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  • I have worked in phone-based Helpdesk jobs for over 10 years. They involve walking clients through fixing their own computer problems. Usually it's just a simple case of a client not knowing how to perform a task on their computer, but occasionally there are situations that call for more drastic actions.

    These days people tend to anthropomorphize their computers. They see them as indispensable extensions of themselves, a vital organ. They feel like they can't live without being able to do everything on their computer. A good Helpdesk tech knows this, and takes it into account when confronted with a confused, irate or panicked customer.

    My first job on a Helpdesk was in a call centre for a major computer manufacturer which shipped their computers directly to their customers by mail order. Every so often we would get a call from a client who set up their computer correctly only to find that it was DOA: no lights, nothing on the screen. Among ourselves, the Helpdesk staff called this situation a "no POST no video". (POST stands for the Power On Self Test a computer does as it's booting up.)

    One day I got a call from the USA, a man with a lovely genteel southern accent. He had purchased one of our top-of-the-line computer systems, at that time worth several thousand dollars. His computer was DOA. He was very patient and good about following my directions, saying "Yes Ma'am" every time I asked him to do something. At first I walked him through rechecking the setup process to make sure all cables and power cords were connected as they should be - still DOA.

    The next steps involved opening up the computer box and literally taking all of the circuit cards out and putting them back in one by one. I explained to the gentleman what we were about to do, but now he was very hesitant. "Are you sure I'm not going to break anything Ma'am?" he kept asking me. I told him that his system was under warranty and as long as I was telling him what to do, anything that might get broken would be replaced by our company at no charge. In fact at that time we would send a tech right to his house to install any replacement parts required.

    Still, the gentleman remained skeptical. At each direction, instead of "Yes Ma'am" he now replied "OK, but only if you're sure Ma'am." We ended up having to take all the cards AND the CPU (main "brain" chip) out of the computer, and put them back in again one by one, each time trying to start the computer to see if it would work.

    Finally after nearly two hours on the phone, we got the gentleman's computer up and running. He was absolutely thrilled. He said "I can't believe you're brave enough to do this with people every day! You must have nerves of steel, Ma'am!" I blushed and told him it wasn't such a big deal. To bring my point home, I tried mentioning something I thought he might relate to. I told him it was rather like taking apart a car engine and putting it back together again. The man replied "I don't know anything about engines... but you were brilliant!" This piqued my curiosity a bit.

    I asked the man "If you don't mind my asking, what do YOU do for a living?" He replied. "Oh, I'm just a doctor. A brain surgeon."
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