Thursday, September 07, 2006

Technology burnout

Burn out and frustration are common ailments among people who support technology. I'm lucky that these ailments only hit me once or twice a year. For people working help desk or desktop support jobs, it's a year-round thing. In the 21st century, I'm still amazed that there are people who don't know their way around a computer. And they are afraid or unwilling to try to figure them out. The people who try, I go out of my way to help them.

When people call for technology support, they are not in the best of moods. There are generally three possible scenarios. One, something broke and they need it fixed and they may have lost something important in the process. Two, they just realized they need to do something involving the computer and they don't know how and rather than reading the ubiquitous documentation, they call you. Or three, they have tried to use something and it's not working for them, can't log in, getting an error when they try something; it's not broken, it's just not working.

The first scenario, I'm completely sympathetic with. Things happen. Computers crash. Programs quit. Printers stop printing. Still, there's frustration when the person calling (or emailing) doesn't understand enough about their computer to help you diagnose the problem. They don't know, for example, the steps they go through to print or where their documents are saved. When that happens, you're in a situation where someone has to physically go see them. And that takes a lot of time. And then it turns out that the printer wasn't turned on. And so the person leaves and thinks, I wasted an hour of my time because they can't turn on their printer.

The second scenario I find really frustrating. Much of our summer (and other times too) is spent trying to anticipate what people will need to know when they return to campus and we try to create simple, easy to understand instructions about how to do those things. We send out email with instructions and we include links to even more instrutions. We send out flyers. These are all ignored. And then sometimes, this turns into, "I don't have time to do this. Can't you do this for me?" (Sometimes it starts this way, which is even more frustrating.) When the ratio of IT to faculty is better than 1 to 160, I'll be happy to do whatever you want. Until then, I'm going to send you instructions. And can I just note here that if a student behaved the way some of you have behaved, you'd be incensed. Just saying.

The third scenerio sometimes turns out to be the second scenario in disguise. Sometimes they just haven't followed directions. Sometimes the directions are confusing and use terminology they don't understand (this gets to two things: one, tech people could learn to speak English and two, people could learn more about their computers). Or sometimes, it turns into scenario one, something is broken. And most of the time, there's an actual problem with their account or with the system and something needs to be fixed. And I'm okay with that.

Still, even if you're dealing with scenarios where the person legitimately needs help, it can be frustrating after you've answered the same question a hundred times. Generally, people work the help desk for about a year and then they move on to something else. That's a pretty short lifespan.

The thing is, I know the help desk people can be frustrating, too. They speak another language. They speak too fast. They talk about things you don't even know how to define. Sometimes there's that tone in their voice. You can tell they think you're an idiot. It's not you, it's the person before you, really. It takes forever to get a response. Yes, we could do better. But if they help you and it fixes your problem or you learn something or you're finally able to log in, say thank you, even if you don't want to.