Good Will, Coffee, Help Desks and Software.

Scott StultsOctober 9, 2009

There is a true story behind this odd ensemble of a title. I remember it like it was yesterday. In fact, it was yesterday…

The Story

I was packing up my laptop when I was abruptly cornered by an energetic fellow. He rattled off his problem in such a degree I could only process bit and pieces of his story. He had spent 9 hours working with a software vendor who-must-not-be-named for credit card processors. They had gotten no where. The first question screaming in my mind was why I being singled out to help him with a computer problem? I hide my geekness very well. I strive to to prevent the typical questions like: will you fix my computer, vcr, dvd player, etc? Will you build me a website? Teach me HTML, please? People fail to realize the differences between developers and IT. They also fail to see the different roles and specialization of certain knowledge for various parts of software development. Touching a computer makes you liable for scape-goat-itis to consumers. Not only that, people have a bad habit of donning you to become their free tech support [expletive deleted], whether you want it or not. I turned around to see a co-worker, that I now call Brutus, paying for coffee at the counter. Having this flaw called empathy, I caved to energetic man in red. I agreed to look at the program and see what I could do. Surprising the daunted man in red and the owner of this awesome local coffee house in the downtown mall of Charlottesville: I fixed the issue in about 3 minutes. I’ve never seen the software before. The help desk and the developers of the software who connected remotely could not fix it. Why could I? *And no, I’m not super-developer-guy in skin tight and equally frightening spandex.

The Real Problem

The first part of the problem of is because many software vendors use a broken system. The help desk personnel reads scripted dialog, they don’t know the ins an outs of the software. Some of help desk personnel at various companies even refuse to take initiative to go past the script. Even if its simple as searching google, they won’t do it. Software developers are seldom familiar with the nuances of the operating system or system environments. They are paid to develop software, not administrate or navigate all the pitfalls of minor differences in environment. Thats why testing software and working *with IT staff, users, clients, and people who know the business is so important. Its important to have people who specialize in different aspects, like the desktop environment, performance and usability testing. The attitude and mindset of the developers you hire is also important. If they stamp it “well it works on my machine” or “it the users fault”, its going to hurt your business and even hurt your clients/users. The other major issue was that the developers did not take the time to really analyze the error message. Instead they chased Alice down the rabbit hole, rather than simply listening.

The Solution.

I used the tech support cheat sheet that most of us savvy developers use to fix family computers and other things. Taking the key parts of the error message, I put them into google. I glanced over a couple of posts. I saw a feasible issue. I verified the issue. The program was being started in a compatibility mode for windows 2000 on windows XP. I tweaked the folder settings so the compatibility mode was showing. Changed the compatibility mode. Restarted the application. They were now on their way. So the solution was really listening to the problem and resolving to fix it.

The Story. Second Act.

It was an inconvenience to me. Helping people generally is. But I’ve lost hours of life to soul-sucking computers and software issues. I know pain and thy name is crappy software. Besides with only a few minutes of my time, I was able to save a few people hours of pain and possible even a few premature grey hairs. It was a good feeling to help someone and not deal with scape-goat-itis. The man in red was certainly gracious. The store owner was kind to present me a token. A gift certificate for coffee. I really did not want anything, but its also rude to refuse a gift. It was kind of him. With a few minutes of my time, I was able to help a local business owner and the man in red. The man in red, turned out to be a recent veteran, who was in business of credit card processors. It always cool to be able to help someone who served for this country. They work hard and almost never expect anything in return. They deserve much more than they ever receive. They never complain about it. Its humbling. Even during lunch at a near by restaurant, the man in red came by to thank me again. Then voiced his disheartening opinion of the software that was just installed. I have a sneaking suspicion that the man in red, won’t be using that particular brand of software again anytime soon.

Things to ponder

If you are using consultants, hiring software developers, or buying software; the question you should ask is who are you actually doing business with? How much is your time worth? Are they honest and transparent? Do they cost more because of quality or support they provide, or because they are a brand name?

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