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".
"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 thinking.
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 me!".
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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More Articles by Tony Lawrence © 2012-06-15 Tony Lawrence
The difference between theory and practice is that in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. (Richard Moore)