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I’m A Programmer, Not A Computer Guy

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A gentle warning to young or up-and-coming IT professionals: keep your professional identity a secret! Guard your privacy like a superhero, because before you can say “what do you mean reboot?”, you’ll be the neighborhood troubleshooter, constantly on call to save the day.

I’ll be the first to admit that I mistakenly admitted, years ago, that I’m a professional programmer. That doesn’t mean that I can turn a PC into a toaster or that I build anti-virus-spam-bio-domes in my garage. It just means that every week, I trade a bunch of clackety-clack-click-thunks for a slightly-higher-than-median income paycheck that gets filtered through my checking account (or temporary economic holding facility) and delivered directly to Countrywide Home Loans and the Sire Bar & Grill. But don’t take this wrong – it’s an altogether fabulous life — after all, we’re walking distance from the Sire.

Every Monday through Thursday, I get up at the same time as every employee on the West Coast and go to work. The difference is that I travel just one mile, whereas most other West Coast employees are a long helicopter flight away. My four to six minute commute, occasionally complicated by a passing train carting those who have neither the means nor opportunity to procure a whirly-bird, is littered with deep, incisive thoughts of software designs, network uptimes, operating system paradigms and all manner of tech-talk thoughts.

OK, not really. I used to think a bit about these sorts of things, but not any more; I’m too distracted by the miracles of existence, like the peanut butter, asparagus and rat fur pizzas they serve at local “gourmet” joints. Maybe it’s because much of Southern California’s water comes from Canada that the pizza doesn’t measure up to New York or New Haven. Then again, it’s probably just the rat fur.

By the time I actually get to work and immediately walk over to the local coffee shop, I reconsider the miracle that “PlanetBucks” coffee is the sludgiest, bitter, rotten goo to ever pass through a filter, yet four have just sprung up in the past few months — where was I?

Programming. I stare at a screen. I drink coffee. I type things. I observe obsolescence take over last year’s work, and quickly encroach upon current projects. That’s it — a sort-of-logic through a buzzing box and a cathode ray tube. Sometimes I remind myself that the intensity of the radiation emitted by the tube is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between it and my face, and I thank my lucky stars that I have long arms.

That’s programming in a nutshell: long arms, good coffee, and a natural aversion to rat fur. See how the necessity of interaction with the computer, as a programmer, is surprisingly low? The thing is that most programmers are also complete geeks whose hobbies include messing around with these machines. I’m not one of those, but apparently, I’m easily confused with them. Consequently, I’m what they would call, though I’d never lay claim to the name, an “expert.”

Indeed, I have had people ask me Socratic “computer questions”, to which I respond quite honestly that I don’t know. They often have the audacity to retort, “But I thought you were an expert?” Nope. I’m a programmer, not a computer guy.

If I’m anyone, I’m a Linux (or perhaps *NIX) guy. This distances me even further from those who think that I’m some kind of “expert”, because for most folks, “expert” is equivalent to “Windows expert”. They like to ask me lots of questions about their “Microsoft”, as I’ve heard it called. I have an expert-shaking response prepared for any such inquiry: “I don’t know.”

“What does it mean when the computer says that———”

“I don’t know.”

See. Now, it’s not my intention to fire back with all the sensitivity of a postal worker who moonlights at the DMV. But that’s how it has to go. Because, frankly, I really just plain old don’t know. I don’t do Windows.

It astounds me how few consumers seem to realize that Microsoft is not the only game in town. Moreover, it astounds me that it is, for all practical purposes, impossible to tell most consumers that there is another game. As a sports discussion, it would go something like this:

“Did you watch the Raiders game?”

“No, I don’t follow football ———”

“What do you think of the new quarterback?”

“Really, football’s not my thing. I don’t know.”

“I thought that you said that you’re a sports fan?”

“No, I said that I watched tennis.”

“Right, so what did you think of the penalty called in the Raiders game?”

“I watch tennis.”

“Why would they call a penalty like that?”


What is a poor programmer to do? I’d consider taking the time to learn more about the machines if I didn’t distrust them so deeply.

The personal computer, in my estimation, is a sneaky device. I don’t mean sneaky like it’s at home messing with the thermostat or ordering mismatched socks from the Home Shopping Channel — I mean that it finds new and innovative ways to take over your life at every turn.

The PC used to be sold as a replacement to the typewriter. But I always preferred Courier font, so I was never able to get on board the Arial replacement train.

