I don't know Unix
Mon Aug 23 13:03:47 2004 I don't know
Posted by Tony Lawrence
Search Keys: trouble, problems
Most often "I don't know Unix" comes from a voice at the other
end of the phone. I'm annoyed already, because it's pretty hard to
find my phone number without learning that
I don't want phone calls from non-customers who "have a simple
question". Existing clients, sure, call me anytime. But there had
better be a darn good reason for anyone else to ignore what they
read at that contact info page.
Sometimes there is. Sometimes the person at the other end is an
intelligent person who understands that I'm not here to answer
questions for free and wants to clear up some details about paid
support options. Fine, glad to talk to them. And sometimes they
somehow managed to get my number some other way and again aren't
looking for free help. Fine again.
But then there is that "I don't know Unix". Those words may be
accompanied by "I'm a Windows person", and it may very well be true
that this person is generally intelligent, knows their way around a
computer, and has just managed to avoid any previous exposure to
Unix or Linux. OK, that's reasonable.
But too often "I don't know Unix" is a cop-out excuse for
laziness and sloppy thinking. What they really should be saying is
"I don't know jack about much of anything, I don't know how to ask
an intelligent question, and you are going to have drag answers out
of me every step of the way." These aren't end-users - I expect
that from users. These are support people, often getting paid good
money to fumble around ineffectively.
A computer problem, whether it is Unix, Windows, or TRSDOS,
shares common elements with all other computer problems and with
all problems of any nature. We have a procedure, an expected
result, and the actual result. Those are the three things that
anyone who does repair or troubleshooting needs to know: we don't
want to hear "I can't drive my car", we want "I put the key in the
ignition and turned it. I expected the motor to start, but all I
got was a clicking noise".
(Article continues after the break)
"I don't know Unix" is often the equivalent of someone with a
dead starter saying "I don't know Toyotas". Right, you don't. And
you don't know anything about cars at all. That's fine: there are
lots of things I don't know anything about. But don't tell me "I
don't know Unix" when the reality is that you know next to nothing
about anything computer related and aren't capable of rational
Windows is, of course, partially to blame for this. The point
and click, don't get under the hood mentality makes some people
think they know something ABOUT computers when really all they have
learned is a very little bit about USING Windows. But there is also
a certain type of "support person" who has learned some magic words
(or some magic mouse clicks) and thinks that is what problem
solving is all about. It's the equivalent of computer game cheat
codes - to get by the monster at level three, type RINGOFFIRE. To
add a default route, type "route add default". It's all just magic,
there's no logic, no understanding. For those people, "I don't know
Unix" means "I don't know the magic words I need - tell them to
I don't do magic words. I do analysis and investigation. I don't
expect that customers have the same skills that I do, but I won't
put up with silliness from so-called "support" people: if you know
nothing about cars, don't annoy your mechanic by pretending that
you know something you don't. Don't annoy me with "I don't know
Unix" when Unix isn't the issue. I actually had someone once with a
totally dead system, hard drive wouldn't even spin up, and this
person told me that they didn't know what to do because "I don't
know Unix". That was very hard not to laugh at. Yes, that was a
support person, not an end-user.
You don't know Unix? That's OK, I do. Now, pay careful
attention: what did you do, what did you expect to happen, and what
actually happened? That's what I need to know. Nothing else. If you
are a generally savvy person who really just doesn't know Unix,
that will come out as we go along. If it's really just that you are
used to some other OS, we may even solve this problem together:
with a little help from me, you may see the problem yourself. I've
had that happen plenty of times. It's fun to work with people like
that because they ARE smart and they do understand logic.
Well, not everyone is a good problem solver. That's OK, I'm not
a good musician, not a good basketball player, and so on. But if
you don't have problem solving skills, you shouldn't be in the
support business. Your bumbling just annoys the rest of us.
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