how do I get my coworkers to stop using me as tech support?

A reader writes:

Do you have any strategies to stop people using me as the in-house tech support?

I am by far the most technically savvy employee in my consultancy, and I’m happy to help with complicated or unusual IT requests. Lately, however, people who should have good IT skills are plaguing me with questions about everything from how to make cell borders visible in Excel to how to (no kidding) browse files in Explorer. Literally, a 20-something colleague with a degree and recent experience in an office, did not know how to browse directories on a Windows machine!

I don’t feel I can say I’m on a deadline or can’t be interrupted because each request takes only a couple of minutes, but the time adds up and up. I also don’t want to pretend to be too busy to stop for a second, because it’s an obvious lie if I then take a time out for a chat.

How do I cut this out? I’m getting increasingly frustrated that I’m doing the same or better work as colleagues on my pay grade, while also showing them basic computer skills they should already know.

Well, first, you absolutely can say that you can’t be interrupted even though the request would only take a couple of minutes. It’s perfectly reasonable to say, “Sorry, I’ve got to finish something up” or “I can’t break my focus right now” or “can’t help — having a hectic day.”

But I hear you that you want to still be able to chat with people or whatever without looking like you were obviously lying when you declined to help Fergus 10 minutes ago.

So I’d just tell people that you can’t help with this kind of thing anymore and explain why. For instance: “I’m pulling back on helping with this kind of thing because it’s started taking up a significant amount of my time. But if you google the question, you should find lots of help. That’s how I’ve figured out most of this stuff.”

Or, if you want to make it clear that you’re willing to help on occasion, but only if they’ve tried to figure out the answer first, you can ask, “What have you tried so far to solve it?” If the answer turns out to be nothing, then you can say, “Do me a favor and Google this stuff before pulling me in — I’m getting a lot of requests for this kind of thing, and need to limit them. If you’ve spent more than 15 minutes trying to figure out it and are still stuck, then feel free to come check with me, but that should solve a lot of them.”

But aside from suggesting specific wording, I also want to tell you that a big part of solving this is you believing that it’s okay to protect your own time and say no to this kind of stuff. If you truly internalize that it’s okay for you to do that, the sorts of responses above are more likely to come out of your mouth naturally … and you’ll probably deliver them in the sort of matter-of-fact way that will reinforce the message to your coworkers that you’re not in fact their on-call help desk.

{ 233 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Bibliovore

    It might be time to push this upstairs a bit. Perhaps an Excel refresher workshop. or office computing 101. I had a colleague who would “let me google that for you” for FAQs .

    Reply
    1. One of the Sarahs

      I was just going to say, reply to any email requests with a Let Me Google That For You link! It could be seen as passive aggressive, but when colleagues/friends/forum people send it to me, I laugh and realise I’m being lazy!

      http://lmgtfy.com/

      Reply
      1. lowercase holly

        no kidding. i solve pretty much 100% of my Excel problems by Googling. everything is out there! of course, i’m not doing complicated stuff.

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          Hell, I *am* doing complicated Excel stuff, and I still find answers to 99% of any issues I run into via Googling for it. There are some great Excel forums out there with experienced users who are totally willing to help troubleshoot complex formulas and VBA scripts – and you’re never the first person to experience your problem, so a lot of the time the answer is already out there.

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          1. One of the Sarahs

            +1, and because so many people don’t know the technical terms they’re asking for, the answers come up for pretty much every inept description I’ve used!

            Reply
            1. OwnedByTheCat

              Oh, yes. I spend a lot of time googling random words trying to solve my excel problems “first last names switch two columns no commas” gets you MAGIC.

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              1. Lore

                Oh my god, yes! I have needed to do that particular thing approximately once every five years with address/mailing lists, and I can always sort of remember how to start implementing that solution…but never quite how to finish it.

                I also find myself having to go back to “increase type size in all balloons” quite frequently. (Increasing the type size in the comment balloons is not the same thing as increasing the type size in the deleted text balloons. Sometimes you want everything to be bigger, dammit.)

                Reply
            2. eee

              right? microsoft office products tend to be sort of universally crappy, the reason we all use them is because they’re the default. But the glorious thing about millions of people using a universally crappy product is, 99% of the time several thousand people have asked the exact same question on the internet, and thousands of them have helpful responses. I can never remember how to move excel columns by clicking and dragging rather than going through a complicated insert column paste delete column procedure. And yet, every three-four months when this issue comes up, no matter what weird terms I use to search it, I can always find the answer in the top 5 results.

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              1. Skeptic

                I don’t know that I’d called Microsoft Office “crappy”. I think a lot of people don’t know how to use it, and it might not always be super intuitive, but they can be pretty powerful programs when you get some experience with them.

                Reply
          2. Stranger than fiction

            Same here and I’ve become the company excel help desk too. I will say I’m their defense, though, you do need to know *what* to google. Even I have to google a few times/phrases sometimes til I at least get the proper excel term for what I’m trying to do and then go back and Google just that .

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            1. LQ

              I feel like this is much less true now than it used to be. I feel like you can be super messy and unclear with your search and still get the answer 90% of the time. The last 10% is likely much more specific or complex things and if you are doing those, chances are you are better at googling the question anyway.

              Reply
        2. paranoidghost

          Last year I actually gave a department-wide presentation on stuff I’d picked up in Word and Excel just from googling it–I was starting to deal with the exact problem as above, except slightly worse, because I was getting handed down all of this stuff like “can you fix this excel document” as actual work from superiors who were really nice people, but just didn’t realize that you could google things like “can you sort alphabetically in excel” or “how to find and replace in excel” or “how to update fields in a word document.” It was a struggle to not have the presentation just be a slide with a thing you could do with word, followed by the bullet point “to learn how to do this in Word, try googling it.”

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          1. Vanessa

            I’ve done this before but no one absorbed or cared to practice what I taught. I even followed up the “class” with links to online help websites and still get questions…but that’s just laziness: why should they have to learn when I’m here to do it for them?

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      2. stillLAH

        My boss has told me that Google is “cheating” when I’ve suggested googling how to find something. *headdesk* That’s what it’s there for!

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          1. Artemesia

            I once sideswiped the garage and laid down 3 feet of plaster and paint on the side of my newish car. I took one look and said to myself ‘$1000’. I googled something like ‘car sideswiped garage, remove plaster and paint’ and surfaced immediately an introduction to something called ‘Claybar’ I had never heard of and youtube videos showing exactly how to use it and fix the problem. I hied off to the auto supply, got a kit with claybar, polish and finish wax for less than $20 and with elbow grease and 3 hours fixed it so it was absolutely as good as new. (luckily the body wasn’t actually dented.) Google is magic — and it speaks in our language because the zillions of people googling the same thing used similar words.

            I have solved 99% of my tech problems as well as the mouse is nesting in my Prius air conditioning ducts problem with google.

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        1. A Bug!

          Wait, who’s cheating? It’s cheating for him to use Google for an answer? But not cheating for him to ask someone to tell him the answer? Or is it cheating for you to get out of answering a question by telling him to use Google when you’re supposed to know the answer? Either one is silly but if it’s the former maybe there’s a chance you can get him to see the light.

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        2. twig

          Maybe your boss didn’t want that A that he earned in life turning to an F when the teacher found out he used google instead of gumption?

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        3. SusanIvanova

          What I’m discovering in techinical phone screens is that it’s perfectly fine to say “here’s the obvious solution, it’s flawed for reasons A, B, C, and I could spend a fair amount of time working on a better one or I could see what Google turns up”. At least in any rational company where they understand that your time’s better spent on the things you can’t find on Google.

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        4. ginger ale for all

          I work in a library and a patron asked for help on Excel and I told him that I wasn’t familiar enough with the program but I could get him books on the subject. He shot me the dirtiest look when I came back a few minutes later with a stack of Excel books. Some people just want you to do it for them instead of learning how.

          Reply
  2. ThursdaysGeek

    But aside from suggesting specific wording, I also want to tell you that a big part of solving this is you believing that it’s okay to protect your own time and say no to this kind of stuff.

    And a big part of them solving their own issues is them believing that they can figure it out on their own.

    Seriously, I think the big difference between people who can do all sorts of things and people who always have to ask for help are whether those people believe they can do something, and then just try it.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      And this is exactly why some 70-y-o’s can use computers and others can’t.

      My MIL has decided that she can’t. She won’t expend the tiniest amount of energy to understand it. My dad zips around easily–and he’s older than her by, oh, 15 years.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth West

        My relative is like that. She said once, “It’s too hard,” and that pissed me off royally. No, it’s not too hard for a ten-year-old; you are a grown adult with a doctorate and yes, you can figure it out. I told her it was fine to say you don’t want to, but don’t tell me you’re not smart enough to do it because that’s a bunch of hooey.

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      2. DMented Kitty

        MIL can get around a computer if you explain it to her in simple terms. She is easy to teach because she wanted to learn.

        I tried explaining to FIL the simplest way to work around Windows one time because he asked me how to download pictures from their digital camera. It’s pretty simple, right – plug the camera cable into the computer, and most of the time Windows will auto-play it, otherwise you can find it in a folder.

