Secrets of Computer Geeks

  • Remember that computers are totally literal - if you ask the PC to find the file jobs.doc, it won't find the file jobs.txt. If you ask for jobs.*, it'll find both of them. And if you're using a Unix system, looking for jobs.txt won't find the file if it's really named Jobs.txt.

  • Nobody knows everything. Anybody who claims he does is lying. Some people know a lot about some particular thing, but they're going to need help with something at some point. Don't feel bad about needing help or additional information when your computer is acting weird or you can't get it to do something you need to do. Don't feel embarassed, and don't let any tech support person get away with being condescending. Acknowledge your limits, work to surpass them when necessary by learning new things, and ask for help when you need it.

  • Be willing to learn new things. To be honest, I have not found it useful to try to learn anything technical until I have a concrete motivation rather than a vague "I'd like to know more about that some day." That isn't true of everyone, but I find it's true of many people. Had I simply sat down to learn HTML, I probably wouldn't know it to this day. Because I needed to do something specific at work that used HTML, I found it very easy to learn it quickly. If you want to learn about databases, find a useful purpose for knowing about them—perhaps you could volunteer to create a database to meet some need of an organization with which you're involved?

  • Don't mess with things you don't understand. For example, if you don't know how to get to the Windows Registry, you probably don't have any business messing with it. Yes, there's a time to learn about it, but it's best if you learn about such things after you've done a backup, when you don't have any kind of time limit for getting the system working again if things do go wrong, and when you have access to someone who can fix it if things go totally toes up.

  • Plan for problems. Just like you check the oil regularly in your car, do regular backups of those files that would be most difficult or impossible to replace if you had a problem. CD burners are cheap and blank CDs cost pennies. Get a CD burner and blanks, and a CD with your documents, web browser bookmarks, contact files, email files, data files from your accounting program, etc.

  • Windows machines crash. The operating system gets corrupted. Just expect it. I rebuild the operating system on our PCs at least every six months or so. No, you don't need to reinstall Windows every time you have any little problem, but having returning to a clean slate periodically is nice.

  • People who are snarky when you ask intelligent, appropriate questions are probably insecure in their own knowledge or position. When I worked in administration, I found that some MIS people were just plain nasty at times when asked perfectly reasonable questions, and some of them would just toss off a non-answer full of jargon rather than admitting that they didn't know something. Those people were a large part of the reason that I did learn about computers. I found that people who really do know their stuff seldom mind sharing information with those who genuinely wanted to learning about their areas of expertise.


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This file last modified 05/16/06