Monday, August 29, 2005

It doesn't work

What causes people to ask for help with something and say that "it doesn't work?" I'd assume, perhaps incorrectly, that people don't call up their mechanic and say "my car doesn't work"; they tell the mechanic that there's a knocking sound from the engine, or it doesn't start when it's hot outside, or the brakes are grinding, or whatever. They don't call up the doctor and say "help me"; they say "I've got a stomachache," or "I think I broke my foot." What makes people think that it's any different to ask for technical support and include nothing in their text besides the three words "it doesn't work?" This completely baffles me.

Maybe I'm wrong, and people regularly do expect mechanics to have magic powers that allow them to diagnose problems without actually seeing the car.

Maybe computers are such a mystery to these people that they don't realize that there are a million things that could go wrong with something, and that simply saying "it doesn't work" is utterly unhelpful.

This is one of the great mysteries of life for me.


ianonymous said...

It always baffles me as well, which is why I keep fairly detailed logs with session IDs attached, but that is one of the luxuries of not having client software deployed in the wild.

I suspect that the difference between software and a car, which is a physical device, is that people do see it as magic. You can hear a knocking noise, or feel it hurt when you pee, allowing the mechanic and doctor to diagnose a faulty timing belt and VD respectively. But for the layperson, who doesn't write any code, it really is magic, and because they see it this way they also see the programmer as the great Oracle. The programmer as the skeelz to write the code, so clearly they also have the mind reading ability to know instantly what is wrong with it. I imagine that it also has something to do with the unfounded belief that if "it's broken" for one person then it clearly is broken for everyone and the programmer already knows about it.

Mostly this is what I hate the most about having to support code. And, as long as I am on the topic ... programmers get it from both ends on this one. When it doesn't work people get pissed off, and provide next to no useful feedback, expecting a fix literally seconds after submitting the feedback/question. Then, when a programmer implements something that is just damn cool users just shrug it off as: "well yeah, it should do that to be useful" even though that was a Herculean feat of programming and carried an internal price tag of several thousand dollars.

Travis said...

Let it be remembered for future generations that for once, on one topic, we agree totally on something.

Kerjo said...

Having worked in an auto shop and being the son of a mechanic, I would have to say that people do indeed call and say "my car doesn't work".

It usually takes several questions to get the, "There's a knocking sound" or, "It won't start" out of them.

Anonymous said...

Along the same lines is why don't people realize yet that you need to perform regular maintenance on your computer. You need to get your oil changed, you need to go to the OBGYN and you need to defrag your HDD occassionaly.

Travis said...

Interesting. Then, I wonder if it's just a general case of people not comprehending or anticipating the consequences of their actions, or specific to dealing with problems in things that they do not understand.

Kerjo said...

I think it's that people don't understand the problems they're having, or the things they're dealing with.

Usually (certainly not always), someone experienced in the field you're dealing with will know how to report a problem and ask for help.