        I tried explaining how the Windows desktop works – by saying it’s like a real desk top, and your desktop will have folders, like these icons (that was how I learned Windows when I took a course before)… I wanted him to learn to at least get the very basic concept of how to navigate around Windows so he won’t have to call my husband about every single thing (and leaving messages that sound URGENT when in fact it isn’t).

        He immediately paused me and said, “you know I don’t understand these things, so I don’t think I’ll learn…” – basically he just wanted me to directly show him where the folder is – even then he had to ask how to get there, which kind of was why I tried to educate him first with how the desktop works! Now he’s learning it backwards and that confused the hell out of him so it just was very much counter-productive. :/

        Reply
        1. JessaB

          Been there done this, I give one set of help and the next time whoever gets a nice bullet pointed set of directions to follow, step-by-step and the third time is “read the instructions I gave you.” I also keep them on file so if they swear they lost it, I can send them a new copy.

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    2. PizzaSquared

      For sure. Many years ago, when my parents first got a computer, the best thing I did was convince my mom that it was ok to just try stuff, and she wouldn’t “break it.” It took a while of reinforcing this, but eventually she became really self-sufficient. Every once in a while she still asks me for help, but it’s usually more of the form of “have you ever tried any of these apps/devices, and which do you like?” Or really difficult problems that I have to do some research to solve also, but at least I know she’s done the obvious stuff before calling.

      Ironically, this skillset got her to the point at her job (before she retired) that everyone in her office went to her for tech support. But in her case this was a good thing, becuase she enjoyed doing it, and it opened up several growth opportunities that she previously hadn’t had.

      Reply
      1. Shell

        Sadly that doesn’t work on my parents. The nuance between “try whatever you want within this program” and “click on random ads on the internet/phishing emails/etc.” is lost on them (“hey, it came from my browser window!”). Oh, they can use the basic functions of a computer just fine, but it gets them into trouble because they don’t always differentiate between situations appropriately. They’ve broken their computers pretty spectacularly before.

        But I do agree you learn best by trying, generally speaking. I’ve learned some nuances to software I had no freaking clue about by just clicking around and Googling. But other than a willingness to explore, I think it does also require a certain amount of intuitiveness about computers that not everybody has.

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        1. Meg Murry

          Hooo boy, this!

          My mother is terrified she will break it, and won’t click on anything, and at best can use Word as if it’s a typewriter (including hitting enter at the end of every line and manually centering with the space bar). My father clicks on all kind of random stuff without reading what he is clicking and is constantly installing 1 million malware toolbars that take me hours to uninstall.

          Yet somehow my 85 year old grandmother (my mother’s mother) is kick-a$$ with computers, because she used them in her job at a bank when they were brand new, and still knows DOS commands when she can’t get Windows to do what she wants.

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          1. calonkat

            To be fair, when PCs were first becoming common in workplaces, they were quite an investment for a small business, and hard drive crashes were not as uncommon as today. Computers were indeed something that you could “break”. And floppies failed frequently (and that’s where your data and programs were). I do have some sympathy for people who are stuck in that mindset. Yes, they should move on, but they’ve apparently hit their “technological expiration date”.

            My mother broke multiple keyboards by typing like she was using a manual typewriter. I learned to rebuild keyboards just because we couldn’t afford to replace them continually!

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      2. LQ

        This was the biggest thing to convince my mom of, when she got an iPad it was super easy because I told her the only thing that could break it was running over it with the truck. Support calls are way down since she’s willing to try her own thing.

        (So she ran over it was the truck. But went out and got another.)

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      3. Anxa

        This may be a little tangential, but I think you really hit something there with the fear of breaking something.

        I envy people who are less cautious with new equipment, and don’t think twice about the possibility of ruining a project or breaking equipment. Most of it is my personality getting in my way. Some of it is probably being extra self-conscious about feeling like I don’t belong in places and have to prove myself even as a student or other learner/beginner. I regret those times I hung back and watched as other students got more hands out with the equipment that I was so nervous about breaking. I’m sure being a woman and not having the financial resources to replace items also contributed to my anxiety about those things.

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    3. Jadelyn

      YES.

      I keep telling my coworkers that my famed technological prowess is mostly just the result of clicking on stuff to see what it does, until I find the thing that does what I want. It’s not really magic, though they persist in thinking so.

      I call it the “poke it with a stick” method of IT education. It’s very effective.

      Reply
      1. Stranger than fiction

        Totally my pet peeve, but I’m too much of a wuss to say “did you even try anything up in the ribbon?” But I have said “Undo is your best friend”.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth West

          And right-clicking to find menus. Teach a person how to find menus and they can do almost anything. I did not learn to use a computer until I was in my 30s and when I discovered how to access menus, it was like the Second Coming (haaaaaallelujah!!). It also helped me when Microschmoe went to the ribbon, because at first I was like, “WAAAAAT!”

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        2. MnGreeneyes

          I have taught several of my student workers’ CTRL Z this week alone. Undo is your friend!

          I am also a keyboard shortcut person. I learned computers on an apple IIe and later had a PC laptop with an intermittent at best mouse so I combined my knowledge of Open-apple commands and PC keyboard shortcuts that I use regularly to this day. I also switch back and forth between a Mac at home and a PC at work. You really learn your stuff then, including the differences between Mac and PC Office.

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    4. KR

      There’s been many times where instead of just fixing the “problem” I walk people through it and they’re amazed that it was really that easy. But of course all the rest of the time people ask me for help over and over again for all the same freaking kinds of things that they really should know how to handle.

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      1. Gene

        There’s a way around that, the second time they ask, tell them to get out some paper and write notes because you won’t walk them through it again. And stick to that.

        People (with rare exceptions) are trainable.

        Reply
    5. Dave's not here

      This is precisely the reason that I, a Mac Fanboi since 1986, use an Android phone. I got a smartphone back when Verizon didn’t have the iPhone; after they did, SWMBO got one. The only way for me to avoid being her in-home tech support because she’ll ask instead of trying to figure it out was to stay on Android. The best part, she refuses to use my Mac and uses her Windows machine when she needs an actual computer. Me – Mac and Android: Her – Windows and IOS. :-)

      Reply
    6. Shannon

      There also seems to be a component of fear involved. Fear that they’ll “break it,” or make it worse or something.

      Reply
    7. Lynn Whitehat

      +100. I recently had a woman complain to me that her job is “going all computerized, and it’s not fair, because” (leans in conspiratorially) “you know, we women of a certain age can’t be expected to learn all of that.” I wasn’t thrilled to be considered a woman of a certain age, but even less delighted to be considered obviously incapable of learning all that computer stuff because of it. I’m a software engineer and a darn good one if I may say so. And yes, the “secret” is to bang around and google when you get stuck until the computer is doing what you want.

      Reply
      1. Menacia

        We had a woman *quit* because she did not want to learn our new ERP system, and she was not *that* old! Many people I work with learn “just enough”, and then rely heavily on others to assist them with the same issue over and over again. Well, it’s what’s keeping me in a job, so I (usually) can’t complain. ;)

        Reply
      2. Artemesia

        this was an excuse my mother could use but I am now over 70 and my generation uses computers routinely and seamlessly; this is just no longer an excuse for anyone now in the workforce. It is like people who excuse racism because ‘that is the way it was when they were comingup’ — but 1964 was 50 years ago. Civil rights were a fact of life for most people in our country for their entire adult life. Still using racist language isn’t custom — it is just racism.

        Reply
      3. ThursdaysGeek

        As a database geek who also fits the “women of a certain age” criteria, I tend to respond, sometimes audibly: constant learning keeps the Alzheimer’s away, but hey, it’s your life.

        Reply
      4. SusanIvanova

        Way, way back when AOL was the only Internet access most people had, when – so I thought – Zip was a Windows-only app, my mom surprised me by having already found a Mac Unzip app when she’d gotten some files from a friend on Windows.

        And when my grandmother was having eye problems and needed someone to turn on the Kindle’s “read this” feature – which she couldn’t see to do, of course – it was another one of the assisted living residents who figured it out. My uncle was totally useless.

        But then, if all the women at Bletchley Park had been allowed to talk about what they’d done, the computer revolution would’ve started a generation earlier and been done by them.

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    8. Sparrow

      So much this. A couple of years back, I had a (25-year-old!) coworker who constantly asked me these kinds of questions. Any time I answered, “I don’t know off the top of my head. You should google it; that’s all I would be doing, anyway,” she wouldn’t even try and would instead leave things incomplete. At the time it felt like the most aggravating laziness, but in retrospect I think that she was so afraid of screwing something up that she looked for constant reassurance that she was doing the right thing. Lucky for her, this was very tangential to her job, so she was able to get away with it.

      Reply
  3. Moosely

    I learned everything through Google. Seriously. How to strip alphanumeric characters to leave only numbers in a long column of data? Google. How to quickly rename a batch of files for a project? Google. How to save a .doc file as a .pdf file to preserve formatting? Google.

    GOOGLE IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. USE IT.