Then it became a communication device, with the advent of email and the Internet. In principle, I still think that these are fantabulous inventions and handy as hell. But now the machine is a DVD player. A jukebox. A dictionary. A teacher. Telephone. Scrapbook. Film developer. Food processor, toaster oven, daquiri blender, etc.

To be anthropomorphic about it: the bloody machine seems to think that it can be all things to all people. That’s the source of my deep worry. I really don’t think that it’s a good idea to allow the PC to take a central role in how one interacts with the people, places, and things that accidentally collide to create a life. If anything, I think that we should be relegating gadgets to as submissive a role as possible in modern life, with an eye toward one day re-declaring our independence from the Industrial Revolution, v. 2.0.

Crazy stuff, I know. It makes my role as a programmer all the more odd, but I’m okay with it.

The fact of the matter is that I’m particularly bad at using the PC for little other than the Internet-based programming that I do. This is why I sternly maintain, in the face of enormous pressures from the Windows users of the universe, that I’m not a computer guy — I’m just a programmer.

Got a Windows question? Call Bill.

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About Brian Sorrell

Writer, Storyteller, Philosopher, Expat, Father
  • Brilliant post – one totally understands:)

  • LOLOL!

    Doesn’t matter what you say, Brian–I will forever imagine you as that nerdy yet dishy “computer expert” from those AOL commercials (Spam? Blocked! Spyware? Zapped!). On alternate days, I will envision you parachuting down from the sky to save me and my ilk a la Geek Squad.

    Um, do I get any points for using a Mac?

  • Mac = very cool, hence big points.

    I like the vision of me parachuting, showering the world with frantic obscenities, wondering how I ever got in such a pickle. This is much like programming 🙂

  • Sublime post. Well inspired.

    But as a computer geek with a snappy title I’ll say that most coders are not techies, they have delusions of techiness 😉 I couldn’t code a hello world app. But leave the networking to me…

  • great post. as a software engineer, i have the problem of convincing people that i’m NOT a techie.

    folks assume that because i write software i’m the guy to ask when they have trouble installing a new soundcard or..well, take your pick of hardware/windows troubles.

    no way. i stay away from that stuff.

    ps. this browswer is running on a linux machine. maybe not as cool as a mac, but cool enough.

  • Brian, as a New Havener, I’m interested in knowing one thing – Pepe’s or Sally’s?

  • New Haven? woa…i haven’t been to Toad’s Place in years (ok…make that ‘decades’)

  • Lisa, I grew up just outside the south end of Hartford, so for me it was always Vito’s or Luna. I can’t remember now whether Pepe’s or Sally’s, but let me tell you, this California Pizza Kitchen is pure junk. Blech!!!

    If you can send me just a slice of Vito’s… Mmmmm, with roasted peppers 🙂

    (Linux + Firefox = Internet heaven)

  • reggie von woic

    That conversation-hillarious. I’d probably have swung a punch by the third question.

    Well i’m not a programmer or a techie, but this post does apply to other stuff i go through.

    Great Read!!

  • Bravo!

    Rat fur pizza, indeed.

  • jeckil

    get the “No I wont’ fix your computer” shirt from think g33k.. So far it has helped wonders.

  • Nice article. One way to solve your problem is to wear this *wonderful* T-shirt 😉

  • Abe Froman

    I stopped telling people I work on computers and that I’m a proctologist. People don’t ask me for help anymore.

  • Ryan Azar

    Very nice post. I aggree entirely. It is frusterating when someone asks me a question about an app I have never used before, then gets offended when I say “I don’t know.” Good to know it doesn’t only happen to me 🙂

  • Rectangleboy

    you’d make a great teacher.

  • dougie

    I know your pain.

  • The Crow

    Yeah CPK sucks. There are plenty of small mom and pop pizza joints in Riverside that have great pizza. Sire’s? Seriously I hope you only go there because it is in walking distance. Loved the article.

  • True Crow, there are some good places for pie — that I can’t deny. I’m just saying that by-and-large, you have to search, unlike the east coast where everywhere is amazing.

    Yeah, the Sire is so bad that it looped back to good — after a few of their ridiculously stiff beverages. And what with the new plaza, there are better places to wash away programming-pain. Within walking distance. Thank god for walking distance!

    Glad you all are enjoying the read 🙂

  • I can’t tell if that’s a personal attack or an attack on grammar….?? Hmmm….

