How to become the local Computer Guy

You know what really kills me? When people assume that I actually went to school to learn how to remove spyware from their fucking computer. An average person seems to have absolutely no clue what can you possibly need to learn to attain a Computer Science degree. It’s just irritating to constantly have to explain to people that no, I did not learn this stuff at school. At school I learned about algorithmic complexity, programing language theory, creating compilers, operating systems, parallel processing, writing mathematical proofs for your code, software engineering principles, relational algebra and all that fun stuff. None of the stuff I’m helping you with has anything to do with my formal education. It’s not something fun, interesting, worthwhile or educational for me. I’m fixing your computer because I’m a nice guy, and probably because I either like you, or pity you a little bit. And mostly because I do have some IT background so I can’t really say I don’t know anything about this stuff.

Seriously, general computer maintenance stuff people ask me to do for them on a daily basis is really not rocket science. It’s not something you learn in school, or something you have to be trained for. The only thing you need is a little bit of critical thinking and an internet connection.

In fact, let me tell you a little secret. I will show you exactly how we “computer guru’s” do our stuff. I will actually make you into one of us, in 4 easy steps. Ready? Sit down, buckle up and write this down:

Step 1: Identify a Symptom

This is the first and most important step. A lot of people get this wrong, so pay attention. Note that I said “a symptom”. Not the symptom, not the problem – just a symptom. If there are several, pick the most annoying one.

If your symptom is an error message copy and paste it onto something, or write it down on a piece of paper. The whole thing. Not half of it, not just the heading – everything!

Also (and this is crucial) write down when does this symptom occur. What was the last thing you did before you saw it. Does it happen every time you start your computer? Does it pop up when you run a certain program? Try to replicate it if possible. There will almost always be something that happens just prior to the occurrence of the symptom and there is almost always a pattern to it. That said some issues may be weird and intermittent so don’t loose sleep over it.

Step 2: Type it into Google

Yep! That’s what we do. We just take all that information we collected, trim it down a little bit and then paste it into the Google search box. For example, you could do something like this:

Error 12345 when logging into Windows

Obviously you want to be specific enough but keep the number of keywords low. If you flood Google with too many words, you will likely get a lot of garbage mixed in with the relevant results.

Step 3: Read Suggestions and Follow Instructions

This is where the critical part comes in. You have to sift through the Google results and see if any of them contains a description of a problem similar to yours. Forums, blogs and mailing lists are your best bets. If you find a post that describes a similar symptom read it, and try following the workaround/fix/removal instructions.

If you can’t find anything relevant to your issue, revise your search query or pick a different symptom. Rinse, repeat.

That’s it kids! That’s all we do. Granted, some of us have more experience at it than the others. These days I can diagnose and resolve a lot of problems without the help of the mighty Google. But that comes with experience. I got mine working in the IT field, but when I started Google was my best and dearest friend. It still is. Most of the stuff I know comes not from books, training or courses but from online research and trial+error troubleshooting. Do this type of light IT work (computer maintenance and etc..) for a few months and you will not only learn a lot about your chosen operating system, it’s quirks, common issues and best maintenance practices – you will also start to resent the whiny little bastards who can’t google shit for themselves.

Asking a person with a computer science degree to fix your desktop is like asking a hydraulic engineer to fix your leaking sink. It’s like asking an automotive engineer to change the oil in your car. It’s like asking a graphical designer to paint your bedroom wall. It’s like asking zoologist to walk your dog while you are at work. Does that make sense?

So keep that in mind next time you approach a “computer guy” for help. Chances are they will be willing to help, but will likely resort to the method above since it almost always gives good results and makes them look like heroes. Some of us do have some IT experience and might be more willing to help. Others however may even feel a bit insulted.

Also, here is a question for the comments: have you ever offered to help someone you were attracted to with his/her annoying, difficult to fix, tedious and boring computer issue hoping it will improve your chances with that person, despite knowing full well that it wont? Bonus points if it actually worked.

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13 Responses to How to become the local Computer Guy

  1. Anna Lear CANADA Google Chrome Windows says:

    XKCD presented the troubleshooting workflow in flowchart form:

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  2. Faemir UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Linux says:

    You just put into words what I wish I could say to everyone.

    My problem is that i’m too kind – I end up fixing everyone’s pc, only to remember each time when I arrive how awful it is doing so.

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  3. In college one of my electrical engineering professors told us about some new neighbors of his that just moved in. When he first met them he had mentioned that he was an electrical engineer. The following day they brought over their broken TV and asked him if he could fix it, assuming, him being an electrical engineer, he knew how. I bet many other professions, like doctors, have similar stories.

    My first couple years of college I was my dorm floor’s “computer guy”, since it was usually the pretty girls on my floor asking me for help (I even ended up marrying one of them). How could I say no to that? I was in computer engineering, so it was assumed I knew what I was doing. I haven’t been the “computer guy” since because I’ve embraced that whole “teach a man to fish” thing. Plus I don’t really care for dealing with Windows’ crap.

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  4. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Although I like tinkering with computers and fixing other people’s problems, I’ve never become the local computer guy. People usually ask me once but not twice. Maybe it’s because I try to explain what the problem is and how it could have been prevented/fixed, which can take a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the people I helped secretly couldn’t stop thinking “Shut up and fix it, I don’t care as long as it works!”. Maybe I just work magic and actually make computers impervious to future troubles :).

