On Helpdesk

Today I am on help desk. It is a little weird. I have not been on front line phone support for many many years.

For the last 5 years I've been the Senior Network Engineer
6 years ago I was Network Engineer
8 years ago I was Junior Engineer
10 years ago I was a helpdesk tech for an ISP

So when I got the e-mail that most of the helpdesk would be out this week, I cried. But just a little, so I could pass it off as allergies in case anyone should happen upon me in my office cave. I popped a Benadryl, filled up my Cisco coffee mug and dawned my helpdesk headset. It's sure to get interesting as I've decided to adopt a hard line with the callers today.

"Helpdesk, this is Peter"
"This is Peter"
"Is Chris there?"
"He's on vacation all week"
"Well...Is Christine there?"
"Nope. She's out too."
"How about Craig?"
"He has Mondays off."
"Can I help you?"
"Maybe I'll call back later."
"Sounds good."

What she doesn't realize is when she calls back, it will still be me. Actually the network team is manning helpdesk this week. Me, my manager and another network tech. Three network people responsible for your printer queues and application errors. For the record, network guys don't do spreadsheets.

"Helpdesk, this is Peter"
"I have a problem with Excel."
"Call back and hope you get my manager, otherwise Google is your friend."
"Sorry, for the substandard support but it's time you learned to use your applications help index anyway."

Reset passwords? Yea... that gets old pretty fast.

"Helpdesk, this is Peter"
"I need a password reset"
"No problem. I reset your password to 'cthulhu.'"
"excuse me?"

I have had some normal calls. Spyware, broken mouse, errors in M$ Office. I actually had one person call me because she couldn't open a picture file.

"Helpdesk, this is Peter"
"I can't open a jpg."
"Seriously, we're very busy here."
"It's work related!"
"Okay...Umm, is that you holding a .22?"
"No. It's a BB gun."

So that pretty much sums up the rest of my week. Oh crap. I hear the phone ringing...

"Helpdesk, this is Peter..."


Tony said...

I am very, very fortunate to have never had to work helldesk. Trying to troubleshoot a computer problem over the phone is a ludicrous idea.

Unfortunately, I'm the guy the helldesk sends over when they can't figure out the problem. Something like this: "User complained smoke coming out of computer. Tried resetting local profile, did not help. Ticket forwarded to local support."

"I have a problem with Excel."
"Call back and hope you get my manager, otherwise Google is your friend."

By the gods of computing do I ever want to do that! Look, people, the last time I had any reason to use Office products was when I was in school. I really have no clue how the damn programs work anymore, to be perfectly honest. Fortunately, most of the time the solution to the users problem is very simple. The scariest part is that these people are routinely awed by my arcane and mysterious ability to look through the menu selections and select the one that looks good... Especially since said people all have much higher decrees than mine and a much bigger salary as well.

Tony said...

...Why do I ever only catch my typos right after I click "publish"?

kludge said...


"User complained smoke coming out of computer. Tried resetting local profile, did not help. Ticket forwarded to local support."


Seriously though. I helped this woman figure out how to "unhide" excel rows. First Google return had the solution. Come on! It's not worth two seconds of your time!?

Tony said...

That ticket, of course, was an exaggeration. But a few war stories from the front lines which are true:

One user had occasion to install some piece of software with their own user account. (Please don't ask me why, it's been a few years and the whole situation was a complex one.) The install had quite a few steps, and not all of them immediately intuitive - it was not just a straightforward "next, next, next..." Fortunately, the software came with very good step-by-step instructions. Do note that I had no prior knowledge of this special software whatsoever. Still, the user wanted me present. The way it ended up was that I would read the instructions, the user would ask me what they should do, and I would suggest following instructions. Thus:

Me: "Okay, this says you should get a message box and you should click 'OK'."
User: "Um, something happened. There's this box on the screen. What should I do?"
Me: "Umm... Click OK?"

At the end, the user was awed and amazed at my amazing skills. And I do mean utterly stunned by my feat of skills. This person just could not understand how anyone could know how to do all that. And all I did was read step-by-step instructions (that this person knew full well existed, having read at least part of it themselves) from a sheet of paper. Since this particular person had a university degree (Ha! I got it right for once. :p ) I assume this person knew how to read...

In one place, the computers were set to display the user name that last logged in the computer in the login screen. Naturally us support people soon learned to clear that particular piece of data from the registry every time we logged into a computer - otherwise the user would simply keep trying with their password until the account locked out. Our account, that is. This is not a good thing, as you can imagine, hence the clearing of the registry key.

Well, one particular user got really aggravated about this. She was very angry as she told me that she can't be expected to remember her account name. When I pointed out that her account name is based on her own name (x letters from surname, y letters from given name) she actually screamed from the top of her lungs: "How the hell am I supposed to remember my own name?!?"

She was rather quiet and co-operative after that.

Then of course, there was a guy who received a spam message with his own e-mail address faked as the sending address. Despite having several people try to explain things to him, he ended up calling the National Criminal Police (equivalent to your FBI) on the matter... Apparently, last I heard the police told him they were "looking into the matter". (You'd imagine the cops, if anyone, would have the ability to point out that someone is being an idiot? Guess not?)

What I am trying in my very roundabout way to say is: Not all of these people are capable of doing even the most rudimentary problem solving (like a Google search). Others, of course, suffer from a mere attitude problem - either they truly believe everything that has something to do with computers must be inordinately difficult, and refuse to change their mind even in the face of overwhelming evidence, or they are suffering from notmyjobtitis.

ViperMan2000 said...

Do you ever use the description "PEBKAC"?


Makolyte said...

I know how crappy doing support is. When not enough people are in the office i have to do it...boo!

While that sucks, i do like doing the elevated cases where I get to work with a competent IT person from the other company. No "special gloves" required then :D

You ever have to do elevated cases?

kludge said...


That one wasn't in vogue 10 years ago. We used ID-10-T frequently. And error 18 (18 inches from monitor to user)

I seriously had the power cord not plugged in call. Seriously.

kludge said...


When I worked at the ISP I would frequently get to chat with network engineers from Verizon, Pacbell what have you.

It's nice to have someone who speaks your language.

Dorian Gray said...

As an IT support department at times we got so pissed by people asking us stupid questions that we would tell them that Google was their friend. If they refused to search for it, we would ignore their calls, or if someone was crazy enough to answer the phone, we'd just reiterate that we'd already told them to search for it. Amazingly, the number of calls from certain departments dropped dramatically after that.

We've had people come in and ask why their machines weren't working during a power cut. No lights, no working kettle, and still they want their computer to work.

Once had a woman who didn't know what the power button on the front of the machine was for. I don't know how she'd managed to stick out her job for so many years.

Used to also get the whole "I'll call again later when someone else is back..." thing, but that was actually because people thought that, as I'm a woman, I was a secretary and couldn't possibly know a single thing about fixing a problem with a computer. It really stuck in my craw when I turned up and they said "YOU'RE SUPPORT?!"

I'm so glad I don't work the helpdesk anymore. I do love the graphic in this post! :D