  • luckyrucksack



  • I like the idea of posting a ‘blogabout’ – the Australian aborigines have a ‘walkabout’, and one learns much about oneself from a ‘walkabout’ – perhaps a ‘blogabout’ can be similar

  • Christian Gerefalk

    I am a designer / light programmer in a windows enviroment and I to feel the pain, The difference is that I’m very knowlagable in the ways of the windows, Mosty due to lack of funds to aquire a mac.

    I’m my family’s, my friend’s, my relative’s my close family’s friend’s personal tech support.
    While I most of the time can nail, and fix the issue really quickly most of them doesn’t seem to realise I have better things to spend my time on. And most of them seems to think I’m some kind of magician since they at times demand I fix stuff beyond what a mortal can do. Like make this WinME install more stable and fast… O_o

    Sorry for the horrid English, It’s late and it’s not my native language.

  • I feel your pain.

    I’m in the exact same position quite often. And really don’t appreciate it.

  • jojomonkey


    I know exactly what you mean dude!
    I’m a complete Linux user (been for some 8 years now) and though in the beginning I used to like helping people w/ their computer problems (err, Windows problems) when asked about such things now I usually say the same : “I don’t know”. Now, it doesn’t mean that people like us couldn’t figure it out, it’s more of an attitude like “Why, should I care, I don’t spend my time stressing myself w/ an OS that never works when you want it and works somewhat when you don’t need it”.

    I also agree that at times many of the computer gadgets around us are useless and we shouldn’t be replacing IM w/ interacting w/ real people, etc…

    Nice blog entry, enjoyed it.
    Take Care,

  • Emanuel

    I find it odd that you answer all questions with a simple “I don’t know”, maybe your just lazy? You could always give an educated guess as to why their computer is acting up, when your profession is engineering software you do tend to have an understanding of it’s inner workings.

  • That’s the thing with most programmers, they don’t care about what their code is really doing. Abstractions are good and all, but only in how they let us not think (in comparison to not knowing) about what is going on behind the scenes. When they have completely hidden what goes on behind the scenes then it is time to go back to school. Now in relation to this story, I’m not saying that a web programmer should be able to troubleshoot your monitor, but if someone comes asking a question about your speciality, you dang well better be able to answer the question. That being said, if anybody asks you a windows question and you know the answer, you should be making more than you do now.

  • Said in a comment:
    “I find it odd that you answer all questions with a simple “I don’t know”.”

    Hmmm… let me find the passage where I say that… Gosh, I can’t find it. How about that. I believe I said that I’m not a Windows guy. Holy crap, that’s even implied in the last line of the article.

    Let’s make this a bit more clear for the skimmers: got a Linux question? I’m your guy. Or maybe if you’ve got a Java question, or an SQL question — I’m on it. But Windows: I’m lost. Like, where’s the command line? Where’s the config file? WTF is a “registry” anyway?

    And I’m on board with you Adam Parker: I’ve done my share of maintenance programming and it’s usually a complete disaster. Not only for lack of documentation, but for clear lack of vision and structure. But this is what happens when junior programmers are expected to design large projects — or at least that’s been my experience. Man, you should see my first few large applications. Eek.

  • Emanuel

    Let me give you a hand, odd I have to do this.. you did write the article and all:

    “What does it mean when the computer says that——”

    “I don’t know.”

    I have an expert-shaking response prepared for any such inquiry: “I don’t know.”

    Indeed, I have had people ask me Socratic “computer questions”, to which I respond quite honestly that I don’t know.


    I probably use Windows just as little as you do, hell my workstation at work runs Slackware, but that doesn’t meen that I couldn’t give some insight as to why their PC is doing what its doing. It honestly sounds like you got into programming strictly for your 8-5.

  • Ryan

    My analogy has always been that it’s like asking a chemist to prepare you a smoothie, then when he looks at you sideways replying to him, “You know how to mix things, right? Isn’t that what you do?”

    Don’t get me wrong, I have no trouble helping the occasional friend ONCE in exchange for some beer, but beyond that, sorry dude, take it to the lackies at CompUSA. (That’s not a slam – I used to be one a long time ago, but that’s not something I tell ANYONE anymore.)

  • Wow thanks for the help.

    “…any SUCH inquiry…”

    I think that you missed the significance of “such”. That doesn’t mean “all”. Comprehension my friend. And check the spelling in your original post too.

    You are correct about programming for work only. That is the point of the article.

