The Top 10 Most Common Questions Asked of an IT Guy

By Commenter Thedomsta on at

Many professionals will tell you that they get asked the same questions over and over and over again. Vets get asked about sick pets; accountants get asked about how to legally dodge tax and, like me, IT technicians get asked about all things tech. Here's my most commonly-asked tech questions (in no real order) and how I answer them -- it may help save you (and your local IT guy's) time!

1.) My PC is slow; what the heck is wrong with it?!
This has to be the most common question presented with (especially with my job on an IT helpdesk). I tell most users it's often not one thing causing all the bother, but more likely a collection of things. Erroneous programs, unemptied temporary internet files and stacks of programs in the Start Up will all contribute to the 10 minute tea-break before your machine is usable.

Back in the heady days of Windows XP, if the OS install was over a year old, I'd advise a backup/format/reinstall (mainly to save time). Nowadays with Windows Vista/7, there's a lot you can do to get a system going again. I start with a much loved CCleaner. The psychology of clearing 500MB+ in temp files makes even the slowest PCs seem a little faster. Second stop is installed programs -- go through the list and uninstall anything the kids have installed and anything not functioning correctly or not being used (remembering to copy program data or install files, if necessary). Other speed issues may of course be caused by hardware issues -- I did once blame a slow PC on increased solar flare activity. A little white lie (I was busy; don't judge!)

2.) What phone/tablet/laptop should I buy?
10 years ago, today's devices were the dreams of geeks the world over and now you have likely passed old women in the street searching on their smartphones for blue rinse deals on Groupon.

The answer I give is usually a string of questions -- what will you mainly use it for? Where will you take it? What's your budget?

Ultra mobility -- smartphone. Reading on the go with a few apps -- tablet. Working from home (you workaholic!) -- a laptop. The specific device in the category is a whole other story. I mostly advise people to stick to what they know and blow the budget + £20. Unless money is tight, don't get the basic model, as you'll likely regret running out of space for a few extra quid. I just try to help people pick the device that suits them the best, based on the answers they give.

3.) My backup portable hard drive has failed -- what can I do?
I've had this one a few times. My answer is always "Well, at least that was the BACKUP -- you've still got the ORIGINAL FILES, right...?" More often than not the answer is a big fat "NOPE!". My reply (somewhat sarcastically) "Well then, that's not called a BACKUP, that's just called 'moving-your-crap-from-one-place-to-another'!"

After the schadenfreude fades, I go through the process of data recovery. There are some great tools, such as Recuva (I swear I'm not on Piriform's payroll), but some of the Recovery Disks like Hiren's and BackTrack are great too if the data is corrupt. If the drive itself is shot, then your luck is out unless you've got some coin to drop on hardware recovery services. After Asimov's first three laws, the fourth should be BACKUP!

4.) Do you have a copy of Microsoft Office I can pinch?
Most IT bods will have been asked this question at least once in their lives -- it's almost as annoying as the Microsoft Office Assistant asking if I'm writing a letter...

I once would have insisted upon OpenOffice for those preferring a free desktop solution (it is still a formidable product) but with the advances of Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive and Office 365, my answer to this question has changed dramatically. These days the majority of users can more than adequately get by using the free offerings from their online email providers. If nothing but The Microsoft Office suite will do, I point them to their favourite online retailer. The price for Office Home and Student is fairly reasonable these days.

5.) My phone screen is cracked -- help?!?!?
Some of you will have had it happen, seen it happen or know some drunken fool who has woken on Sunday with a cracked phone screen. A colleague I knew broke two screens in two days. He's a clever sod.

This is the type of call I get from people I used to know and rarely speak to, or those I barely know (I'm often surprised by the tenuousness of such social links). Put simply, "Of course I can help! For a price." Usually parts plus a few beers to make it worth my while. I've done a fair few phones from every iPhone model; a few Samsungs, and even my wife's Nokia N8 (yes, on the rare occasion she was tipsy, she managed to smash her screen). My advice, if you're going to attempt it, is to check out for the disassembly guide and don't buy the cheapest parts you can find. If you're not confident, don't bother. Repair shops the country over will do it for around £50.

6.) What do you think of Windows 8 -- should I upgrade?
Working for an IT company has its perks -- cheap computer gear, free vending machine coffee and access to your company's MSDN library. I was pleased to see that Microsoft had followed on from the success of Windows 7 in what I see as a positive step forward in developing a multi-device ecosystem. Tying in all your hardware and making it work together is one step closer to my childhood dream of LCARS.

That said, it IS different. It IS frustrating. One huge issue for the tech industry is that User Manuals become obsolete after one update, and things change so quickly that they often don't exist to start with. Once you become familiar with Windoes 8, it's actually great (feel free to bash me in the comments).

7.) My computer keeps asking about updates -- should I install them?
This is an easy one in my view -- yes!

I say "Yes" because I'm often being asked about OS, Java and Adobe updates. I've heard many stories over the years about people who never update because five years ago they lost EVERYTHING after one update. The majority of the time, and for the vast amount of users, updates are safe and will improve your system by fixing bugs and adding features. Just recently I've discovered that my iPhone 4S running 6.1 will allow me to control the music using the native music app whilst the device is in a dock; a huge feature for me. Obviously, if you have a specific issue with your software where you know a particular update will bork your system/smartphone, then don't do it. There will be updates now and again which causes problems, but this is technology.

8.) What's the point in having so many passwords?
Another easy one -- security.

With people cramming more and more of their lives into the digital space, the necessity to protect that data becomes infinitely more important. Having worked with confidential documents and sensitive data, I can vouch for the need for multiple passwords for your different systems. Put simply, this creates a framework to keep your data safe. Use the same, simple password for everything, and if it's hacked, you stand to lose a lot more than if you have a different password for each login. My advice to people is to keep passwords set to something you'll most likely remember. The worst password is one you can't remember.

9) I can't open this website in IE but it opens fine in Firefox -- should I switch browsers?

Up until a few years ago, I was Internet Explorer all-the-way. It was only when certain websites wouldn't load properly or would crash unexpectedly that I chose to branch out. My main focus was on basic browser experience as well as sharing bookmarks between devices.

After using them all (on all platforms), I'm currently using Google Chrome. Not because I think it's the best, but because it best serves my current needs. There are benefits to other browsers so my advice is to try another browser and see how that affects your browser experience. You're not confined to just one and you've probably got others installed and don't even know it.

10) Mac or Windows (or Linux)?
I've saved the best question 'til last. Like politics and religion divides nations, one's choice of OS divides the digital space.

Back when I started in IT, Microsoft's powerhouse, Windows, was the dominant force in computer operating systems. From Windows 98 on the home desktop, to Windows NT4 on the business workstation. Nowadays, the story is a little different. Apple's explosion in the smartphone market has seen a boost in Macintosh OS X usage, and with Linux coming out of the geek's basement to become an OS for the everyday user (my wife uses Ubuntu at work on a laptop I gave her) there are more viable choices than ever before.

Which would I choose? Me? I have Windows, OS X and Ubuntu running on separate devices and in unequal portions (I have to use Windows for work). But with a gun to my head. One OS to rule them all...Windows.

Why? Because I'm familiar with Linux and I'm getting to know OS X but ultimately I'm comfortable with Windows and I know what I'm doing -- even more than I realise with Windows 8. (Again, hit me up in the comments if you agree/disagree).

Dom Coletti is a technical consultant for a small IT firm, and has worked in the field for 12 years.


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