    Reply
      1. I'm New Here

        I blow my students’s minds when I tell them google/Siri/the internet didn’t exist when I was in high school. They can’t even contemplate it at their precious age of 17…

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    1. RedPanda

      I work in IT and 60% of my job is Googling something to show someone else how to do it when they could have Googled it themselves. It truly is magical and anyone can learn anything.

      Reply
      1. A Non E. Mouse

        I am in IT as well, and I think 60% is a little low. I usually tell people 90% of my job is Google, either past or present – I didn’t spring forth from the womb able to troubleshoot problems with our VOIP phone system. Chances are me fixing something in 30 seconds today is because I spent time looking it up on the interwebs three years ago, and saved the link as a favorite.

        The other 10% of my job is using my search function in Outlook to recall old fixes/conversations. How people live without knowing they can search Outlook, I will never understand.

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        1. Jinx

          I have a whole OneNote notebook dedicated to random stuff I’ve googled, separated by category – I don’t even have to remember the specific fixes, I just have to be able to say “I’ve looked this up before…” If I do something enough times it gets moved to long-term memory on its own.

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  4. Snarkus Aurelius

    Outrageous requests I’ve gotten over the years:

    I worked for a boss who never knew how to attach a document to an email.  So I’d attach it, send it to him, and then he’d forward it to the right parties along with whatever he wanted to say.

    My ex-bosses leaving me lengthy VMs that ask me to make a lunch reservation.  That information would include the restaurant phone number…leaving me to wonder why they couldn’t do it themselves in that same amount of time.  (I was not an admin.)

    One boss asked me to walk 10 blocks (one way) in 90 degree weather to get her shoes resoled because she was going on a boat ride that weekend.  She claimed she had no cash on her for a cab.  I was an unpaid intern so I had to walk it.

    Another boss asked me to let her know when I was writing up a document so that she could literally come and stand over my shoulder and watch me type it and offer “feedback.”  No joke.  Nearly 45 minutes later, the first sentence was still not complete.  

    The craziest thing a boss ever requested was when she scheduled an all-staff meeting, which ended up lasting four hours, to discuss whether or not she should go on some business-related trip.  She wanted to get feedback from everyone as to how her presence/absence would affect the office.  I later found out that the boss already decided the previous week to go and her assistant knew it because she booked the travel.  

    Reply
    1. RVA Cat

      “My ex-bosses leaving me lengthy VMs that ask me to make a lunch reservation. That information would include the restaurant phone number…leaving me to wonder why they couldn’t do it themselves in that same amount of time. (I was not an admin.)”

      Ouch, that’s worse than (when I was an admin) an ex-boss giving me an envelope with the address on a post-it note – and wanting me to handwrite the address…. *headdesk*

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      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        I can see that being valid if — and pretty much only if — the boss’s handwriting was so atrocious that they were worried about it getting delivered if they were to address the envelope themselves!

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        1. JessaB

          Or for our corporate holiday cards, I was very good at calligraphy, so they wanted the addressing to look really nicer than just printed on the envelopes. Also the cards were not cheap and since they weren’t custom order, it was hard to get extra envelopes so they’d rather I did it than they did. The 2nd year they asked me to do that, I ordered the cards and made sure the company we got them from could send a spare box of envelopes. I never understood places that didn’t do that in the first place. Even I made mistakes sometimes. As I was the admin, I also made up a rolodex of all those addresses so they didn’t keep giving me scraps of paper.

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    2. AVP

      My most frustrating repeat request is that my boss knows how to download an attachment from gmail but can never find it once he saves it. 90% it gets into the ‘Download’ file on his Mac, which he forgets about unless he’s physically looking at it. The other 10% he manages to download it to his desktop but there are 300+ files on his desktop and he gets upset when he can’t find The One He Wants.

      So many ways to fix this, so few that are acceptable to him…

      Reply
      1. KR

        Yes on your last sentence! Like someone won’t like how something is configured and I will show them what their various options are and they don’t like any of them – I can’t redesign the software based on your preferences. This is the way the computer works, learn to deal with it!

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    3. JMegan

      She wanted to get feedback from everyone as to how her presence/absence would affect the office.

      This is hilarious. I can pretty much answer it from here, based on that one sentence, without ever having met her!

      Reply
    4. Sascha

      One of my previous bosses sounds like your last two. She would call our 10+ staff into the conference room to group-write an email to someone. She’d force us to stay there for HOURS until it was finished. She was also overly concerned with how people viewed her.

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    5. DLB

      Oh my gosh, in addition to my manager ALSO having me send him emails with the attachments because he doesn’t know how he has:
      *Literally copied text from another document on the copy machine and TAPED it with scotch tape onto another piece of paper, with his hand written additions, for me to type up.
      *Have me add contacts to his iphone.
      *Print on 11×17 in color because he doesn’t know how.
      *Save photos from his email onto his computer.
      *print an Excel document so he can make changes by hand and have me update the spreadsheet (because he refuses to learn how to use it).
      *Took a MS Project course with all of our superintendents. The first thing they had everyone do is save the file to the desk top. Boss: “This is the first time I’ve ever saved a file! So that’s how!” Coworker: “Wow, no wonder DLB is so busy all the time” *everyone in the room goes silent*

      Reply
      1. GH in SoCAl

        Some of these sound totally normal to me. I’m nearing 50, and when I was a young assistant, bosses making handwritten changes to printed docs and assistants entering them was the norm. Bosses weren’t expected to use computers — which were considered glorified typewriters. We were only about 10 years past the “typing pool” which literally existed to type up documents for more senior people.

        Cutting up old documents with a scissors, taping them to paper, and adding emendations by hand was the norm. It’s the origin of the “cut” and “paste” computer icons.

        I’ve also worked with many the senior exec who has handed off their phone to their assistant to have contacts entered. I wish I were senior enough to do it, typing in a bunch of new contacts takes time I really don’t want to spend.

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          1. Bibliovore

            in the good old days, the assistant printing out the executive’s emails, the boss writing his comments on that paper and the assistant typing the answers in the return email and sending. yup. no exaggeration here.

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      2. TCO

        My husband had a boss (a very successful and hardworking entrepreneur) who didn’t know how to put more than one e-mail address in the to: line. The best she could do was put one person in each line (to, cc, and bcc). She’d send all-staff e-mails (to a team of about ten) by putting one person in each line and asking one of them to forward the message to the rest of the team.

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      3. Lindsay J

        Sounds like when I worked for a couple who ran a speech pathology office.

        Some of my tasks included:

        Adding CDs to their iTunes library, and then syncing the iPod with iTunes.

        Helping their children make a PowerPoint about Washington DC for school.

        Download iPad apps.

        Make a video of speech exercises on the iPad that children could practice along with (she referred to this as an app because I made a shortcut to the video.)

        Get old files off of their old computers.

        Use an excel spreadsheet she brought with names of local doctors to do a mail merge and send out a mailing.

        Figure out how to adjust the printer to send out the mailing since she brought fancy paper the ink rubbed right off of on regular settings.

        Liaison with the company making us a custom EMR system.

        Fix the custom EMR because they did no research before hiring a cut-rate incompetent company to design it.

        Set up a toy pen their kids got for Christmas that recorded audio.

        Download the photos she got done a Glamour shots off of a CD and save them to the computer.

        Order a second iPad.

        Set up the Android tablets they got for personal use.
        —-

        Things I took it upon myself to do:

        Install anti-viruses on all the computers.

        Remove the shitty auto play music from the website.

        Add actual information to the website.

        Get them out of a contract with a random company that called offering social media and SEO services for hundreds of dollars a month and had terrible online reviews, and make Facebook, Google places, Yelp, ect pages.

        The thing I wanted to do but couldn’t get buy in on: move them from a Yahoo email address to one with a custom domain.

        Reply
    6. Menacia

      If you want a good laugh, take a look at this clip from The IT Crowd, it was a British comedy about, what else, being in IT. This one fits in perfectly with this thread. In this scene is the head of IT and the tech support guy who works for her. You have to listen closely to hear all the nuances…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDNmyyrEZho

      Reply
    1. Megs

      I love that comic! The mouseover text always startles me, though, because I think it’s talking to me based on my super common first name.

      Reply
    2. Zahra

      That’s exactly what I was going to suggest. Along with a “If you haven’t followed this flowchart, don’t bother me.” ;)

      Reply
    3. Jen RO

      This post has perfect timing, and this xkcd is brilliant. I’ve had a long and busy day, made even longer and busier by my coworker who has decided that she can’t understand anything remotely ‘technical’ and needs my assistance for eveything… ugh. I’m p

      Reply
    4. FiveWheels

      OP here!

      First of all realising my question was answered felt better than Christmas morning. The Manager has my back! I can survive anything!

      That comic is amazing and is being printed and stuck in my cube tomorrow.

      Reply
  5. Honks

    You might also read up on the research about how long it REALLY takes when you get interrupted (Just found this quickly on google, you might be able to find a better source, I’ve read it a million times: http://blog.idonethis.com/distractions-at-work/) just to have the info in your back pocket for either persistent coworkers or in case you need to take it up the chain of command.

    Reply
    1. KR

      There’s a pause function on more timers on smartphones. You could keep a running tally of how long these things take across a week if you wanted.

