Tech Support Suckers

(C) 2009 Hank Wallace

RRRRrrrriiiinnnngggg…. (Editor’s Note: That’s the sound that telephones used to make.)


“Hi, Hank. This is Fred. Look, I’m having a problem with my PC. When I start Microsoft Word, it displays this little box that says ‘Microsoft Word has a problem and has to close’, and it displays this number, 2934-234AB-59398FAB3-34099FCD93. Can you come over and fix this for me?”

Has this happened to you? A little gratis tech support begged by a poor Microsoft user who has no clue how to use the computer, much less how to fix it?

This happens to me all the time. A friend is given an old 100MHz computer, and he wants to upgrade it to Vista. A charitable organization comes into ten PC’s of various types, and they need to get them all working and synced up. A grandma cannot see all of the huge pictures of the grandkids sent by her daughter, the daughter having no idea how to size down an eight megapixel image of an infant. A friend has a scanner driver that locks up the computer.

You’ve been there. First-call tech support. Your number is in their speed dialer. Isn’t that fun? And you, the sympathetic geek, who serves humanity by geeking, don’t have the heart to say no.

But there is an economic side effect to your charity. Microsoft, Dell, HP/Compaq, Lenovo/IBM, and all the other purveyors of PC trash are counting on you to exercise your geek gene and fix those problems. They provide tech support for only a few weeks after a system is shipped, perhaps a little longer, but they charge exorbitantly, either in cash or in ridiculous wait times to talk with someone who barely speaks your language, and who is obviously reading from a script with no idea what the problem or solution might be.

The PC vendors understand full well that in every office and family there is an antisocial, thick-lensed male who will fix any PC any time because that’s his main source of human interaction. The vendors know that you are required to fix your parents’ and mother-in-law’s computer. And if you attend church or volunteer at a charitable organization, you simply cannot refuse their calls, for fear of Hell Fire.

The PC vendors also know that you have ten times the troubleshooting skills of their dial-a-geeks in India, and they are depending on you to get the job done, at NO CHARGE to them.

So, there you sit, starting at a Windows ME crash dump screen, with no debugger, poor diagnostic facilities, and nothing more than a lousy registry viewer to determine why granny’s pictures are crashing her printer, while granny watches loud Wheel of Fortune reruns six feet away. If this is the pinnacle of life on earth…

Then there’s the touch it, own it phenomenon. If you touch that PC once, you OWN that junk! I installed a video card for a friend. Two weeks later, her AOL connection died. It just HAD to be what I did to install the video card — there is not anything else in the universe that could have caused AOL to cease providing their stream of quality, intellectual content!

Fellow geeks, there’s only one way we will break this cycle. We must terminate our free PC support to family and friends. Only when Microsoft, Dell and HP are forced to field 10 calls a week from granny will their rising support costs force them to fix their trashy and poorly designed hardware, operating systems, and applications. Until then, if you and I are supporting their junk for free, they will continue to ship junk, and you and I will pay the price.

To that end, I have created a PDF form, Certificate of Completion of Tech Support Service and Release from Active Duty. Print it out, sign it, and post it in your cubicle or on your Facebook page. It will let Microsoft victims know that the free ride is over, and they will just have to get to know and love tech support ‘engineer’, ‘Steve’ (from Bangalore).


Author Biography

Hank Wallace is the owner of Atlantic Quality Design, Inc., a consulting firm located in Fincastle, Virginia. He has experience in many areas of embedded software and hardware development, and system design. See for more information.