TECH TALK: How to choose a computer tech

Donovan Hoggan
By Donovan Hoggan
June 23rd, 2010

There comes a time for all of us when we need help with our computers. When that happens, though, how do we find someone decent? One of the problems my profession suffers from is a lack of credentialing. All I need to do to become a “Computer Tech” is to start calling myself one.

At the same time, the average user finds computers confusing enough that it’s not tough for an expert in bafflegab to pull the wool over their eyes, at least for a while. So, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff, without having to learn expensive lessons? Here are some indicators, starting with Red Flags. An uncommon but very clear flag is the use of pirated software. If a computer “professional” tries to install pirated software for you, you’ve almost certainly found yourself working with an amateur. 

There are ALWAYS ways of dealing with licensing issues legally. It’s not that I think Microsoft needs any more of your hard-earned money, but the issues that arise from pirating software almost always end up being more expensive than just doing it properly in the first place.

Another warning sign is someone who isn’t answering your questions in English. This isn’t a hack at people who are new to our language, it’s a hack at technicians who can’t or won’t offer their clients information in a way that’s useful to them. Whether it’s an excellent technician who can’t work at a layman’s level, or an amateur who’s trying to baffle you with BS, answers that you can’t understand don’t do you any good. Look for clear explanations of what went wrong, what he did to fix it and, hopefully, what you can do in the future to keep it from happening again.

I also start getting worried when working with a company that’s only got one or two people. The computer field is so broad and so complex that there is no way of one mortal human being to know all of it. I work with about 25 people who regularly bounce questions around the building. With that many people here, they usually find decent answers. If there were only one or two people here, the collective experience and knowledge pool is just too small.

An exception to this would be the small shop that maintains connections to a larger network.  

This can be a formal network like a franchise, or an informal one like internet forums, professional associations, etc. The last red flag I’ll point out is the reaction to questions about qualifications. Those of us who have put time, money and effort into becoming qualified are proud of our accomplishments. If you ask me questions about my background, I’ll brag all afternoon. I’m always very leery of anyone (computer tech or otherwise) who gets defensive when I ask about their background. What are you trying to hide? Now, on to the good stuff. What indicators would you see in someone you can trust? The first one that jumps out at me is certifications. A+ and Network+ are the starting point for most techs. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t trust someone who didn’t have them and it doesn’t mean I’d automatically trust someone who does, but it is a checkmark in someone’s favour.

Warranty authorized for a big name company. Someone who is warranty authorized for Apple, HP or Toshiba has met certain minimum requirements and has had to validate these externally.

A long-term reputation is also an excellent indicator. Someone who has done good work for several of your friends is likely to do good work for you. The biggest indicator, for either good or bad, is the quality of the work that gets done. Does your computer, printer or network work properly when he gets done? If you get advice and get an impartial second opinion, does it mesh with the advice you got from the first person? When you try to call, can you get responses in a reasonable time-frame?

Speaking of second opinions, never be shy about asking for them. It’s even fair to have your impartial expert chat directly with the tech you aren’t sure about. This makes it tougher for an amateur to confuse you with technobabble. At the same time, it avoids situations in which someone unfairly looks bad because they know more than the person you’re getting the second opinion from.

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. You may not know the internal workings of your computer, but you know what you want it to do and you know how you want to be treated. Follow your experience.

Categories: Op/Ed


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