      Reply
    2. FiveWheels

      Great link! I have tried to point this out to my boss but he doesn’t entirely believe me. It’s something I need to push back on more.

      Reply
      1. Marie

        I was the unofficial tech person in my last office, too. I didn’t mind at first, and it wasn’t too far outside the realm of my actual position, but at a certain point I started to get really irritated. I actually started tracking my time using Toggl because I wanted to see if I was just irritated because, let’s be honest, some of my needier coworkers weren’t my favorites, or if there was actually a time management issue. I was actually able to get some really solid data. If my time spent giving tech support was at 2% or less, everything was cool! If it was 3-5%, my mood got really grumpy. If it was 5% or more, it was legitimately eating into my real tasks.

        My boss was pretty awful and not very supportive, but with that data, I was able to negotiate some changes for myself. If I was at 3-5% time and my boss gave me some new project, I could say, “Okay, I’m currently spending x% of time helping people around the office with tech stuff, so I’m going to need to say no to those requests for the next month to focus on this.” If it was 5%, I’d go to my boss and question whether my position should be rewritten to include these technical tasks so we could budget that into my time overall and it could be included as part of my performance reviews. Doing that required more work than my boss wanted to put in, and they were very concerned that if I got enough good stuff on my resume, I’d bolt, which meant they wanted to make sure I couldn’t claim technical skills. So that would get my boss to suddenly crack down on the tech requests.

        I don’t mind helping, I really don’t, and sometimes people present me with a knotty problem that teaches me something. But that’s the issue, really — I don’t enjoy tech stuff so much as I enjoy *learning*, and I don’t like helping so much as I enjoy *teaching*. When I felt like I was learning or teaching, unofficial tech support was really enjoyable. But when it was a very basic problem being solved over and over again for a person who was seemingly immune to new skills or knowledge, I would just start to hate everything about my job or that person (especially if they were getting paid more than me, despite not knowing how to attach a PDF!).

        Reply
  6. CADMonkey007

    I’m developed a rep for being the “knowledgeable one” but I’m really not all that knowledgeable – I just know how to use google! It’s so frustrating. If I ask if they want me to google the answer for them, I get “Yeah, could you do that? Thanks.” Some people have no shame.

    Reply
    1. Golden Yeti

      I’m in a similar boat. I’m typically the office default for all technical stuff, even though I have no training–they just assume I can do it all. Like everyone else is saying, I use Google–many issues can be answered by Google if people just try it. Today I got a request involving code that I knew was beyond my skill–and even Google said if you’re not a coder, don’t do it. I pasted that sentence (prefaced by “according to Google,”) and sent it back to the requester.

      It felt good.

      Makes me wish I felt free to say no more often.

      Reply
      1. Anony-turtle in a half shell!

        Exactly! I became the entire organization’s expert on our database even though everyone else had been to multiple-day training sessions (most in Florida, for some strange reason) and I was never allowed to go. I kept asking to go to the training for the first couple of years at my job, and then I gave up. I was already seen as the “expert” by then, because I would actually try to figure out what the DB could do. Even our IT dept wouldn’t do anything with it, assuming that I’d eventually figure it out for myself or the other person who was asking.

        Reply
    2. JAM

      I’ve started telling people I just make stuff up. It’s so bad that I’m good at the technical that they assume I know everything else. I don’t but I can slyly google, I play trivia enough, and I read enough websites that I tend to know the answer. Even my husband has become reliant on me when he has a phone in one hand and a tablet in another. Google people!

      Reply
  7. IT_Guy

    Back when I did help desk support (pre-windows) for a major transportation company, we would routinely not answer the phone and if they left a message, we would wait 30 minutes before we would reach out to them. 9 times out of 10 they would figure it out on their own, and the 1 out of 10 would really need help so we digged in and helped.

    Kind of chintzy but it did work.

    Reply
    1. Sascha

      I did something similar when I worked support at my university. Unless it’s truly an emergency, I like to give things a little bit of leeway time because most people figured out the issue themselves – especially if the answer was really obvious.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth West

        I have had to train myself out of asking for help before I try to footle around a bit first. Because when I let that knee-jerk reaction take over, nine times out of ten I have to email again “Never mind, I figured it out.”

        Reply
    2. Elizabeth

      I’ve been doing this more with my new guys at work. At this point I’ve trained them several times on how to do their jobs and I’m comfortable that most can perform most aspects of the job most of the time. But I’ve got a couple that call me every time they run into the slightest problem. So now rather than running over every time they call me, I acknowledge their request and then wait a few minutes to let them struggle a little bit with the problem. 80% of the time now, I’ll get a call back that they figured it out.

      Struggling is a beautiful thing sometimes.

      Reply
  8. Anonymous Educator

    Do you have an actual tech support department that these requests are supposed to be routed to?

    If so, instead of making up an excuse about being busy, just ask them to go ask tech support for help. I work in tech support, and I’d prefer people refer their colleagues to me instead of trying to solve problems for each other (solving problems for themselves is fine, but they shouldn’t be bothering other people).

    Reply
    1. FiveWheels

      Alas no – it’s a smallish business. Our tech support is contracted out and has wait times of several days to deal with tickets. I have been official tech support elsewhere and I found it maddening. Official tech people have my utmost respect!

      Reply
      1. Gene

        The best advice I can give if you can’t force yourself to just say “No” is to tell them you’ll help when you have time. Then, as the above comment says, make them wait for a while. Maybe start with a half hour and then extend that with the most frequent abusers of your time.

        Reply
        1. LQ

          Making them wait is a great thing. I might even say, “Not sure, I’d have to google it. I won’t have time until Friday PM if you’d like to schedule and appointment with me then.”

          Reply
      2. Anonymous Educator

        That’s a bummer.

        You probably don’t want things to go in this direction (you want less tech support work, not more, it sounds like), but if you are actually doing the work and you can document it, I wonder if you could leverage that into being some kind of raise for additional job responsibilities.

        Of course that would also officially give you additional job responsibilities…

        Reply
    2. allreb

      Yep, this is what I do, too – “Sorry, I’m not the right person to help with that, have you contacted [Actual IT Human]?”

      It gets some sighing (I sit closer, I’m friendlier, whatever) but … it’s not my job. And it’s the kind of thing, I’ve found, that if I don’t shut down, goes on forever and ever, but setting a boundary by just *not* doing it a few times, the requests stop.

      Reply
  9. The Cosmic Avenger

    I’ll add that, in addition to redirecting them to think about it for a few seconds before asking you to show them, after that instead of just showing them, ask them to send you a meeting request (making the leap that the OP uses Outlook, since they use Office). Coworkers will need to block out 10, 20, 30 minutes of your time, meaning they have to think about the time they’re taking, and it goes on your calendar so you start having a record of the time spent on this. You can accept and even encourage appointments for now or 10 minutes from now if that works for you, but it also gives you the opportunity to decline and suggest a new time if you’re busy.

    But then, I’m all about data and tracking.

    Reply
    1. Meg Murry

      Yes – or if you don’t want to push it that far, it’s amazing what how many people manage to help themselves figure it out (or go bug someone else) when you tell them you have to finish what you are writing but you will come help them in (10, 15 or 30) minutes.

      Reply
    2. KWu

      I wanted to suggest something similar–when people ask you how to do something, rather than just showing them (“Fergus just knows stuff!”), guide them through how to find the answer (“Oh…I guess I can find the answer myself too”). Also the one-time workshop idea, possibly paired with educational office hours. People need an incentive *not* to ask you the question, like they learn they can figure it out themselves faster than waiting for the next time you’re free.

      Also, totally feel you on the frustration of people undershooting my expectations of what they should know, when I don’t think those expectations are all that high. Sadly, one can only live with that.

      Reply
  10. Miles

    There’s a running joke among IT professionals that says once you help someone with any kind of computer problem, they will come to you with unrelated problems for the rest of your life. So, you know, welcome to the team & good luck.

    On a more helpful note, seriously just stop answering their questions. Being done covering for their job functions when they’ve already demonstrated proficiency is reason enough (Though it helps to mention this much more politely). Yes you might have to be a bit of an asshole to a few people who won’t get it, but each minute you’re letting someone waste your time is a minute that’s counting against your ability to move up or get a pay raise in the future, and is benefiting neither of you.

    Reply
    1. KR

      Once I had a user try to get me to come to her house and troubleshoot her printer. She was willing to pay me but I had a bit of a hard time explaining why I didn’t want to devote my precious weekend to troubleshooting a printer.

      Reply
  11. TootsNYC

    You aren’t helping them by giving them quick answers. People retain the information that they had to work for.

    So start saying, “You need to find this info for yourself. You’ll remember it better. And I’m busy.”

    If that feels hard, there’s always the slow-to-answer, vague-because-I’m-still-thinking-of-something else “Um, I can help you just after lunch.”

    Reply
    1. Lmgtfy

      If I’m helping someone with excel I never do it for them. I always walk them through it so that they’ve physically done the task. Sometimes people are like no you just do it and unless they are VIPs I tell them it’s the best way to learn.