    I’ll give you this: Slackware is quite nice 🙂

  • someone2

    I have idiots calling me everyday to tell me they are big shot programmers no offence to you, but dont know their ram from their HD size I start to wonder how in the hell do these people get jobs, I mean I did my fair share of programming but I know how a computer works, what thicks me off is when people call me for hardware issues and when you tell them what the problem is they freak out and tell me they know better than me, I just want to stars cussing and yell WELL WHY DID YOU CALL ME IN THE FIRST PLACE, I wish I could record some calls so you guys would understan what an average IT guy goes through, and by IT I mean someone who understands both aspects of the spectrum hardware and software, if you are a programmer and dont know your toaster from your computer you dont apply, sorry for the rant I feel much better now.

  • Bennett


    Great post Brian. Indeed the world is moving on to new experiences and problems. Chin up, mate!

  • you are my new god.

    i’m a perl / sql guy and i’m sending a copy of this to every single one of my relatives, friends and neighbours.

    i’m also considering having it printed in a very small font on business cards so i can throw them at people the next time they ask me to “build” a computer for them.

  • c0uch

    Hey, just be glad you can honestly say you don’t know. I do work IT, and after my day of work I come home and have to answer more questions and do more work on the topics I thought I just left behind at work ;).
    Anyways, I feel your pain; as the Digg description said it’s like “computer guys and printers/copiers” – or more accurately in my case, PBX phone systems.
    By the way, it’s up to you but you may want to drink a few less of those coffees. The poster who suggested you were lazy in your responses didn’t seem to be overly rude to you, and had a very valid point. You tried ignoring this point completely, saying that you didn’t ever say “I don’t know”, and when called on it, claimed that “such” implied occassional or partial, instead of similarity which may be a more accurate interpretation of the word in this context. Again, it’s just a suggestion, but you may want to be a little more patient and considerate with people (meaning Emanual), especially when the fault is a mis-understanding, and even more so when you’ve just posted a blog about how people are inconsiderate of your abilities/talents etc.

  • bob

    I enjoyed your article. I don’t like the phrase computer genius. I think people who use that phrase are just wanting free fucking advice and this gets old. It is like a person who sees you driving and says whoa buddy you must be a goddamn stunt man why don’t you give me a lift to the gas station so i can buy some milk. and then you bring them there and they get a lottery ticket instead.

  • I get the same thing all the time and I don’t even work in the IT field…..I’m a telecommunications installer, you know, at the phone company! People often think lucent=microsoft……I just don’t get it.

  • Nick

    Don’t ever call yourself a computer programmer again. It’s an embarassment to the workforce that represents you.

    If you don’t know Windows, which is arguably the most relevant OS in existence, then you’re just a mainframe programmer with antiquated skills.

  • I hear you c0uch and you make an excellent point. Given that, I’ll refrain from saying a word about Nick’s comment. I still maintain that the idea in the article is that the “my Microsoft” questions are the ones I’m talking about, hence “all” is hyperbolic. It’s not all or nothing — this is what we should call a false dichotomy. My reactions to false dichotomies are often quite verbally violent.

    Does my training in philosophy show?

    Actually, I was thinking about it (because I obsess over things, generally) and I’d like to say that the article is at least equally about *lifestyle* as it is about answering computer questions. What with all the references to pizza, coffee, the local dive bar, traffic, and the infestation of digital technologies in every corner of life …. It’s not JUST about answering questions for friends and neighbors.

  • Hartford is a busy place. Hard on the parking. Im more of a NE Connecticut type of Guy, like Woodstock or Putnam. Awesome article. But Im one actually a Techie Programmer. 😀 Well learning the Programming part. ^^

  • KrazieKen

    I’ve just had, probably, the most whimsical and light-hearted 15 minutes of my entire day by reading this post.

    I’m a tech support crone at a rather well known web hosting company in Texas and I know exactly how you feel. In my position I help people make sure their web servers are online and running, as well as ensure that their required software applications are started and running; i.e. Red Hat Linux Enterprise OS, web control panels, Apache server service, MySQL server service, etc.

    Our customers are supposed to know that we do not assist with their basic HTML code, PHP scripts or Java applets, yet a majority of our calls are either for those such things or they are for simple endeavors, such as “How do I create a user account on my web server”? There are times when I wonder why some people are allowed to even be around a computer, much less buy a web server. But hey, it’s their money, right?

