The 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers…

I’ve found that having a classification system is critical in understanding users that I.T. Support help on a daily basis. It’s with this in mind & tongue in cheek that I categorize users into the following species:

1) “The Expert”: Userus expertia.

“The Expert” user is the curse of most I.T. Support establishments. Experts try out something they heard about from “the bloke in the pub”, an unqualified expert on everything who offers advice to anyone who will listen. Experts usually make a complete mess of their systems when they follow the bloke’s advice. Then they compound the problem by trying to fix it themselves, often destroying their machines. As a last resort, they call the help desk & demand that their machines be replaced or mended immediately, as they have urgent work that can’t wait. I leave it to you to decide who your resident Expert is…

2) “The Fiddler”: Userus manipulata.

The motto of “The Fiddler” is: “I wonder what happens if…” These callers are next because they’re the most closely related to the Expert. These callers don’t realize that some files actually make their computers work. If they don’t recognize a file as one of their own, they delete it & are surprized when something stops working. Unlike the Expert, they don’t say anything about the problem; you only discover it months later from a casual remark, such as: “Oh no, that hasn’t worked for ages. I meant to call you.” Fiddlers are usually pleasant people – who’ll drive you mad.

3) “The Mouse”: Userus rodentia.

“The Mouse” is more common that the previous two & fortunately less harmful. For this species of callers, the big gray box is a source of blind terror. One help desk tech remembers talking on the phone to a Mouse at a UK communications company. She had worked in a telephone exchange for years & was suddenly given a PC to help her. She hadn’t asked for it & didn’t want it. The screen was making strange noises & she was concerned. “I don’t want it to explode or anything,” she wailed. “No,” he said patronizingly, “they don’t explode. There’s no explosive in them.”  He then heard a loud “BANG!” through the phone & asked, “What was that?” “My screen just exploded!” she replied.

4) “The Train Spotter”: Userus geekissimus.

“The Train Spotter” is most often the offspring of an Expert & a Fiddler. These callers are usually harmless & don’t have many computer problems. What they do have is an I.T. magazine which they read from cover to cover. “The Train Spotter” will invariably corner an unsuspecting help desk tech & proceed to bore the tech rigid by sharing their knowledge. The main difference between Train Spotters & other callers is that they don’t usually phone the help desk; they visit in person. I’m not quite sure what they want from the held desk but they take up a lot of time asking various questions about new innovations about which one usually knows nothing.

5) “The Paranoid User”: Userus newbigata.

“Paranoid Users” are convinced that the computer has an intelligence of its own & is out to get them. The machine is constantly doing something that causes a problem. The computer will maliciously alter their documents, obliterate all references to their passwords & lose all work they’ve saved. If a machine is ever going to break down, it’ll be while used by a Paranoid. This species’ one saving grace is determination. They never give up, as much as you wish they should.

6) “The I’m-building-a-case User”: Userus fabricatum.

“The I’m-buildinga-a-case User” is grinding an axe to get some new gadget brought into his department or have an old one taken away. They report hundreds of trivial problems, hoping upper management will buy them the latest all-singing & all-dancing machine. The real problem with this species of caller is the fact that they’re not usually trying to replace computer equipment. One is often required to pass opinions on all kinds of electrical equipment even after pointing out your lack of knowledge on the subject. You don’t evaluate coffee makers, you don’t drink coffee & know nothing of the black arts involved in its production.

7) “The Just-testing User”: Userus gustulata.

“The Just-testing User” isn’t even using a computer but wants to test your knowledge & if possible, trip you up. The best technique for dealing with this species is by answering questions with “I don’t know”.They can’t deal with this straight capitulation. Most Just-testing users would love the chance to show your boss how useless you are or how little you know. They’re thrilled when you give a wrong answer & will crow about it incessantly.

8) “Pig Pen”: Userus perfumia.