      Reply
      1. LQ

        When people get up and try to let me use their computer I always say, “Oh no, you’re driving.” And then I make them do it. (Unless it is a genuine one-off or something I don’t want them to learn.)

        Reply
  12. Megs

    How to be the office/family tech genius:

    (1) Check to see if it’s plugged in.

    (2) Turn it off and on again.

    (3) Google.

    Reply
    1. JAM

      I did the troubleshooting for all the polling places in my county during the last Presidential election season. I would always ask if the voting machine was plugged in. They always said yes. So I’d have to drive out and half the time I’d get a call on my cell while on the way that it wasn’t after all. The other half of the time I’d show up and it was plugged in to a power strip…they just hadn’t plugged the power strip into anything.

      Two times there were real problems with the equipment, once just needed a restart (and they weren’t authorized) and once I think there were demons. Luckily I had a replacement tablet and was on my way. I’m sure someone higher than me on the food chain did the exorcism/google to fix that one.

      Reply
      1. Megs

        I love the “forgot to plug in the power strip” issue. There’s also the classic “plugged into a power strip but the power strip is switched off.”

        Reply
        1. Hlyssande

          I deconstructed a mint tin and taped it over the switch on my power strip at work because I kept turning it off accidentally with fidgety feet. Works like a charm!

          Reply
      2. Meg Murry

        My favorite call when I worked tech support was from the person that was convinced their computer was broken because it kept turning itself off, and every time they came into their office it would be off, and when turning it on would go through the “Windows didn’t shut down properly”.

        After 20 minutes of talking in circles about what had changed I finally found out they had recently rearranged their home office space. 15 more minutes lead them to realize that the power strip computer was plugged into the same outlet as the lamp, and every time they walked out of the office they turned off the switch, turning off the computer as well as the lamp.

        The other fun diagnostic was when we were making a flow chart of common answers to “why isn’t my document printing?” My co-workers thought I was taking it too far with “is the printer plugged in” “is the light on the printer on” “did you actually hit that last ‘print’ button on Word/Excel” and “which printer are you printing to, are you sure it’s the correct one” to add to the list – but by the end of the week I had validation, as those had all fixed the problem on at least one tech support call over the course of that week.

        Reply
          1. Irishgal

            One of my colleagues had tech support out to her house (after phone support couldn’t get to the route of the problem) as she could not connect to the work laptop up in her home office and her son could connect fine downstairs in sitting room. Tech support found she only had standard broadband that needed an ethernet cable so son was plugged into cable downstairs and she was upstairs trying to connect by magic upstairs. ….. she had been asked time and time again to check whether she had a wifi modem versus a cable modem at home and insisted her son was not connected by cable downstairs.

            Reply
      3. Paquita

        Not technical, but at my first job many moons ago, I worked at a bank as a proof operator. If we had an issue with our machine we wrote it up in the book and moved to another. After one person said their machine would not power on, service guy came out. Machine was not plugged in! After that a supervisor had to verify the problem and write it up.

        Reply
  13. neverjaunty

    I have been known to treat these requests as quizzes that I have failed. “I don’t know, how DO you make a header row in Excel? We could check Google?”

    Reply
  14. Anon attorney

    This is a know your office response but if it makes you a most valuable employee, I would say don’t stop doing it but limit what you do. My regular job is an attorney and my task is to bill hours. I do frequently save the day for the less tech savvy higher ups. This was absolutely acknowledged in a prior review and I got a significant raise, despite not hitting my hours because I contributed to the firm in so many other ways. Doing the tech help is not what kept me from hitting my hours either. There are limits to my sanity. No, I won’t come in on a Saturday to show you how to do an electronic filing. I will do it for you remotely if you are really really really really stuck. I also show them how to do things and have them “drive” rather than just doing it for them. That way they can’t just dump stuff on me to get out of doing it. It will suck time for both of us so they have to actually want it fixed or to learn to call me. Not just a desire to delegate. In some places, he or she who can fix things walks on water. It can be good to be that person.

    Reply
    1. FiveWheels

      I’m also an attorney, and while I certainly get kudos for being able to fix things, it is more than balanced out by the non-kudos of not dealing with cases.

      I’m happy to fix things for the partners, that helps my star rise, but when it’s junior people who are there to help others earn fees… Ugh.

      Reply
      1. Meg Murry

        Do you have to track billable hours?

        The next time someone at your level or lower asks for tech help can you ask them which case/account code to bill it to? If you are going to do their work, you should at least get credit for the hours, right?

        Or if you keep a personal log separate from the official one, can you track this kind of thing there?

        Reply
        1. FiveWheels

          No, no billable hours tracking. If an individual file is being billed on an hourly rate basis it will be recorded, but not every file is hourly and there is a lot of non billable work in any given day.

          Reply
    2. Stranger than fiction

      And you just nailed why it doesn’t drive me as crazy as it used to when my coworkers come to me for excel help. All the higher ups know I do this and seem to appreciate it. Heck even they have me make them charts sometimes and they love it.

      Reply
    3. Random Citizen

      Definitely know your office on this one . My boss mentioned this on my last review too – he appreciated that I was both capable and approachable, so people felt comfortable making me the go-to person for a host of unrelated question. Mine is a fairly small office, so it’s very much wear-many-hats, everybody-pitch-in environment, which I personally love, but may not be your situation.

      Reply
      1. Random Citizen

        But even with my office culture, if I’m on a tight deadline with my work I’ll just do the “Uh…” *shrug* “you could try X or check with Jane or Fergus, otherwise I dunno.”

        Reply
  15. AFT123

    Eeeeek… I hate this, and I hate that I have to be the “bad” guy in these situations. You could be totally flakey like me and just start responding “Oh! Umm.. ya know, I’m not sure… I’d really have to look it up… Sorry I can’t be more help!!” Just start playing dumb or super forgetful and they’ll stop asking. Of course, this is the no-spine, passive-aggressive, lazy way to deal with it. :)

    Reply
  16. Lmgtfy

    You could always say – I’m in the middle of something but can help you in ## hours/minutes if you haven’t found a solution by then. When you then ask if they still need help later ask – what have you tried? If they haven’t tried anything, shame them! Jk ;)

    Reply
  17. Mando Diao

    Ugh, I hate this kind of thing. You show someone how to change the font in Word, and then they think you’re the go-to for every tech problem. Can you start being overtly unhelpful? Try to think of some version of “I haven’t used the new version of that program” or “You took that course in college but I didn’t.” It’s different if you really are good at tech stuff, but I find that people tend to hone in on the youngest/most generally media savvy person (iphone, social media, always have ear buds in) as being the best with legit computer software and hardware, and it helps to try to separate “I know how to use instagram filters” from, “really, I don’t know how to get rid of that computer virus.”

    This may or may not be helpful, but it might be useful for OP to think about whether most of these requests are coming from older people who simply haven’t bothered learning how to fix their own stuff.

    Reply
    1. FiveWheels

      That wouldn’t bother me so much! What really grates is people younger than me who can’t perform simple tasks, and seem to be allergic to googling the answers.

      Reply
  18. GeekChic

    I think the OP deserves a break from tech supporting, so this advise isn’t for them… but, techy people who aren’t yet fed up of being asked for help: I’ve made an effort in the last few years to teach people how to google their own tech problems, and it’s worked wonders. My gran’s well over 80 and after a bit of coaching she’s getting along great with her Android tablet and texting like a pro!

    Learning how to troubleshoot computer problems is a learned skill – knowing what it is and isn’t safe to fiddle with, having a sense for what kind of keywords to use when searching for help. If you’ve got time and you like your colleagues, it can do a lot of good to talk them through your thought process and how you’re choosing search queries and assessing the usefulness of the answer. It takes a bit more effort than solving any individual problem for them, but long-term it pays off :)

    Reply
    1. KR

      This is what I do. Try to educate while fixing the “problem”. As my boss says, a lot of the time too the users don’t know how to vocalize what is actually going wrong. They just think it’s broken. This is a bad example but –
      “Why does this box pop up when it used to just print before??! Financial software is broken!”
      “Okay so what does the box say?”
      “Choose date of report”
      “Did you choose a date for the report?”
      “No”
      “Okay, the computer is trying to tell you that there is information missing. A lot of times these messages can have valuable information in them.”

      Reply
      1. Persephone Mulberry

        My boss did this EXACT THING yesterday. Launch browser, close pop-up without reading it. I literally was saying “wait, what does that sa—” as he clicked the X. Then I had to go dig around in the options to figure out which extension he had inadvertently disabled.

        Reply
      2. DMented Kitty

        Some users are just… ugh. *facepalm*

        I’ve had cases where users log tickets asking for how to, say, search for a certain request in their account within our app – we have a full resource guide on how to do that, so I just send them a link to that guide. The guide contains steps and screen shots of what to do.

        Some of them say “oh I’ve done it, but I still can find it” – and then I ask them, can you send me a screen shot of where you are having problems with – and more often than not, they did not read the guide – the screen shot request is just my subtle way of checking if they actually read the manual.

        And some of them just say, “there’s a glitch” because it’s not working the way they wanted it to, when in fact it is working PERFECTLY FINE as designed, and they are just doing it wrong.

