Anyone who works in an office has probably sent their fair share of emails to the Help Desk. But where do those emails go? How does your office IT person decide whose problem is worth addressing first? And why, oh why can’t they display a shred of urgency about your sticky E key?
We talked to a few IT pros about what the view’s like from behind the Help Desk.
1. THEY KNOW YOUR PASSWORDS.
Not because they can access them, but because you’ve made them painfully obvious. “You don’t know how many people who, if they’re not forced to, won’t change their password from the default 1234,” says Laurie, an IT worker for 15 years in New York. “There are still so many people that use combos of birthdays, their kids’ names, but they’re just really easy to crack.”
And they’ve found passwords written down in the strangest places, including on crumpled up pieces of paper hidden in the furniture, Laurie says.
“One guy had taped to the back of his mousepad a list of probably 20 different usernames and passwords for websites he was using for personal reasons,” says Mark Z, a tech support employee in Indiana.
It’s no wonder humans are the cause of more than half of all computer security breaches.
2. RESTART, RESTART, RESTART.
If you want to do your IT department a favor, turn your computer off and on again before you even think about calling them. Despite being a cliche, a good reboot really does fix a lot of problems. “At least 50% of my job is restarting things,” says Lewis, who has worked in IT for three years. “Whether it be the entire PC or closing the browser. A lot of times I'll say, ‘let's start with closing the browser,’ and they'll say, ‘I DID THAT, SEE?’ and I'll say, ‘Ok cool, that's the right idea. That's actually just one tab though, so let's close the whole browser.’ And then it'll work.”
3. THE ISSUE YOU'RE HAVING IS PROBABLY YOUR FAULT.
“At least half of all incoming help tickets can be chalked up to human error,” says Cris, an IT worker for six years, “and at least half of all IT work is just trying to interpret the help requests of people who don't natively speak ‘computer.’”
You’ll know if your IT person doesn’t think you get computers when they start using metaphors to explain things to you. “Take networking, for example,” says Keith, who works in IT in Oklahoma. “People who don't understand how NAT (Network Address Translation) works get an explanation of how they can have a four wheeler or a dirt-bike and they can ride all around their house. Upside down, sideways, slantways, etc., but can't take it on the freeway legally without putting it on a trailer first.”
4. THE BOSS IS OFTEN THE WORST OFFENDER.
“Discovering how little people who were running the company understood the technology they were using was surprising,” says Michael who worked in IT for an advertising agency for two years. “People who made seven or eight times what I was making and had been in the industry for many years didn’t know how to reset their password or check their voicemail. There was a point where these people had everything done for them and they stopped learning about the technology.”
Still, when it comes to the boss' computer, no request is too big. “The president of the company I worked at had his laptop run over by a semi-truck,” Mark says. “But we got his data back.”
5. THEY WISH YOU'D STICK UP FOR THEM.
If your office IT department is made up of just one person and your issues take forever to get resolved, it’s probably because he or she is exhausted and overworked. In that case, it’s in everyone’s best interest to petition to get the lone employee some help. “A lot of organizations want the IT department to be as lean as humanly possible so overhead is low,” says Tom Bridge, an IT expert in Washington, D.C., “but nothing is worse than a burned-out IT person. They make mistakes and that’s where systems fall apart.”
6. THERE ARE TRICKS YOU CAN USE TO GET YOUR TICKET TO THE TOP.
It’s all about making a case for why your problem should become their priority. “Tell me why I need to stop what I’m doing right now and fix your problem,” says Bridge. “Mention deadlines. Mention who you’re working for. If you’re working on a project for CEO with a 5 p.m. deadline, that’s clearly more important than something else. But be honest.”
Also, be descriptive. Simply complaining that something isn’t working is a quick way to get ignored. “Include as much information as possible,” says Laurie. What steps have you taken so far to fix the problem? Have you rebooted? What browser are you using? “The more info you give me, the faster I can help you,” she says.
7. PRINTER PROBLEMS GET IGNORED.
“Pretty much anything to do with printers” goes right to the bottom of the to-do list, according to Keith. Not just because it’s boring, but because it’s such an easy fix and they don’t like embarrassing people who couldn’t figure it out for themselves. “The very simple stuff … the kind of issues that make people feel really stupid when you finish it. We just got a part-time PC tech. He gets those tickets.”
8. A LITTLE KINDNESS GOES A LONG WAY.
You should be nice to your IT team, because it’s the right thing to do. But also because they’ll always prioritize a ticket for someone they like. When it comes to grumpy coworkers, Laurie says she tries not to be vengeful but admits they “might get put further down on the list of things I have to accomplish that day.”
Sometimes they’ll take bribes. Mark recalls a previous job where his boss’ attention could be bought with a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. “Candy’s the way to my heart,” he says. If you’re mean, “I’m not gonna erase your files or infect you with a virus but you might also just have to deal with your broken computer for a day or two.”
Adds Bridge, “What it comes down to is treat your IT guy like a person.”
9. THEY KNOW WHEN YOU'RE LYING.
When you drop your phone down a flight of stairs for the third time or spill coffee on your keyboard, it can be tempting to stretch the truth or blame it on the kids. But “a good IT guy isn’t judging you,” says Bridge. “They just wanna fix your problem. We don’t care how you got into that predicament.”
The sooner you come clean, the faster they can help. Also, they’ve probably seen worse. “I've seen pretty much every variety of food and beverage spilled on laptop keyboards, including tea, coffee, a fruit smoothie, and corned beef and cabbage,” says Cris. And Laurie says she once found Fruit Leather stuck in a computer’s CD drive.
“We once had somebody say, ‘My computer died. I don’t know what happened,’” says Mark, “and you could smell the vanilla latte in the keyboard. It was fragrant.”
10. THEY SUGGEST YOU STOP WATCHING PORN AT WORK.
In 2010, the Nielsen company found that roughly 21 million Americans access porn sites on their work computers each month. The IT department knows this better than anyone.
“If there’s one thing I could just pass along, it’s that your IT guy knows more about your porn habits than your spouse does,” says Bridge. It’s their job to be on the lookout for questionable sites or downloads that could lead to a virus or external attack on the company’s server. “Not every company does this but a lot of the smart ones do. It’s not that we want to know, but it’s our job.”
11. YES, THEY CAN READ YOUR EMAIL. NO, THEY DON'T WANT TO.
A good rule of thumb is to assume anything you do on your work computer can be read by someone else. “We don’t want to read your history,” says Bridge. “We probably can if we’re asked to by management. But seriously, do you think we have time to read your email?”
12. THEY'RE PROBABLY GOOGLING THE ANSWERS.
“I have heard the phrase, ‘the best place to hide a body is the second page of Google because no one will look there,’” says Keith. “If that's the case, we would be solving a lot of murder cases. I think I might have made it to the 35th page of a Google search before I gave up. The trick is to pull various sources of information together to gain a better understanding of what the actual problem is.”
According to Mark, a favorite joke in the IT world is “the reason the IT guy knows more about computers than you is because he’s better at Google than you are.”
All photos courtesy of iStock unless otherwise noted