you ran a virus scan? Have you gone on any “bad” sites recently? Or, if they are looking for purchasing advice: “What are you looking to do with it?”

The questions normally bring out a blank stare. The expression on their face says it all:

“Why can’t you just make a house call and fix it?”

“Just tell me what to buy, don’t you know anything?”

Sure, I could, but I won’t. Just fixing the problem or giving recommendations teaches the other person nothing. Truthfully, I love technology and I think everyone else should be able to do a bit of troubleshooting/critical thinking without having their hand held by some techie person.

Computers run the world now, in many respects. It is time the masses start learning how to take care of their machines. I liken it to basic car maintenance, like knowing how to check your oil, add windshield washer fluid, and change your own tire. In my mind, you should be able to keep your computer relatively un-infected without too much technical savvy. Also, you should be able to figure out what you want without being fluent in tech-speak.

At a minimum, I believe that everyone should be able to do the following:

  1. Keep your virus protection up-to-date. Yes, that means in most cases BUY it, and keep it installed ““ run a virus scan at least once a week; more frequently if you do a lot of pirating of software, music, movies and go to “bad” sites.
  2. Stay away from “bad” sites (free porn, free downloads) ““ if it is free ““ it is usually infected with viruses and malware.  If you need music, software, videos and porn; PAY for it.
  3. Secure your wireless network ““ it keeps “bad” people out.  And by “bad,” I mean people who drive around and try to get into unsecured networks ““ usually to do illegal things.
  4. Don’t open something if you don’t know who it is from ““ usually it is a virus or malware.
  5. Don’t open anything you weren’t expecting from someone you know.  Or, if the email subject doesn’t sound like the person. Refer to #4 for the why.
  6. Don’t install free software unless it comes from a reputable source. Why? Free software often either has malware or a virus embedded in it.

Or if you are in the market for a new piece of technology, you should be able to:

  1. Do your own research. Knowledge is power.
  2. Figure out what you are going to use it for. This helps the sales people point you in the right direction. Seriously, you don’t need a high-end gaming PC if all you are going to do is email and surf the web.
  3. Figure out what types of software you want to come with it.
  4. Be honest with yourself about how much you are willing to spend.
  5. Take into consideration any extras that would be “nice to have” if the price were right.
  6. Make sure it comes with security features, especially if it will be connected to the Internet.
    1. Virus protection
    2. Firewall
    3. Malware protection and removal software
  7. Note what software packages are trial-only versions versus a real subscription.  Trial versions equal a lower price and are just what the name implies, a trial. It is going to stop working eventually and you will either need to buy a full version or do without.
  8. Acknowledge that decent technology costs money ““ if something is listed for an insanely low price, there is probably a catch.
  9. Buy from a reputable source.
  10. Lastly, remember not all computer people are created equal.

If you can take those things to heart, your computing experience will be safer and less frustrating. Knowledge is half the battle. Take it from a chick who has done more house calls and advising over the years than she cares to admit.

By Rena

Rena is a computer geek with a passion for gluten and sugar free baking. She loves the sound of fingers on laptop keys and original music. As for this whole blogging thing.... ~shrugs~ we shall see.

17 replies on “No, I Will Not Fix Your Computer”

Thanks for these tips. I perfectly understand your dilemma. I have a husband who is incapable (so he says…) of dealing with anything technological. It is true that his computer got stabbed, but that’s another story. But these gentle rejections might be worth a try when he’s swearing at the screen…

Computers run the world now, in many respects. It is time the masses start learning how to take care of their machines.

THIS. Except my parents are of a generation that seems unable to learn this. I don’t understand it because they’re smart people. They just don’t seem to retain any PC care knowledge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my dad tips 1-6 for PC care, but apparently the receptors in that part of his brain are coated with Teflon, and nothing sticks. My mom is only a little better.

I’m bookmarking this list to use as a reference – thanks!

Lifehacker are doing a very useful series on Really Basic Computer Problems – might be a good resource for the tech-clueless? But don’t mention keyboard shortcuts or you’ll blow their MINDS!
Sites like Lifehacker are where I’ve learned my slightly-more-than-basic tech skills.

But also, I think anyone with any kind of ‘specialist’ expertise has this issue. Do not get my medical friends started on the shit they get when they tell someone they’re a doctor – sometimes that’s literal.

My Dad has a kind of similar problem- he’s an estate/property lawyer and when people find out it’s always ” Oh great! Can you help me with/explain a will, and my neighbour can’t be allowed to blah blah blah”. It drives him nuts. When my parents bought a cottage one of their neighbours raced to be the first to make friends with them so he could get “the lawyer” on his side of this community dispute ( I think about trees?). This why my Dad now refuses to interact with their cottage neighbours that haven’t been vetted by my Mom.