    And don’t get me started on being volunteered by family and friends to fix their Windows home PC’s. I’d be more willing if it were Gentoo Linux (or any Linux, to be fair), but even then I’d need a pint afterward just for being forced into bringing work home with me.

    Thanks again for reminding me that, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. I put in my 8 hours and after that “I don’t know”!

  • Darias

    I for one would never hire a programmer who couldn’t ssh to some device in their home during the interview.


    I’m the other guy who does all the other stuff. I’m abrubt, can be rude, and always direct. Your machine doesn’t work? What was the last thing you did before it stopped working? Guy.

    Can’t get to the data.

    Written on paper, this was never a problem.

  • Jarod

    Totally relatable. I have people asking me to fix things from fax machine to the xerox machine just because I’m the ‘tech’ guy. I’m a programmer.

  • victortrash

    Hahaha, I usually have the opposite problem at work with supervisers. I usually have to tell them that I’m a computer guy, not a programmer! =P

  • Swifty

    Good article… At my last job as the only software enigneer on a 3 person tech team in an office with about 100 people working on windoze boxe. I perfected a blank, dumbfounded stare. Used in conjuction with an I don’t know… works wonders 😉

  • Well written, and very funny. 🙂

  • Matt

    Well I am a bit of a techie as well as a software engineer. But i get people asking me how much its going to cost to ship a box from point A to point B. I dont friggan know but you would think that a piece of the person died inside when i let it slip that Im not a completely “all knowing and infallible super being”. Great article!

  • It’s well written and definently funny….I have the issue of being able to fix a few computer issues and suddendly I’m labeled the “Almighty Computer Problem Solver”. next thing you know I have people lining up at my door and calling me, with the “Will you please fix my computer? It won’t work right.” I picked up some of what I knew from a friend and regurgitated a few smart, brainy phrases and threw out some possible answers to their woes and now I’m the computer tech that everyone calls….but there’s one issue…I’m not a Tech-person….I’ll leave that to my guru of a friend and remember to keep my mouth shut from here on out. I don’t want the bother-some trouble…Although, I can’t help but saying, it’s gotten me more than one boyfriend…I guess guys like a brainy girl….

  • Genious post! I don’t know how many computers i (tried) to fix and didn’t want to. I guess I need a new identity 😉

  • Sure I’m a computer whiz and I’ll fix any problems you have …

    At my current low rate of $50/hr including this CONVERSATION TAKING PLACE RIGHT NOW!!!! (paid in advance of course).

    works every time :P, and if it dont you’ll end up with a couple of hundred bucks.

  • rajt

    I feel the pain.

    I do IT at a school (the teachers are the worst). I am employed to diagnose hardware problems with Windows based machines. What do I get all day: how do I do this in Word, Powerpoint and so on. My answer is I don’t know (I hardly ever use them otuside of a Uni assignment), use the help menu.

  • Anonymous Coward

    I think it is because to most people it’s all “computer stuff”. For example, I know at the company that I worked for, a coworker of mine quit because he was tired of people asking him to write device drivers for a very old industrial robot. He was a web developer. To them, computers are computers are computers. He made an honest attempt by asking the provider for the serial line spec. Messed around with it for about a month, then got a different job where the management was more educated.

  • Titan

    A funny article created by a very limited and frustrated person. How is that? What do you do all day when you’re not programming? Do you watch tennis and drink coffee all day? I don’t think so. So have a life! (a real one would do)

  • Netwere

    Great post. Though I am fairly good a breaking, I mean fixing computers there is only so much any person can know about this overly complex genre. Even trying to keep track of were you can fix the proper help file, forum, or knowledgebase to troubleshoot the more common problems is daunting.
    Probably 25% of the time some interaction between
    the code running in the 2 gig of memory collides in such a way that finding the answer can be hard if not impossible. by the way why don’t programmers start writing real error messages like: “What the hell did you do that for”, “Guess that didn’t work”. Startup screens the “version 1.o alpha” application released should say “Save your data Often, and be on the look out for the real release in 3 to 6 months. The only true experts are those that realize there limitations and can work around them.

  • My favorite answer to Windows related question is: “You have paid for your Windows license, right? Doesn’t that entitle you to receiving support from Microsoft? Why don’t you ask them? Oh, you think they won’t answer? Why don’t you give a try to Ubuntu?”

