IT Research: Are Your Users Driving You Crazy?

“You did what? What kind of idiot would do that?!”

Keith’s fervent desire was to yell obscenities at the company executive on the other end of the phone line. No one would blame him, right? The user was 3,000 miles away from the office, using Wi-Fi to connect to the company’s VPN and had just deleted the driver for his laptop’s wireless card.

The user, let’s call him “Jeff” or “Mr. Man”, was thus completely disconnected — no Internet, no email, no remote desktop support, nothing. Keith, a 14-year veteran SysAdmin, wanted to scream, “And why the hell were you in the system folder at all?” But he didn’t. Professionalism, not to mention his desire to remain employed, prevailed and he quietly and methodically began to walk Jeff through restoring the missing file.

Tech schools don’t prepare you for the biggest challenge of your IT career.


They will make you angry, perplexed, frustrated and yes, sometimes even bats#*t crazy. Computers and software normally do what you tell them. Users, not so much.

There is good news though. In the latest reports from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), IT personnel aren’t in the top 10 for incidence of mental illness. The bad news is, they aren’t in the bottom 10 either.

Recently, we at LinkTek asked a group of IT Professionals the following question: “What are some things your users do that drive you crazy?”

You may find some of the answers entertaining.

“I’m Not the Handyman”

“I fixed your computer ma’am. Permanently. With a hammer. Have a nice day.”

The old joke about respecting restaurant workers because of what they might do to your food could be just as applicable to those who “serve” in a company’s IT department.

Perhaps your users might want to be respectful, or at least courteous, to those who know pretty much all their secrets and often have access to their login credentials. But of course, it is a joke and no true IT professional would take any intentional action that would lead to embarrassment or harm… Right?

Within the limits of professionalism though, stuff happens. The less respectful users could be the last ticket taken care of on a busy day. Or that extra memory they need might have to wait until next month.

We’ve been told that some users think of the IT person like the handyman, who shows up with a hammer and nails the loose board back into place. Users will mostly say “thanks” when you fix their problem, but they never seem to quite have an appreciation for the fact that the computer, the network, and all the software that’s running on it is a lot more complicated than a piece of wood.

This article explains that the apparent lack of respect usually has nothing to do with you, but is actually because they feel intimidated by technology. Even if true, the lack of respect is still annoying. So, what can you do? Regardless of how you are treated, remember that you are superior in your knowledge in the field. And you should feel exactly that way — superior. Does it really matter what the common user class thinks of you? We think not.

Deleting Files… Accidentally!

One IT professional told us a story of a marketing person who did a little “file clean up” 20 minutes before a major presentation and deleted a PowerPoint file containing 75 slides. Of course, there was a backup, and the IT pro did get the file restored in time. But missing lunch and enduring ten minutes of unnecessary pressure was not on his agenda that day.

As LinkTek is in the business of making software that automatically fixes broken file links, our customers have reported that sometimes they are called to investigate why a particular link — or thousands of links — in some Microsoft Office, Adobe or AutoCAD files aren’t working, only to find that the files to which the links point are simply gone.

You can view this less as an annoyance and more of an opportunity. You have your backups in place, you’re ready for any emergency. So when they happen, get right in the be the hero. Red cape is optional.

They Can’t Follow Instructions

“Who has time to sit and read the instruction manual?” In general, though, it seems the respondents to our survey aren’t talking about that high of a level of participation, reading a manual. They are most likely referring to the inability, or just failure, to take enough care to follow the simplest set of instructions.

“I did what you told me, and it still doesn’t print.” A novice IT person might believe that the user actually did what he was told. Those who have been around a long time will immediately respond with, “so tell me exactly what you did.” Apparently, a significant number of PC users believe that powering down (or up) the computer is done with the power button on the monitor.

This article takes up the subject, with some humor, of why people cannot seem to follow simple instructions.

Nobody Wants to See That Stuff

In the 80s, about the most inappropriate thing anyone might come across in the office was the image of a butt copied on the Xerox. Today, the sky’s the limit. We heard one gut-wrenching story of an IT guy just doing his job, searching for viruses and security breaches, and finding that an employee had been enjoying, ahem, adult entertainment while at his desk, between and sometimes during calls with customers. And some of what he found was not just distasteful but actually illegal! Nobody wants to be a snitch, but of course, the IT pro had to report it. The employee, whose wife had died a month ago, was summarily walked out the door the same day with a box of belongings. And the date… December 23rd.

IT managers are not cops or priests. They don’t want to know their users’ little secrets and confessions. But sometimes, the IT personnel are the first to know, and find themselves in an uncomfortable position. Once they know it, they can’t un-know it.

Maybe they can delete it. If anyone has ever done that though, they didn’t admit it to our surveyors.

While Mike Rowe never had to wear the hat of an IT guy on his TV show, Dirty Jobs, perhaps he should have. It can be an odorous task, metaphorically speaking, to search someone’s computer or emails for certain types of content. It’s not always easy. And if you ever thought to yourself, “this is not what I signed up for”, you are not alone.

If you watched a few episodes of Dirty Jobs, you might have a different view of how bad some jobs can get. Did you see the one where he was a sewer inspector? Nasty. Or the less dirty, but more frightening, shark suit tester? Ghastly. When it comes right down to it, as IT pros, we’re still wearing comfortable clothes in an air-conditioned office (most of the time). It could be worse.

Sending Repetitive Emails — “Is it up yet? Is it up yet? Is it up yet?”

“If a man says he’ll do something, he’ll do it. There’s no need to bother him every six months about it.” —Author Unknown

“You see, it’s a matter of inverse proportionality” says one of our IT respondents. He created a formula that relates the number of “are-you-done-yet” calls to how much time he spends on the user’s problem. Each annoying prompt means he gives them less attention — a highly practical use of algebra.