        Reply
    2. Random Citizen

      “knowing what it is and isn’t safe to fiddle with, having a sense for what kind of keywords to use when searching for help”
      +100
      I’m generally pretty tech-savvy mostly due to these two things, and didn’t even realize how much of a difference it made until I was using a totally new system/program recently and didn’t know either one of them and felt so lost! I don’t always know the answers (…rarely, actually), but I can troubleshoot any of the programs I use regularly because I know what’s safe to mess with and what questions to ask.

      Reply
      1. GeekChic

        Haha, yeah, it can take a big adjustment period. I went from working on mostly physical datacentre-based Linux servers to a project that uses Windows machines on a cloud provider recently and the shock of moving over to something so unfamiliar gave me so much sympathy for confused end users.

        (“What, you mean there are things I need a graphical interface to talk to? And this computer doesn’t know what I mean when I type grep or vi? What is this madness!”)

        Reply
        1. Random Citizen

          It was my first intro to the command line (should clarify: tech savvy as a user – no programming or coding involved) and the manual I had warned me against googling randomly to find commands to use, because I could end up on a hacker forum and be fed commands that would destroy my machine. I was a little freaked out and felt stuck because, “What do you mean I can’t google!? How exactly am I supposed to learn this!?”

          Reply
  19. The Other Dawn

    I was the most tech-savvy person at my previous bank, so anything remotely tech-related, even if it wasn’t work-related, came to me. It didn’t help that we were a one-branch operation, which meant we didn’t HAVE an IT person. I was the default for just about everything under the sun, including IT. We outsourced the major IT stuff, like server installation and configuration, but everything else fell to me. Even after the place closed, I still got emails from former coworkers asking me IT questions.

    Reply
  20. Jen RO

    I started documenting everything.

    Today, when Helpless Coworker asked me to explain something she should have learned 2 years ago, I found my procedure in 30 seconds and sent it to her. (Unfortunately, the procedure was for an older version of the software and it assumed you had not yet done a certain thing, which was too complicated for her to figure out and I still had to help in person… guess who stayed until 7.30 to finish her work!)

    Reply
  21. Mark in Cali

    Please don’t lie and say, “Sorry! Hectic day. Can’t,” when it’s not true.

    It’s annoying when people say they are busy but they really aren’t. Makes it seem like you are acting busy for attention.

    Just take the advice of being honest. Make ’em Google for it. That’s more helpful.

    Reply
    1. Chriama

      But it is true. She has too much work to be answering everyone’s random tech questions. And telling someone you’re busy when they ask you to do something unrelated to your primary job function is not ‘acting for attention’ – that’s when you tell people *unprompted* that you’re busy. If her coworkers don’t want to hear how busy she is then they shouldn’t be bothering her with trivial questions.

      Reply
      1. Mark in Cali

        Fine if it is true and agreed with you. It’s just that in my experience most people I work with aren’t as busy as they say they are. I know. That doesn’t mean the rest of the world is that way, it’s just my perspective.

        You’re not allowed to say you’re busy when you take an hour and a half lunch break and come back with shopping bags from Target.

        Reply
    2. Charity

      I think it’s valid to be too busy to essentially operate everyone’s laptop for them. I mean, let’s take the computer part out of it — would it be OK if these people were having the OP take their calls for them when that wasn’t part of her job? Or if they had her to run to the vending machine to get food for them out of the machine? Each of those things only takes a couple of minutes each time, but if you have to do it 5 or 10 times a day it really adds up. It’s perfectly valid to not have time for that especially if it means that you are taking away time from the job that your boss wants you to do.

      Reply
  22. AyBeeCee

    Would it be overly snarky to send them a link to the google results for their question? (Literally their exact question put into Google.) Probably. But oh I’d be so tempted.

    Reply
  23. Isben Takes Tea

    I once helped a recent English grad from Cal Berkeley figure out how to put bullets in a Word document. I did not understand how she managed to be an editorial admin at a publishing company and not know this.

    Reply
    1. Megs

      I don’t understand how someone in 2016 could get through high school, let alone college, and not know this. The mind, it boggles.

      Reply
      1. Judy

        From what I see at my house, I’m not sure how someone in 2016 could make it out of 4th grade without knowing this. My kids have been making Google Slides presentations for reports since 2nd grade.

        Reply
  24. toomuchteatoday

    Ha, I literally just Googled “How to deal with a technophobe” an hour ago because I’m similar situation. The co-worker I work closest with has a difficult time with software. I am Google to her. It’s hard for both of us.

    I get that people have different strengths, and an aptitude for software isn’t hers. But, I didn’t sign on to be her perma-trainer. It absolutely interferes with my work, and it’s strained our working relationship. She not only has trouble with basic tasks in Microsoft apps, but accidentally moves or deletes files, including deleting a slide deck 5 minutes before I was set to present with it.

    My problem with her is not so much her lack of aptitude, but her attitude that I’ll support her, or that her computer illiteracy is funny. She laughs and hams it up when she has another problem like we’re in a 1920s slapstick comedy about Microsoft Word.

    I feel for you, OP. It’s not cool, and it costs businesses time and money. I wish I could talk to my boss about it, but he’s even worse. He uses a paper day planner instead of Outlook. I’m looking for a new job, and this is a big part of it. I can’t deal with it.

    Reply
    1. I@W

      I feel for you and the OP.

      I am middle-aged with a brutal attitude at this point. In this day and age, having technical skills for many white collar jobs…and enough problem solving skills to know how to find information you need to do something. So, so tired helping people who can’t help themselves in this regard.

      Too many times I’ve found that people who I spend time helping seem to have no problem using IM to excess or have no shame over-sharing about their personal life (when maybe they could take the time to learn something job-related). (Yeah, the blow-by-blow of your life…still not interesting.)

      …time to end rant .

      Reply
    2. Master Bean Counter

      The best thing you can do is to just say no. In my case it was, “Debbie I’ve showed you that 5 times before, you know how to do it.” Then “Debbie, write this down.” Then, “Debbie, where are your notes.” Then, “Debbie if you need more help on this you need to ask the boss for permission to go to class.” Finally it was, “Debbie, no.” And I kept repeating the word no. In two weeks she figured out how to google her own stuff or she was bugging the IT department that got slower and slower about answering her questions.
      I did at one point tell my boss what was happening and that I was going to stop giving help because I really had better things to do with my time. He agreed.

      Reply
      1. toomuchteatoday

        I feel like such a jerk doing this, but I know you’re right. Glad your boss supported you and she figured out Google finally.

        Reply
  25. Swimmyfish

    From personal experience, I can tell you that, while you may feel a bit like the bad guy at first, it is very freeing to say to someone “Oh, did you try checking online for a solution to that?” You may get someone who tries to counter with “Well, I figured you’d know because you’re so good at these things,” but stand firm and let them know that you’d just have to look it up yourself (or, if you’re feeling sassy, that your expertise comes from having repeatedly having looked it up in the past.) I once had to do this with someone I shared an office with, and even though it took some time, it was eventually successful.

    Reply
  26. Amy G. Golly

    Ah, to be a public librarian…this stuff is seriously 90% of my “reference desk” work! (It’s extra fun when the patron wants help sending a tweet to Kim Kardashian to ask her to marry him.)

    While it IS my job to help people with this stuff, it’s still frustrating if I’m trying to complete other work on the reference desk and somebody keeps calling me over to “show (them) how to save again.” I’ve developed many strategies to cope.

    The chronic offenders will have me up and down from my chair a dozen times in 15 minutes, sometimes only to “suddenly remember” how to do it when I get there. For them, immediate gratification is what they’re after: they want the answer RIGHT NOW, and are not willing to wait the 30 seconds it would take to scan their screen and figure it out. Inserting a little delay into the process is often enough to break them of the “help me!” habit. While my instinct is usually to drop what I’m doing and run over, I’ll make myself say, “I’ll take a look in just a minute, I just need to finish something up.” And then I make myself wait an ACTUAL MINUTE. It’s often long enough for them to remember how to do what they need to do, or to at least give it a try, and it trains them to go through that process each time before calling me over.

    I like the advice that you should tell your coworkers you’re happy to help out: on your schedule. Since it isn’t your job to solve these issues for your coworkers, you should be able to make them wait way longer than a minute! Say, “I’ll take a look at that after lunch” or “I just need to finish something here, but I’ll be with you in 15.” If looking up the answer themselves is faster than asking you, they’re likely to stop bugging you for every little question! (One would hope.)

    Reply
  27. AnotherHRPro

    Ok, I am so rarely in disagreement, but in this case I am. I can understand that it can be annoying to be everyone’s go to person, but being an “expert” is generally recognized as a good thing. Especially an expert who is willing to help others. I think the trick is how you help others. As others have said, you don’t want to do things for them, but help them learn how to do it themselves. Show them useful tips, share excel “short-cuts” or even consider hosting a lunch and learn session for co-workers to share some of the common requests you get. In other words, show that you are not just good at all things technology, but you are also good at building other people’s capability.