This sort of thing happens to me all the time with editing. Just this morning, a certain family member emailed me her friend’s college paper (a friend I have never met, mind you) with the phrase “Edit, please. Love, Family Member” heading the email.

It was a 10 page paper.

And if it’s not a 10 page paper, it’s a short story or a memoir or a screenplay. People want my fancy-pantsy services for free. I don’t mind doing a friend a favor, especially if the favor is small, but seriously, a last minute 10 page paper that you DEMAND I help you with?

I’ve started replying to the peskier requests with a quick summary of how much time their request will take me and how much I’m worth an hour to do this project. When people see that the 10 page paper they want me to edit is worth about $100 for me to edit, they take the hint.

Oh, hello. You must be me.

“You’re a copyeditor? Can you take a look at __________?”
“Yes. Here are my rates.”
“You charge money for that?”
“Well, it’s either that or unicorns and glitter, and I’m all full up on unicorns at the moment.”

haha I was totally the “Oh you fix computers? Mine is doing X” girl the first time I met my boyfriend. He must have really liked me because the second time we ever got together he fixed it right up! I knew I was being obnoxious…but I really needed the help!

I’m usually the go-to for computer problems among friends and family, but I honestly don’t mind. I try to teach and fix at the same time, and I remember how overwhelming it was to learn how everything worked. Plus, it’s kind of fun to have the technology decoder ring.
Additionally, tech skills make for great bargaining. I can get the virus off your laptop after you fell into a bad pornado in exchange for something you do better than I do that helps me out.

Im an Apple tech and haven’t touched Windows in ages, which alleviates most of these problems, thank god. “Oh you have a PC? Well, I’m sorry, I just do macs.” My parents are the only exception. My mom went through 29 hours of labor and they paid for college. So I think they’ve earned lifetime support. Thank god for Remote Desktop; at least now I don’t have to spend 5 hours on the phone asking them what they’re seeing on the screen and hearing “well, all I see is a bunch of boxes. Oops, one of them went away. Now what do I do?”

Mr.Wine is the other exception. He takes care of my car and knows how to unclog the bathroom drain. I really don’t want to learn how to do either of those things, so it’s only fair that he can yell from the living room “Babe?!? I can’t print!” and I just fix it.

It must be so annoying to see people’s eyes light up as they prepare to bore you with/interrogate you about their tech queries, but oh, what I wouldn’t give to know someone who could walk me through all my computer confusions (and I say that as someone who spent time as a tech writer), so I totally understand that compunction to beg for answers. I’m very lucky to not have any kind of transferable talent ;)
Oh, and “Acknowledge that decent technology costs money” — too true.

I wouldn’t say it is annoying… more that sometimes it just tires me out. I spend about 9 hours a day at work in front of multiple computers and screens. (3 monitors, two computers) In my off time, I just don’t have the WANT to fix things. Even if there is monetary incentive/a fair trade involved.

I really don’t take side jobs all that much any longer because of it. (unless of course it is family, and then I don’t have choice)

I will however try and advise the best I can, as long as the person asking isn’t a total jerk about it.

I imagine it’s something that other professionals encounter too. “Fabulous dinner party, isn’t it? Say, you mentioned you’re a doctor. I have some kind of horrible fungus thing between my toes, could you take a look?”

I, too, have a tech support related job in a technical industry, so when I meet people I’m not likely to see again, I sometimes cut the questions off at the pass by saying I’m in marketing. Sorry, marketing people; I’m appropriating your job stereotype to avoid shop talk with strangers!

Sadly, much of the tech-related questioning by random acquaintances never happens in the first place because I’m a woman and I guess I put off some kind of non-technical vibe to the casual observer. I used to have an ego about it, and would bust out the jargon just to prove my tech-mettle, but nowadays I conclude that the less time I spend talking about gadgetry, the more time I have to enjoy the food or whatever. There’s nothing worse than trying to yell complex electronics-related instructions over loud music. Nothing.

For awhile, my brother was the go-to person for tech advice in our family since he started building his own computers in high school and now programs for a living. But a year or two ago, he started doing something genius – if you ask him a computer question, he directs you to websites that will help you answer your question. This way, he not only avoids dealing with people asking him really basic questions, he also avoids future questions by giving them a resource to turn to.

I like this answer. I can do all the things in the basic list, and I love it when my geek(ier) friends can give me a tip on a tutorial or a good download site or a tech article that covers my question. But there’s a difference, naturally, between a “pro tip” on how to approach the problem and having someone expect you to drive over and do it for them!

If people just offloaded their stuff on me all the time, I would find it just as much of a pain, I’m sure!

Leave a Reply