When someone’s computer or network connection is not working, they may, essentially, have nothing to do. They may use all that abundant spare time to call you repeatedly. Perhaps this will work, by the squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease principle. But it may have the opposite result.

And what could you do about this one? Simply hitting “Delete” dramatically on each email with a hearty “bam!” is quite satisfying. But honestly, you should probably have a heart-to-heart talk or send a well-constructed email explaining that all the time you’re spending on the emails is extending the time it takes to get the issue handled. You could always give them a Rubik’s Cube, or hide a ThinkGeek Annoy-a-tron.

Moving the Mouse During a Remote Session

If the user has nothing else to do, and doesn’t have a fidget spinner handy, he may just move the mouse around for with no clear purpose.

The gist of this one, and the one above about repetitive emails, is that IT folk would like some time and some space to do their jobs, get the problems fixed and get home. Interference simply takes more time and makes your job harder.

Users, this advice is for you: Go get some coffee. Take a walk. Or just go home. The IT guy will not miss you.

Vague Requests — “Computer is Down, My Name is Bob”

The acronym “IT” is comprised of only two words, and one of those two is “information”. You simply cannot do your job as an IT professional without good and complete information. A message along the lines of “I got an error message when running a program” can be a little hard to trace down and fix.

An entire book could be filled with messages from users that must be answered but simply cannot lead to a solution.

“Do you know why the network is so slow today?” is missing some key info. “I think I deleted a file but don’t know which one” is a real mystery. “How come it’s acting different than it was yesterday?” is yet another classic.

Whatever you do, don’t waste time guessing what they want. Get the answers. What is really going on here? Ticketing systems can be helpful with this, if the system asks meaningful questions. If your ticket reporting system just says “state the problem”, you’re going to get some vague answers. If your ticketing system prompts the user for such information as “when did the problem start?”, “what did you click on or do just before that?”, and “to what degree does this impact your work?”, you’ll start to get more useful information.

Telling me the solution, not the problem

A company hires IT professionals, like you, for a reason, but there will always be a few people who’ve lucked or Googled their way into fixing a problem before and now consider themselves an expert. If this person could solve the problem himself, why would he call you anyway?

Probably even worse is when the user decides to argue about a diagnosis. “I believe you have a virus and I’m going to run a full scan on our machine” might be met with, “but that can’t be right, I have McAfee! And besides, when my brother-in-law had this problem, he had to replace the hard drive.”

While users should learn to trust the pros, perhaps those who simply can’t resist being “shade tree” computer guys should read this article from PC World about how anyone can fix 10 of the most common problems without calling the IT department.

As painful as it may seem, you actually may save yourself more time, effort and heartache by educating your users. The truth is, if they knew what to do, really, they’d do it (okay, most of them).

So, invest a few minutes once in a while explaining something, or even send them an article or two. Mark Twain famously said, “the trouble with the world is not that people know too little; it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.” Perhaps if they really knew what they think they know, your life would go much smoother.

Forgetting Passwords… Again!

It can clearly be annoying to take this call repeatedly, “I can’t remember my password”. Yet, it has its benefit as well. First, you could consider it job security. Someone in the office will always forget his password, usually the same person. It could even be a handy source of overtime in some companies.

Also, while losing a password is annoying, it’s rarely a disaster. But there are some potential disasters in the password area. If your user chooses a super simple password, so that it’s easy to remember and easy to hack, and your system is laid bare to digital intruders, a simple “I forget my password” would be a welcome option. It’s nearly as bad if they keep their password on a sticky note next to the computer, or keep all their passwords in an unsecured text file or Excel without strong encryption and protection by a strong password.

Security is paramount in today’s workaday world. Malicious attacks and malware, hackers and ransomware are common terms. You must be secure. But users have to be able to get in and work too. Adopt common sense policies and shoot (figuratively) anyone who violates them.

Dumb File Names

What’s dumb? Well mainly “dumb” is that the user who chose the name and pressed “Save” cannot remember what it was, and thus cannot find it. He names a picture something original like picture.jpg or 001.jpg and six months later he needs to find it. What’s more, the file may as well have been deleted.

IT doesn’t particularly mind humorous filenames. That little piece of levity can be a welcome respite on a tough day. We heard of one user who ended all file and folder names with “stuff”, as in folders named “Burke Account Stuff”, “Legal Stuff”, and “Difficult Stuff” (whatever that was). He had file names like “Morning Meeting Stuff.doc” and of course “Important Stuff.xls”.

And while the name of a file is important, it may also be just as important where the file is saved. As we all know, placing files in random places on one’s computer or on the network makes them hard to find, and not knowing any part of the name can make it impossible. It’s like trying to locate a particular monkey somewhere in Africa, with no particular identifying trait. Asking IT to help find it, without knowing the name, or where it’s located, is simply going to drive the IT guy crazy, and the user still won’t have a file. But IT guys can be sleuths sometimes too. With some clues, like approximate file size and a date range, and the user refraining from asking about it every five minutes, maybe the user will get his file found.

There could be some policies written about filenames, but anyone who would do any of the above most likely won’t read, understand and apply the policy anyway. It’s a jungle out there.

Security Blunders and Other Idiocies

We received some other answers as well, serious and important points about security like logging in on behalf of others and sharing information on Facebook that might make it easy for someone to guess their login information.

And apparently there is a special place in hell for users who continually state “I’m not good with computers” as an excuse for their last idiotic blunder.

There may be no limit to the number of annoying, maddening, frightening things that users can do. But as you know, no matter what insanity the users come up with, you have to weather the storm and get your job done in spite of it.

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