As most geeks know quite well, being a person who is good at computers means endless requests from family and friends to help fix their computer.

While walking home from work one day, however, it suddenly occured to me that perhaps this is not a good thing to do at all.

The basic reason for this is that when I myself first started using a computer, there was nobody for me to ask for help. Even if there were, I was a bit too shy to ask, and anyway I liked to get things done alone. Interestingly these personality traits are quite common among most geeky people, I think.

So, not being one to go looking to others for assistance, I spent most of my time tinkering with the system instead, and gradually amassing the knowledge and skill at using computers which the unenlightened regard as wizardry.

Thus I suppose it can be postulated that the best way to teach a person to use a computer would be to not help them with the machine at all; they'll learn more if they work on their own and figure out solutions to their problems independently, as opposed to having somebody else present an arcane yet functional solution that they have no idea how to reapply in different situations.

Of course, some people just have such high bogosity levels that there is no way they will be able to fix their computers by themselves, in which case it is up to us to stop them from firing the entire IT department in fustration. But for the slightly clueful, just giving them pointers to resources where they can read up and discover the answers to their problems is perhaps the best way to help them make the transition from wannabe to geek.

Being a computer geek of some 20-*ahem* years, I get many requests for free computer repair jobs.

After a while, it got old. I'd repair the same problems over and over. I came up with a new rule for free computer labor: they had to sit there, watch and learn. I would never fix that problem again on their system.

This actually works. Most folks are just scared of all those little chips and doohickeys inside their beige box. Getting them involved in fixing it, which includes them assisting while you explain what you're doing (and why), helps them get over their fear of their computer guts and spurs them to learn more, since it's not a scary thing anymore.

After a while, I started getting their old parts when they upgraded their systems. I used these to build up computers for schools, like the day care centers of a few elementary schools in El Cajon, California. My friends get knowledge and cheap upgrades, the schools and care centers got free computers, and I got tax credits.

After a couple of years, most of my friends were computer literate enough so all I had to do was help out with the tough problems.

I'm not perfect. I make mistakes. I'm human.

If I were to break your computer fixing it, should I feel bad? Should I be obligated to replace the fried motherboard?

Don't let yourself get caught into the trap of having to fix someone else's computer. Say Allison asks you to install her new hard drive. You have three general responses, much like in the old 8 bit RPG Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. They are this:

Sure, I’ll try to fix your computer
Sorry, I’m busy
WTF, woman, I ain’t yo’ slave!

The correct choice is the second.

If you choose the first choice, you will either win the saving throw against tech (you probably will), or fail, and have some dead hardware on your hands. Morally, you’re obligated to replace it, free of charge. In my mind, I’m not. I was providing a service free of charge, and offered no guarantees that anything wouldn’t go wrong, nor insurance against it. So not only is your new hard drive not installed, but you’re short a motherboard. It’s not like you wouldn’t have killed it if you had installed it. But don’t worry, no one ever gets to know what would have happened. But if I were to successfully fix your computer, what’s in it for me? A favor? Ok, you owe me a favor. But the opportunity cost of that favor was pretty expensive.

The third choice gets the message across better than the second, but then you can’t ask for a favor someday if you need it. It’s just rude.

Choose the second choice. Make up an excuse not to fix her computer. Your CHA should be high enough to do that, you geek, you. There’s always another geek out there who doesn’t get any, and is too eager-to-please to realize he’s being used for his high INT, and good saving throws vs. tech.

My roommate offers the deal to any cute girl at NCSU with immediate computer problems. You flash him, he fixes your computer. Sorry ladies, he’s taken.

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