Open Letter to Tech Users

I took a part time job so I could get out of the office a couple days a week. Almost immediately, I was asked if I would 'help with the computers' – the boss having 'noticed something on my resume'.

First day on the job – so what can you say? ...and then I was the system administrator.

Since one of the reasons I gave for applying for the job was that I was getting out of the computer network game, I was surprised to then be given network tasks and deadlines – none of which had anything to do with the job I was hired to do.

Were they being unreasonable? Or was this a symptom of an underlying conundrum?

I've seen it in lawyers offices, real estate offices, appraisers offices, schools, grocery stores, chambers of commerce, and all around. A small, five or ten user office with a couple of printers, and a full-on, three thousand dollar server with Windows Server installed. The server software costs upward of a thousand dollars and you have to pay the guy to do the install, so the company is into it for at least five grand. With very few exceptions, I could have taken almost any old beater computer with a big drive, and installed Windows 10 or even Windows 2000 on it, and have it do every single task the server was doing just as well and just as fast, because they're just sharing files!

Sure, the server software can do a lot more. It is 'very powerful'. And that's great, but it's like having a Porsche and never getting out of the driveway because the people in these offices are trying to make a living, and not playing with the server. And all the security and the nifty active directory and all the other 'powerful' stuff actually become impediments to the smooth operation of the company and sometimes cause them to grind to a halt! It isn't cool, and I blame it on whoever sold the office the Windows Server and not on the Office Manager desperate for some help.

The great personal computer experiment has failed. They do not increase productivity and the do not make us more efficient - not when you subtract all the non-productive time they generate. Bill Gates' dream of a PC in every home has come true, but they are mostly merely toys. Perhaps that's what he and Paul Allen envisioned, but that's not the idea I get when I read the histories. And Microsoft's relentless drive to make them more 'user friendly' has only steadily decreased the number of computer tasks that the average person at a desk is willing to venture off to attempt without calling for the IT Guy. Yet there just isn't a hell of a lot that that the average person at a desk is doing that they couldn't be doing just as well on a Windows 95 box, or even on a Windows 3.11 box, and certainly on an XP box. After twenty years of literally working my fingers to the bone on computers, they still don't work. Installing software and hardware drivers and dealing with all the inconsistencies between systems is no better than it was when we were installing DOS first. The only real improvement is that DVDs are more reliable than floppy disks. I know: Windows 10 is 'very powerful'. right.

But, everyone wants to stay in business. So Microsoft keeps making new versions of software with the entire software industry following and panting, hand in hand with the hardware companies of course, and the IT Guy is the happy recipient of more work. I can't blame them for wanting to keep in business, but I hate it that they do it at the expense of the real estate agents and appraisers and school teachers and restaurants.

Of course there are exceptions to everything, and to all the fair and conscientious IT Guys out there: I note your existence. Having said that:

To the IT Guys:
Stop selling these poor people stuff they don't need or can't afford to pay you to maintain. You have a responsibility past the installation. And you need to make sure they have a budget for and a fair expectation about the cost of yearly support. If all they need is a place to share and store files, they do not need a damn Windows server and you know it. If you're so smart, work up the security on a Windows 10 box for them and configure the shares and then they'll have money to pay you to keep it updated. Or even much better than that, build them a Linux box and configure whatever security they need on that, and get comfortable with Samba's smb.conf file.

To Small Business:
Get three bids. Don't let these guys tech-talk you into buying something you don't need or don't understand. Make sure these guys are building something that will do what you need it to do and not what they tell you it can do. Make sure you get a bid/estimate for a year's support. If they tell you that it shouldn't need much attention once it is up and running, hire someone else.

To everyone else:
Instead of spending an hour on facebook tonight, reading a collection of nonsense that couldn't mean less to your life, call someone and have a conversation. Please. The world will be a better place.

When I walk in the park and see people picking up after their dog, I always chuckle about the idea that when the aliens come they may decide which species is in charge based on who is picking up after whom. I anticipate that they will then need to decide whether it is actually the dogs or the computers that are in charge - as we are certainly servants of both. It is somehow a bit consoling knowing that at least we and the dogs arrived here via the same creator. But we created the computers, and the amount of time and energy we spend serving them is scary to me. And, I fear they will be our undoing – some kid in a far off land contaminating our water or turning off the power grid, just for kicks. Nothing is all good, and computers have a dark side. Beware.

I have stumbled upon one too many of these disaster networks that didn't need to happen to not at least take the time to post this – after again learning the hard way that when they ask you to 'help' with the computers, you should politely decline and very swiftly walk away.