Based on the Charles M. Schulz character, “Pig Pen” has the messiest, most unhygienic work area in the company. Pig Pen’s personal hygiene is fine; it’s only the workspace that’s a hazard. It’s a graveyard for old coffee cups, half-eaten green sandwiches, used Kleenex & most sock collections. Pig Pens are some of the nicest & most technically able people you know. They usually give the help desk very little trouble except when their keyboard needs replacing, which is often. Pig Pen is a mainstay of most companies, the backbone of whatever department he or she works for. If that were not the case, the company would have let them go years ago.

9) “The I-don’t-want-to-hear-that User”: Userus headinsandia.

This is  a rather curious species. They call, ask a question & if they don’t hear what they want, they take it personally. I always wonder why they ask, if they don’t want to know the answer. It doesn’t seem to matter that what they want isn’t possible. All they want to hear is the answer they’re looking for.

10) “The End-of-my-tether User”: Userus adlimitus.

This is the angriest but perversely, the easiest to deal with. After spending weeks attempting to resolve their own queries, they finally swallow their pride & call the help desk. Calls from this type of user usually end in one or three ways:

a) The problem’s solution can be found simply by reading page 1 of his instruction manual, which, of course, the caller hasn’t done.

b) The caller is informed that the operation they’re trying to perform can’t be performed with the equipment or software they have.

c) The caller has already found a solution but phoned the help desk to let you know hoe frustrated,  mad or unsatisfied they are.


Sylvanus J. Okech: Kenya has lost an I.C.T. legend…

Few people, not even computer experts themselves, can scale the terrains of technological changes with the zeal of Dr Silvanus Juma Okech, the ICT secretary at the Office of the President who died on January 30, 2009.

A pioneer computer guru described by President Kibaki as “a dedicated academician and an illustrious civil servant”, the road to success for Dr Juma entailed managing more than the changing faces of machines.

To begin with, the computer engineer and programmer fondly referred to as Juma by industry colleagues because of his self-evasive simplicity, had aspired to studying mechanical engineering and not computers.

He earned a Canadian scholarship in 1978 to study technical education after scoring straight As in Form Six at Mombasa Polytechnic.

Since it was the Kenyan authorities that decided the areas of study for the beneficiaries of the scholarship, Juma had to content himself with a teaching course.

In those days, the Government was not keen to train mechanical and computer engineers because it was believed that they would later leave for greener pastures in the private sector.

JUMA AND A SCORE OF OTHER YOUNG KENYANS on the same programme returned to the country to teach. At Kenya Teachers Technical Training College (KTTC), Juma toyed with some of the first personal computers.

In those days the concept of a computer was the huge mainframe, owned by organisations and used to process salaries and other serious mathematical functions. Computers had not been “personalised” into desktop PCs, laptops or the palm-held devices.

When the craving for computers could not be mollified by the stint at KTTC, Juma registered for a postgraduate course in computer science at the Nairobi University.

In 1998, he got another scholarship to do a masters programme in computer science and later a doctorate degree. Although he still returned to teaching three years later, he teamed up with other ICT experts and made defining contributions to the ICT industry in Kenya.

With James Rege (now Karachuonyo MP), Shem Ochuodo and Sammy Buratara of Nairobinet and others, he worked for the coming of the internet in the early 1990s.

MR REGE THINKS BILL GATES MADE A DEBUT in the digital world when the Kenyan experts were already making great strides by sending messages over copper wirelines on a point-to-point basis using modems.

In the late 90s, Juma served as one of the founding members of the USAid-funded Kenya Education Network that sought to enhance internet access in the education sector.

In August 2000, he left teaching and joined government service as part of the “Dream Team” that was sought from the private sector to inject professionalism in the public sector.

When his contract could not be renewed two years later, he left for the Rwanda Information Technology Authority where, with President Kagame’s goodwill, he worked for a system that allowed the cabinet to communicate and do business with laptops and the internet.

But Juma was to come back in 2004 to head the directorate of e-government. He was also instrumental in the development of a system that allows citizens to apply for Public Service Commission jobs online.

He provided the much needed e-leadership in the public sector by setting the standards for government employees working on e-government projects.

Shortly before he succumbed to cancer, Juma, whom we could call the father of diffusion of ICT in government, was upbeat about the coming of e-transaction legislation which allows the growth of e-life in Kenya.