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Last week, we talked to you IT professionals in our audience about how to keep your users from asking stupid questions. If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, I’ll summarize its main point here:
At its root, no question is truly stupid. A question is most often perceived as “stupid” because the person doing the asking may not be well versed enough in the technical vernacular to communicate their problem effectively. As the expert, your biggest challenge is in translating what that problem is from whatever sparse information you’re given in order to arrive at a satisfactory solution.
Upon discovery, sometimes these solutions turn out to be laughably simple for both parties. As BK writes:
I am an IT trainer, so I get asked IT-related questions every day, of course. It’s my job. I’ll often get good questions — some that I even need to research further for the client using my Global Professional IT Database (aka Google). More often, however, I get asked questions for which there is a very simple solution.
The following question I was asked about two weeks ago is a good example for this competition as it relates to a Canon printer! The attached picture is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll set the stage: the client was trying to print to her new Canon printer, but couldn’t find it in the list of printers; all it had was the old printer and some other options she didn’t recognize (XPS Document Writer and OneNote 2013). The solution was embarrassingly simple, but she was so grateful for my help!
“But, but…” I can hear you saying right now, “you have no idea how stupid the questions I get every day can be! I mean, these people are dumber than a bucket of cement!”
It might be helpful to remind ourselves that, no matter how expert we may be, even years of experience can’t always overcome our own occasional lapses. Here’s a real-life example from community member NF:
I used to work on pre-Wincheser disk drives made by Pertec. These 20 MB (yes 20 MB!) drives had 4 x 5 MB platters and each was about the size of a vinyl LP; the read/write heads were about the size of a penny. The units fitted a 19-inch rack, and you wouldn’t want to lift one unaided more than once…
They needed regular preventative maintenance and, on one visit, I’d done pretty much all the work; the lid was open, so all the innards were exposed. I was on the phone with a girl and I took a bite of a hot salt beef sandwich; a gobbet of fat slipped out of the sandwich and landed squarely on the top platter that was spinning at 4300 RPM. Grease splattered everywhere!
“Sorry, I’ve gotta go…” and I hung up. Then I used about a gallon of isopropyl alcohol to clean the drive unit. It took a couple of hours, and I used the stalwart standby of it being a “sector phase lock loop problem” by way of explanation to the customer.
Sure, accidents will happen — even to the best of us. But what precautions can we take to avoid irredeemable consequences when things go awry? Education is a big part of the process — maybe even the most important part. Those stupid questions we mentioned above? Many can be avoided if we prepare the employees, clients, and other users we encounter every day with a foundation of basic knowledge.
Here are five ways to educate users in IT — very simple principles to instill in everyone who relies on you to dispense advice about anything “technical.”:
A Secret Password is a Safe(r) Password
If you’re a Lord of the Rings
dork aficionado like me, you’ll remember the part when Gandalf discovers that Frodo is in possession of The One Ring that could be instrumental in plunging Middle Earth into darkness. He tells Frodo to “keep it secret; keep it safe.”
Passwords are a lot like that. And even if the Lord of the Rings reference goes over your head, you likely understand that the key to a shared network’s downfall may well lie in just one unsecured password being leaked to one nefarious evildoer.
Passwords are not to be shared with anybody — not even if some intriguing stranger offers you a candy bar on the street in exchange. Yes, this has happened before. (And, yes, the candy bar was delicious — but it still wasn’t worth its taste in hassle!)
Be Careful Where You Click
The introduction of adware, viruses, browser hijackers, and other malware to your system can be as easy as one wrong click on one mischievously placed link. This link could be in an email, on a website, or even a compromised friend’s Facebook status.
No matter how many safeguards are in place on a network, the “bad guys” always seem to be one step ahead of our best efforts to keep the system jerk-proof.
Honestly, there’s no 100% assurance that any link you click is going to take you to a safe place, but big clues usually present themselves. Always pay attention to the context of how a link is placed. If the message surrounding it seems out of character for the person sending it your way, there’s a good chance that their account’s been compromised. If there’s any doubt, don’t click the provided link.
Not even if it promises to reveal who’s peeked at your Facebook profile this week or shows you a long-forgotten photo from your past that you just won’t believe.
Skip to the end and just don’t believe it.
Beware of Phoning Phonies
Here’s a big scam that’s hit the phone lines in recent years. A fake tech support “specialist” will call an unsuspecting user — sometimes claiming to be from Microsoft or a popular OEM — under the pretense of following up on an alert that the user’s computer has been infected with a virus or is otherwise compromised.
This scam artist will then offer to fix the nonexistent problem by leading the confused user through a series of instructions that will actually give the scammer access to that user’s computer — thus paving the way to cause the very problems that the user has been cautioned against.
The reason this scam is so popular? People fall for it — a lot.
If someone calls you and you’ve never spoken with them before, do not trust them without further authentication factors in place — especially if they’re asking you for information.
Don’t Do the Monster Mash
If something goes wrong, don’t start blindly mashing buttons in hopes that you’re going to hit the exact right combination that will magically make everything better. This has about the same result as hitting your engine with a hammer when your car won’t start.
It isn’t a good result, and it’ll cause more problems than it will solve. Stop what you’re doing and call your friendly neighborhood IT professional — even if you think you’re running the risk of asking a stupid question (see above)!
Different Systems Have Different Problems/Solutions
Just because something works for you at home doesn’t mean it’ll work the same way for you at the office — even if you’re using what looks to be the same operating system on your home computer as the one you use at your workplace.
Why not? Well, one reason is that there could very well be software that’s been installed by your company’s IT department meant to keep that system and its overall network secure.
Before resorting to the aforementioned Monster Mash method of problem solving/exacerbation, consult with your resident IT professional. Even though they might have slighted you in the past for asking “stupid” questions, maybe they’ll take pause to be grateful that you’re trying to solve a problem now before turning it into an even bigger one!