How to get the most out of your geek.

Technology is great until it doesn't work. And because most folks who use technology haven't had the stomach to look under the hood, when things stop working it requires the assistance of someone who knows their way around a computer.

Enter the geek.

Technological cries for help can range in intensity from, 'hey, when you get a chance can you take a look at this?', to 'holy shit, my face is melting!'. And the truth is that when technology goes wrong, because it's function is so central to the process of work and getting things done, it can seem like your face is melting. Here are some tips for the average Joe (no doubt from Ohio) to get the most out of the technologist whose services he requires.

1. Slow down.

When things start going wrong, don't push a million buttons. Don't go into parts of the configuration of different programs when you aren't sure what they do. And if you feel the compulsion to disregard that advise, write down every single step you take and all the changes you make. This is the stage in a problem when folks tend to make things worse. It's an easy mistake to make, but it's an expensive one. Chances are, if you aren't sure what you are doing, you're going to change something that isn't directly related to your current problem, and that invariably will complicate things when you do go get help.

2. Try answering the questions that your geek asks you in as complete a way as possible.

This can seem really frustrating, but it's really important. Computers are methodical. When something goes wrong, giving as much information about what you were doing will enable the person helping you out to diagnose what is happening. Example: Let's say that you can't get onto the internet. Most folks will call and say, "I can't get onto the internet." I could be the most skilled technologist in the world, and would not be able to do anything with this statement. Here is a checklist of questions that should always accompany a cry for technological help:

  1. Think back to the last couple of days. Is there anything out of the ordinary that you did on your computer? Did you install a new program? Did you connect to the internet somewhere different that you usually do? Did you click a link that seemed a little out of the ordinary or that ended up doing something that you didn't expect?
  2. What is the context of what you are doing now? Are you connecting from home on DSL? Are you at a University or a coffee shop? Are you plugged in or are you connecting wirelessly?
  3. What are the steps that you took that ended up not working? Remember that although it will seem tedious and frustrating to catalog this, the more information you can give about this, the better: step by step. I clicked on this icon. This popped up. I clicked on this button, and then a window came up that said get the picture

3. The less excited your geek is, the better off you are.

In human emergencies, the speed with which we attend to things can mean life or death. Computers are not like that. If your computer breaks, it will still be broken in the exact same way whether you tend to it in 5 minutes or in 5 years. Computers also require a certain degree of method. If you freak your geek out, the hazard is she will loose sight of the mental page she was on, and either have to start all over again, or become disoriented When you first call, your geek will likely seem calm. This is a good thing, and you want to do all that you can to keep her calm. She might ask you questions that seem ridiculous. The goal of all the questions is not to insult your intelligence, but instead to go through a process of troubleshooting. Every question is geared at eliminating possibilities. Because she likely does not know you very well, and because even technological superstars overlook the obvious, it is really important that you let her go through the process calmly, and not take offense at the questions.

4. Have fun with your geek.

As with any human interaction, a person with whom you are courteous and kind to will go out of their way to give you more than you came for. In the world of computers, you might have called for one thing. In the process of figuring it out, your geek might have noticed a setting that was off, or that you need more memory, or that you need to defragment your hard-drive. If you are nice, the likelihood that they will go out of their way to hook you up is high. If the interaction with you is frustrating, they will try to solve the issue you are having as soon as possible and then get off the call.