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

By , Computerworld |  Career, women in IT

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."

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