    I’ve gotten to a fairly high level in my organization and one of the reasons for this is because I became a “go-to person” on powerpoint presentations. It is an odd skill and I don’t really know how I got so good at it, but I did. Leaders started to see how good I was at it and I would be asked to be on important projects because of it. People would ask for my help with their own presentations. I became known not just as a good HR person, but someone who could build great presentations. Then someone who could help other people build great presentations. Then someone who could give great presentations. Then someone who could help other people give great presentations. Many promotions later, I am now leading a department for a major corporation. I’m not saying it was because of my powerpoint skills, but they (along with my willingness and ability to help others) definitely helped.

    But I have always been someone who believes in pitching in and helping. No work is beneath me. Sure somethings are better done by others, but if I can help I am willing to do so.

    Reply
    1. Megs

      Grumbling aside, I generally agree with you on this. I’m a go-to “expert” at my job and I don’t mind it at all (not that it’s going to get me very far – I do dead end mindless junk with zero chance of promotion or raise (why yes, I am job searching)). I do think the two points where it really can be an issue, though, are (1) if it’s genuinely detracting from your ability to do the rest of your work and (2) if you’re getting pigeonholed into an “office mom” type situation. I see the latter happen more often with things like unclogging the copy machine and straightening up the kitchen, but I do think it’s important to recognize that there can be real issues with the “no work is beneath me” approach, in particular for women.

      Reply
      1. Amy G. Golly

        Very good points! Also, “This work is not part of my job description” is different from “this work is beneath me”.

        Reply
      2. Marie

        Yes, this is also a “know your office” and “know your manager” situation. My current job is thrilled about my technical abilities and it was a big part of the reason they hired me. My previous job did their best to sabotage me leaving or getting promoted because then I wouldn’t be available as their local underpaid IT.

        I think a big part of this issue isn’t just the tech support, but the honest-to-god emotional labor. It takes A LOT of emotional energy to stand there smiling and supportive and keep your voice encouraging and kind when you’re showing your coworker how to right-click for the fourth time that day, and they go through some sort of external drama of self-flagellation that you have to reassure them out of. If my coworker asks me where we keep a certain file, I can just say, “Oh, it’s in the file cabinet by the copier. But ask Fergus for the key, I think he still has it from this morning,” all in a neutral tone of voice without a reassuring smile. If my coworker asks me how to find a file on their computer, I have to steel myself for a good forced smiling ten minutes of, “So click here… no, that’s not– it’s okay, no, don’t worry, it’s confusing. So remember how your section of the server is… no, you need to get back to that window. Okay, try again. Okay, you didn’t double click fast enough. No, you’re not stupid. No, you don’t need me to do it, you can do this, come on, you did it last time. Okay, so you click, yeah, there you go. And then from there you want to find where you saved… well, you probably did save it… I don’t think the computer failed, I think you saved it but don’t remember. No, you’re not getting old, you’re just learning. Well, you can call IT if you want, but… okay, so I think you can find it if you just retrace your steps, so how did you open it last time?” That’s a lot of emotional labor to pour into somebody, and knowing they’re retaining nothing and are only going to ask you to do it again tomorrow is exhausting.

        Reply
    2. FiveWheels

      I understand your point, but the particular person that got me writing is borderline untrainable. There are questions from people who should know better but don’t and there are people who ask me how to do something and when I point then to Google they just… Wait a day and ask again.

      Alas, even if I wanted any kind of semi official tech role, any one of a hundred outside contractors could do that. I on the other hand can’t tell a client we’ve missed a deadline because I was teaching the staff how to use computers.

      Reply
      1. Gene

        they just… Wait a day and ask again.

        Then you point to Google. PRN as needed for relief.

        You may need to loop in your and their manager and show how it’s impacting your productivity and billable hours. If the managers seem to think it’s your job to try to train the untrainable, miss a deadline, maybe two. Until management sees it costing money, it’s probably not important to them.

        Reply
      2. Gene

        Just adding, she’s not untrainable, you’ve trained her that the way to find stuff out is to ask you. You’ll drop what you are doing to help her. Time to stat training her the other way.

        Reply
        1. FiveWheels

          The problem with missing deadlines is ethical – I can’t ethically allow a situation in which a client gets poor care as a result of internal staffing issues.

          I take on your point about bad training – I often make that point to others dvd didn’t even consider it for me!

          Reply
    3. Random Citizen

      Being to go-to person for a work/tech/miscellaneous questions is definitely a benefit at my company, and something my boss has commented on positively numerous times. In my job, having a decent amount of common sense and being able to figure things out are HUGE and troubleshooting demonstrates both of those. That said, OP’s situation sounds like less general troubleshooting for random coworkers and more hand-holding for one non-tech-savvy employee that is a different ball game.

      Reply
    4. MissDisplaced

      I agree, and your co-workers will likely appreciate it. However, if all the help is taking away time from your projects, I can almost guarantee the boss will think you are slacking. Somehow, they never “see” all those times you’ve helped out with other people’s computer woes.

      Reply
  28. T3k

    Too bad this doesn’t work when the one asking for help is your boss. I have a luddite of a boss that, I kid you not, when I tried to show her how to flag emails with different icons, didn’t bother after she spent one night clicking the “check” column instead of the flag column. I won’t even go into her coming to me with her cellphone problems.

    Reply
    1. Nashira

      Ughhh yes. My boss constantly wants me to explain her iPhone to her, even though I’ve always used Android and I would have to do some hunting to get her the answer. It’s part of why I’m working to move to help desk – if I’m gonna get interrupted with questions I may as well get the pay bump/less toxic working atmosphere.

      Reply
  29. ExceptionToTheRule

    OP, I feel your pain. There are two of us in the office at my part-time job, me & the office manager. Office manager has taken two if not three courses in Excel in order to improve her technology skills. As I’m leaving today, she tells me that I need to tweak a payroll excel worksheet so it shows hours & not days. It’ll take me 5 minutes and I don’t really mind, but part of me wonders why we spend money sending her to these workshops when it’s clear she doesn’t to use the information.

    Reply
  30. Calacademic

    Having literally just now gotten off the phone with IT support, I can’t help but wonder if I’m one of the offenders… I hope not.

    Anyone have any computer programs that seem impossible to Google answers for? My example would be Labview. Since everything is so visual, it’s awfully hard to think of search terms and get relevant results. Maybe Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator have similar problems?

    Reply
    1. Not Karen

      R.

      Like who thought it was a bright idea to name a computer program with a single letter?? Especially a program used for programming???

      Reply
      1. Lady Kelvin

        The trick to finding information in R is to google what you are trying to do and then put “in R” at the end. I have basically taught myself how to program in R thanks to google. And I have the same problem that my colleagues know this and ask me to do things for them and then laugh when I just google it in front of them. Overall I’ve never had trouble googling problems in R.

        Reply
    2. ThursdaysGeek

      I worked with a program/language/database called INFO. It was in pre-Google days, and now I have no idea how to winnow down the results to find anything about it. It was bizarre enough that I’d like to find some proof of its existence and refresh my memory when trying to explain it to others.

      Reply
    3. Short and Stout

      I learnt LabVIEW by Googling. Yes everything is visual but they all have names that relate 1:1 to functions available in all languages.

      The best source of help I found doing this were the National Instruments’ dedicated forums.

      Reply
  31. FiveWheels

    For the record I love this site and I love all of you.

    I slightly conflated two separate problems. One is simple questions from lots of different people. The other is one particular person who is a stream of ridiculous questions that feel never ending.

    Both are equally problematic, but I feel a lot more sympathetic to the many people who only ask occasionally.

    My action plan is this…

    1 Ask my boss if I can have official permission to tell everyone except partners that I can’t /won’t deal with IT queries.

    2 Enforce “Google/check the server” for queries from The One Particular Problem. For legitimate queries, insist he writes down everything I say and refer him to his notes in future. When he hijacks random passers-by, don’t rescue them from him.

    3 Track the number of distractions on a day to day basis. If the above doesn’t help, present this information together with data on productivity cost of distractions.

    4 Try not to kill anyone.

    Reply
  32. Stranger than fiction

    If it makes you feel any better, here’s a few gems I’ve gotten:
    I pressed the escape button for a coworker who had inadvertently got into full screen mode while viewing a picture and didn’t know how to get back.
    I showed a coworker how to drag emails into another folder and no really you won’t lose them
    I showed another coworker how to search their inbox so they’d stop asking me to forward something I already sent them to a customer

    Reply
      1. DMented Kitty

        *snicker*

        Although if it was *that* kind of picture, he probably would’ve just forced shutdown his computer or turned off the monitor in panic instead of calling someone.

        Reply
  33. Former Retail Manager

    Ironic…this is quite the timely post. I have a co-worker who suggested a roundtable at our monthly meeting, which is tomorrow, to address just these sorts of things that most people know, but a few in our group may have missed. She is the go-to IT person as well and can be inundated with requests when she is in the office, although that’s rarely, by design. She opted to do a very casual roundtable where nothing is too simple or silly to ask. More than likely, someone in the group has dealt with it before and can help. If this isn’t an option for your office, Alison’s suggestions sound great!