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Chris Wellons:

    Yeah, I’ve been trying to do the whole “teach a man to fish” thing but most people just don’t want to learn. They are like “why should I learn to fish, if I know a fisherman’. :P

    @ Zel:

    Oh, I usually get the “hey, can I drop off the computer at your house today and then pick it up tomorrow?” thing. Or this:

    “Dude, you are a life saver. I owe you a big one for doing this. Really, you’re the man. Listen, I’ll just go watch some TV while you work so call me if you need anything.”

    I have yet to find a way to explain to people how not to get spyware on their machines. Every single person who gets infected by something nasty will swear up and down that they didn’t download anything, didn’t go to any shady websites, didn’t try to install any new software, didn’t click on any links and the only website they visited in the last 8 months was facebook. And if I find evidence that this is not true, they claim that the virus must have installed that software, or access that website.

    The point is, that clueful people won’t actually ask me for computer help. They ask me for advice, and I’m happy to give it. Or they sit with me, show me what they did, and we try to figure this out together. That I don’t mind. This post was not about these people. It was about the people who have no clue, because they don’t want to have it. :)

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  6. mikev80 UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    @ Luke Maciak:

    …and there are others out there who could do step 1 and 2, but does not follow through on step 3. they will google a problem, click the first link, and just do whatever someone else does without critically thinkin and analyzing to see if the solution applies to their scenarios….often times leading to a whole host of other problems and escalating it to you.

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  7. @Anna: I was about to post the same link! You beat me to it!

    @Luke: As much as I hate doing local neighborhood/family computer work, I always get a kick out of running an ipconfig /all and having the user go “Whoaaaa, that’s so complex and technical! How did you learn how to do all that stuff?” To which I almost invariably reply: “It’s actually magic, I went to wizardry school.”

    Also, at least you got somewhat of an education in a computer related field in college. I was an MIS major, which meant I learned diddly-squat about IT and/or computing.

    My favorite IT repair story was when I was for an older lady (the elderly are my specialty when it comes to IT; it takes a whole different skillset to help that demographic). I had to download a driver off a manufacturing website. When I opened the website, there was some embedded flash video advertisement playing with someone talking. The lady flipped and kept asking how that man was talking to us. Priceless.

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  8. freelancer SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Took the words right out of my mouth. I’m seriously considering translating this and giving it to whomever asks me for help in the future.

    Regarding helping someone I’m attracted to… Yes, I’ve done that. And no, it didn’t work :P

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  9. SapientIdiot UNITED STATES Mozilla Linux Terminalist says:

    In regards to helping some one i was attracted to, I have to say it actually worked for me.

    I met up with an old high school crush through som mutual friends, and ended up hearing about her computer issues. I offered of course to help her out. For whatever reason she decided to drop her desktop off at my place (i think because she still lived with her parents). I installed Linux on it which worked fine. The original problem was someone else had attempted to install XP, but lacked drivers and basic computer skills.

    After a few days, her computer was still at my place, and so was she most of the time. A few months later we both decided to pffically move in together and we’ve been together for about 2 years now.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ SapientIdiot:

    Dude… I think you are the first man in the history of the universe who won over his high school crush by installing Linux on her computer. I think there should be some sort of an award for that!

    @ freelancer:

    Feel free to translate. :)

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  11. Pingback: So.. Your Comp’s got a problem? | SimplyFy WordPress

  12. Lily UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’ve been the ‘computer girl’ for most of my family since my dad became such a Microsoft fanboy and lost his skills with anything newer than XP (still not sure what happened…) Most of my friends are nerds, so they don’t need help, but occasionally someone will come up to me panicking because “Some weird message came up!” Then I have to fix it, and it never ceases to amaze me how many viruses and how much spyware they can have…seriously, shouldn’t a computer just give up and die once you reach 50 of these things running at once? And yeah, they deny that they’ve downloaded anything dodgy – it generally turns out that some cute cursor or screensaver or something is malware in disguise, but of course they refuse to believe that and promptly reinstall it as soon as I’m gone. :roll: Some people never learn.

    As for people I’m attracted to, I think you’re very lucky if it’s ever got you anywhere. Most guys I’ve met don’t tend to like being corrected or helped by girls, especially when they’re trying to impress her with their leet computer skills…

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  13. DreadKingSaucer Google Chrome Windows says:

    I just became the local computer guy of my little apartment complex. I live with a lot elderly on disability, and they all started asking about boot-leg DVDs, so I obliged. I had experience with making that sorta thing, so I figured Id make a little cash off it. I made a little money, taught my neighbor burn DVDs, and got him a Demonoid account. He got a virus, I fixed it doing what the Dude said up above, using Google and all that, and BAM! Now they wanna pay me 40 bucks a computer to re-install XP on old Dells,. Its easy, its great. Im enjoying it. And Im making beer money. Google = Tech Savy. I Wayne’s World “Im Not Worthy! Im Not Worthy” to everyone who knows how to write code and all that. You are my heroes. Google is my tool. I am…..the Computer Guy.

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