Fix-it tales from the front lines: Tech support at home

She was one of the first women to shatter IT's glass ceiling and become a top technology executive at Xerox Corp. back in the 1980s. She has been a senior vice president at Citibank, CIO for the city of Phoenix and a director at American Express. In the late 1990s, U.S. Vice President Al Gore requested her help with his "reinventing government" program.

So what is the one question that Laraine Rodgers, now president of her own consulting company, Phoenix-based Navigating Transitions, has been asked more than any other?

" 'Will you fix my PC?' I get asked that all the time. It's a situation I'm very familiar with," she laughs.

There's no doubt that family -- and friends of family, and friends of friends of family -- gravitate toward their relatives in IT for help with any and all things digital: cell phones, cameras, GPS gadgets, big-screen TVs, electronic pinball games, you name it.

One network administrator tells how she has come home to find PCs sitting on her front porch -- new "patients" from friends and relatives who heard through the grapevine that she had a special talent for ridding computers of viruses, pop-ups and spam.

Every IT person seems to have a few friends-and-family fix-it stories. Even CIOs can't say no to their loved ones' pleas for tech help. We asked IT folks to tell us about their most unusual support requests; here are some of our favorites.

Google guru saves day, basks in adulation

Google CIO Ben Fried says that many of the phone calls he receives from his 74-year-old father, an author with 23 history and political science books to his credit, involve questions about either hardware or software. "This is a man whose main tool prior to getting a Mac not that long ago was a 1938 Smith-Corona typewriter," Fried says.

Fried doesn't mind fielding unusual support calls, like the one he received from his dad complaining that his computer was running very slow. Upon closer examination, Fried discovered that his father had written the first 275 pages of the book he was working on as a footnote -- rather than as a document -- in Microsoft Word.

Fried simply copied and pasted the manuscript into a text document -- a feat that his father responded to by saying, "Son, you're a genius." After that, Fried says, the volume of calls from his dad's friends stepped up for a while.

Hess honcho is family hero

Hess Corp. CIO Jeff Steinhorn describes himself as "the default help desk for my wife, my kids, my friends and my parents." So it wasn't at all unusual for him when his 11-year-old son called him at work with "an emergency situation at home."

Steinhorn recalls, "He had just ordered four tickets online to an exciting amusement park we typically treat the kids to once a year, and he needed to get them printed." But the printer wasn't working, and Steinhorn couldn't troubleshoot and fix it over the phone.

"I know my son's e-mail ID and password -- as every parent of an 11-year-old should -- so I went into his account and found the e-mail confirmation number, so that he could take that to the entrance gate and have the tickets reprinted there," he recalls. But Steinhorn got more than he bargained for. He found a confirmation for 12 tickets at a cost of about $500 charged to his credit card.

"I can only assume that he hit Enter a couple times too many," Steinhorn says. "I was much less concerned about the printer than I was about the season's [worth of] passes to the park I had just funded."

The story does have a happy ending. The Steinhorn family did make it to the amusement park -- several times, in fact, since they had a dozen tickets and never managed to get a refund for the extras. "And looking on the bright side, in the end it was just a printer jam, so the actual equipment failure did not end up costing me anything."

Accenture expert makes multiple connections

Chris Crawford, a global applications architect for internal functions at Accenture in Chicago, recalls the panicked call he received from a good friend who had just purchased and set up a very expensive sound system for his home. His friend couldn't discern any significant difference in sound quality -- despite the great amount of money he had paid for the system.

As it turned out, a woofer on one of the speakers wasn't hooked up properly. Crawford adjusted the wire and was an instant hero.

Crawford says he's especially busy with requests around the holidays when friends and family want to know which electronic gadgets he recommends for gift-giving. He even started an internal blog at Accenture where colleagues post their favorite tips and recommendations.

"I like computers so much that it's fun to be an expert," Crawford says. "It can also come in handy as an ice breaker at cocktail parties."

Amerisource Bergen ace gives new meaning to "software support"

Tom Murphy, senior vice president and CIO at Amerisource Bergen, a $70 billion pharmaceutical services company based in Valley Forge, Pa., says he has certainly received his fair share of tech fix-it requests throughout his career. Once, for instance, he was summoned to a former CEO's home to fix a phone. (He plugged it back in.)

But he's also gone above and beyond answering calls for high-tech help. He has been asked to fix colleagues' personal work-life balance issues, and once, he recalls, he even had a request to see if he could help fix a marriage.

"For whatever reason, people have always approached me to discuss personal issues," Murphy says. "To me, the best part of my job is helping to fix the real 'software' -- i.e., human -- challenges."

This story, "Fix-it tales from the front lines: Tech support at home" was originally published by Computerworld.

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