    Reply
  34. Irishgal

    I’m kind of the go to person in my work too as I have a good memory and am a fan of Google. In one role it was really difficult as I wanted to help my colleagues as we became more IT driven but we also had to work record every minute and were only counted for “billable hours” and had to work to an appointment system so 10-15 minutes talking a colleague through something could have a significant detrimental impact on my working day. But I also knew the little short cuts I have learned over the years would really help my colleagues who were getting very stressed about timekeeping in their own day. I negotiated 15 minutes at the start of every team meeting where I did a class on a common issue and we set up a shared folder where I could save a guide (with screen shots and arrows!) to these techniques for future reference. It worked well.

    The thing that frustrates me most is when people look at me in wonder and say things like “how do you know that” as if I have a magic osmosis ability for computer skills; they don’t want to hear that I asked an admin 4 jobs back to give me 2 hours of her own time to show me some excel skills (I could not get agreement to go on a course and google was not so good) and paid her with a bunch of flowers and lunch; or that i will often spend an hour of my own time in the evening looking up tips or trying different techniques for something that I know will stand me in good stead in my day to day work and help career progression.

    Reply
  35. NicoleK

    At Old Job, BEC coworker treated me like I was her assistant. She’d asked me to schedule rooms for her at the last minute. She’d request for me to email her the same documents over and over again. I got fed up and told her that I didn’t expect her to remember everything, but I do expect her to find/develop an organization system that worked for her, and I expected her to use it (it’s not that difficult to create folders in Outlook or on her desktop). She replied that she was new and I should be patient with her.

    She continued to request the same information, same materials from me until I left Old Job.

    Reply
  36. MissDisplaced

    I’m not the OP, but I sure feel like I could be. As a COMM and graphics person I get tons of these requests too. Everything from changing slide masters in PPT to uploading a file or sometimes even creating a folder on our intranet. I’m happy to help, but it takes a lot of time away from my many other duties.

    Reply
  37. Ditto to so many of these

    And to think I thought having to show a coworker–twice–how to copy and paste in Excel was bad.

    Reply
  38. Violetta

    I feel you so hard on this!!! I don’t mind doing this type of stuff for my boss, but it’s expanded to coworkers I don’t even work with directly. The other day someone came in and asked me to help him update the index on a word document he’d changed – I was like “Sure, I’ll take a look”, Googled how to do it, did it, then asked myself “Wait, why am I doing this?”

    Reply
  39. animaniactoo

    This is the problem I’m currently trying to dodge. I don’t mind helping out, I don’t mind acting as team lead on all new technologically related things and getting them figured out and then passing on a smooth workflow/explanation for the co-workers in my dept.

    I very much mind our newest IT guy who I helped acclimatize with some of the software stuff that I was more up on than he was, calling me 11th floor IT, and telling people that I am. And campaigning to have me brought down to IT. Fortunately, I’ve been cranky enough about this and I’m a good enough designer, than he’s not being taken seriously and it’s become a joke between us. But I know that it could all too easily morph into not-a-joke and I’m dodging the hell out that.

    Reply
  40. Snork Maiden

    A caution here, as the unofficial IT person it’s nice to get kudos for helping people, but beware the flip side – if anything goes wrong with their computers after you touch them, often you will be to blame. I learned this the hard way.

    Reply
    1. DMented Kitty

      “But Thing B (which is totally unrelated to Thing A) used to be working fine until you fixed Thing A… it’s your fault, fix it!”

      Yup. It’s like computers only have ONE linear component.

      Reply
  41. Dovahkiin

    My mentor gave me pretty good advice on this when it was getting out of control at my workplace, and I was spending over an hour each day helping people with their basic, google-able tech problems.

    Make it a longer process for them to ask you for help on tech than it is for them to teach themselves. Do this in a nice way – if you do this in a really nice way, they’ll be so happy with your “coaching” that they’ll compliment you to your boss.

    You’re basically training them to learn that it is more expedient to figure out how to solve their own problems.

    What I started doing was this, when Coworker would come by and say, “Dovahkiin, I don’t know how to do Thing.” I’d say, “I’d love to teach you, but I’m swamped right now. How about you come back at 4:40 (set a firm deadline, with an exit strategy – lunch/another meeting/whatever) , and we can do it together?” Send them an appointment reminder, so they can’t be like “ooooh I didn’t get to Thing. Can you just do it on my computer?”

    Then at your meeting, instead of showing them how to do Thing. Show them how to look for the answer to do Thing. “Go to Google…blahblahblah.” Once your time is up, tell Coworker you gotta go, but that you’d love to know how they worked it out tomorrow. This puts the problem ball firmly in their court. Again, smile, be nice.

    Rinse. Repeat. It only took me a couple of times of doing this before people got the hint that they could do it faster by googling than setting up an appointment with me at the end of the day. BUT instead of thinking that I was rebuffing them, they were thrilled at having learned a lil bit of tech savvy. A couple of the problem coworkers that used to take up all my time instead sang a bunch of praises to my boss and went around bragging about how good they were at our software.

    Reply
  42. oldiebutgoodie

    I want to take a minute to offer a different perspective and issue a call for some patience and kindness.

    There are still people like me in the workplace who did not grow up with computers. We did not start learning how to interface with them before we could walk. The first time I ever even saw a computer was in graduate school. it was the size of an entire room and I brought some punch cards for data analysis. I had one of the first personal computers in my neighborhood and I got it when I was almost 30 years old. We did not learn anything “online;” we got trained to learn in a traditional classroom setting.

    I believe that our brains are wired differently than a younger person’s brain because of this. Think of it like learning a new language; the younger you learn it the easier it is, Start studying Chinese at age 60 and you will probably not ever become as fluent as you could if you had started at age 2. Brain plasticity decreases with age.

    Don’t automatically assume that somebody who asks questions is “lazy” or ” not interested” in learning. First of all, some of us spent years learning in a person to person environment, by asking questions. We didn’t have online learning. To us, that isn’t lazy; that’s taking initiative to find answers the same way we learned for nearly 20 years in the education system.

    I rate my Microsoft skills at a B+ or better. I usually help others with spreadsheets or advanced outlook functions. I’ve done that by spending lot of hours (ones I find quite boring by the way) watching videos on Lynda.com, Youtube, or looking it up on Google. I’m the person that many others in the office come to when they need help. But I still prefer to learn by asking someone to show me something than by looking it up online. Call me old fashioned–but it’s my learning style.

    Reply
    1. FiveWheels

      It’s not an age issue – I’m the wrong side of 40 and certainly did not grow up learning with computers. I think it’s an issue of courtesy and empathy.

      If I try to find the answer out for something myself, and can’t, and then ask for help, I’m not taking up their time unless I need to. On the other hand if I ask before trying I’m sending the message that my work is so much more important than the other person’s that they should stop their own tasks in order for me to complete mine.

      Reply
      1. Irishgal

        I agree. I certainly didn’t grow up with computers nor did most of my peers but our industry has become moved from paper based to computer/cloud based over the last 10 years and we’ve all had to adjust.

        And with all due respect I think the “brain not hardwired” line is a bit of a cop out excuse. Like any skill it takes effort and resources to learn and I’ve trained myself to Google before I ask and if I can’t work it out I then ask.

        Reply
        1. DMented Kitty

          We have a saying that goes, “if there’s a will, there’s always a way; if there’s a won’t, there’s always excuses.”

          Reply
    2. Lady Kelvin

      I don’t think anyone here is complaining about people who occasionally (and genuinely) need help. The problem with anyone who is known as “tech savvy” is the people who find asking you for help is easier than bothering to learn how to do it yourself. Case in point: One of my office mates asks me how to do every little thing in a stats program we use, without bothering to figure it out herself. Half the time I end up writing her code for her because it takes less time than answering her questions and showing her how to do it. And she’s several years ahead of me in our program, so she should be the expert, not me. However, my other office mate occasionally asks for help by explaining to me what she is trying to do and what she has tried and if I have any other ideas on how to fix her problem. I can generally say “check out this function/package. I think this might be what you are trying to do.” Then she works out her answer on her own, and may ask a few follow-up questions if she is still having trouble. Person number one is a pain to help, but I have no problem helping person number 2. Person number 1 is the person who causes tech savvy people to stop wanting to help anyone.

      Reply
    3. One of the Sarahs

      I don’t mean to pile on, but “I prefer to learn by asking someone to show you” isn’t age-related in any way, and as the OP and other commenters have said, young people do this too.

      The problem is when a person’s preferences aboutasking over googling impact on other people’s work – it’s more akin to wanting to work with music playing out loud/the heat turned up really high/while eating smelly foods in the office than a brain being wired a certain way.

      Reply
  43. Claire

    My office mate left at the end of the year and I have gained so much time. Partly because my new office mate isn’t as chatty (although not silent by any means) but mostly because I am not frequently giving technical help like how to insert a row into a table (she had been a PA for over 20 years – how could she not know).

    Reply
  44. Jim

    Everyone is complaining about program usage questions and all I get is, “Can you take my computer home with you and see if you can fix it?”. To stop people from asking I started to use the one fix for everything….Reinstall windows with total loss of all data. that alone has ended 99% of the request for help. In the last 3 months I have worked on only one computer and she wanted me to reinstall windows.

    Reply

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