  • hudz

    I guess many people in this world yet has this same problem. I agree with :#53 – Anonymous Coward said “..computers are computers are computers..” I will definitely add another “..are computers and so on..”
    The worst case of mine is every single things happens in my place that least equally to computers will shout on my name. From desigining articles at newspapers to put back the RJ45 cable and to fixing where statement that needed to be commented. Huh. If I list down all the things that I need to do everyday, you won’t believe that I’m paid for 50/day to solve all of this. Luckly I just ignored them but at the end of the day, I will be scolded all day. I just being dumb this few months, fortunately, I quit and had a new job that more specialized (i hope) in few days more. Hmm..

  • anonymous programmer

    Many of us coders are in fact “computer guys” as well. However, hiding that fact may be a very good idea in many cases. The last thing a programmer wants to do typically is diagnose some random OS or application problem (esp. windows).

    Ask me a linux question, and I might help you just because I am supporting something I love. Ask me a java question and i’ll give you some pointers. Ask me why windows keeps crashing on you…i’m gonna direct you reinstall or take a trip to best buy. In fact, they may even solve it quicker than I simply because I don’t use windows as anything more than a gaming/testing platform. Sure I would eventually solve your problem…but why bother. Time is money and my time is better spent coding.

  • Casper

    You’re so right on it. While I believe it only makes a better developer to know a little about what’s going on with the 1 and 0’s inside the machine, I too have experienced the “You’re not an expert?” comment. The scarry thing is of course to think of all the people who was inclined to answer yes to the question without being able to back it up in reality!

  • i hate people like you, u wont help people even though you can. I demand your help right now. btw what is gator. come and fix it for me.

  • bloksource

    Great article. I can totaly relate. I have trouble explaining to my dad that my computer science degree (that he helped pay for) does not mean I will be able to fix everyone of his computer issues. I try, but sometimes I just don’t know.

    “The Computer has as much to do with Computer Science as the telescope has to do with Astronomy.”

  • Yea, verily. Only those of us who have been in the PC business from 1980 or so are permanently shackled to the do-it-all know-it-all ideal because thats the way it had to be. People still look at me and expect me to know it all, but I mostly shrug and nominate someone else. Now, I can break most anything and fix almost nothing. Oh I can do all the mundaneries like set up PCs, install anything, light administration, do websites and set up databases etc, I just don’t know enough about them to excel.

    Unfortunately, being a programmer comes with inherent knowledge risks because they have to mix it up with all kinds of interfaces, including databases, urls, tags, html, windows etc.

    Drawing the line would be a great help, but its also a popularity and vanity thing. Either people think you are either an a-hole or an idiot if you don’t help them. Can’t win…

  • the comment(s) about engineers being lazy with regard to problems with windows sort of points to the shift in the general consensus as to what an operating system really is.

    in unix land, past and present (the underpinnings of os/x for example) the operating system provided the application programmer with a set of tools that gave mostly opaque access the the power of the machine….and they used to call this a platform.

    windows…it’s sort of a platform.

    but it’s made of balsa wood.

  • jrock

    i live in west hartford (transplant from upstate ny) and i think the pizza here is crap. so, i guess i can never live on the west coast if you think the pizza there is crap.

    i liked your article. i can’t tell you how many times i’ve been asked “my computer is doing this – why”? how should i know? there’s so many variables to a computer’s behavior that you can’t just diagnose issues off the cuff. my mother-in-law is the most guilty party for this.

    i’m actually thinking about doing pc maintenance on the side.

  • Technolinguist

    Nice article Brian. I completely agree with your observations about laypersons thinking that if you work with computers, you are automatically thought of being an expert with everything that has to do with computers. And if you answer “no, I don’t know”, like you did, people look at you funny and think that a) you are arrogant and don’t want to help or b) you are really stupid.

  • Dude

    Just start giving out erroneous information, instead of “I don’t know.” Could be fun.

  • brian

    i think that if a friend asks for help and you answer “i don’t know” without even googling or checking it out, then you are not much of a friend. same applies to immediate family, since i extend my computer helping skills to immediate family (yes, i’m also *only* a programmer).

  • Joel

    “Dude” has it right… have fun and add some randomly erroneous information sometimes. Insert some choice words that are out of their league and combine it saying it *might* lead to interrupt 13h.


    Good article. The morons not realizing this rant for what it is need to get their heads out of the sand. Life is meant to be enjoyed.

  • Shizzo

    All so true. A very good read.

  • Brian

    Right on the money, however I follow up the “I don’t know” response with “You should buy a mac … they just work”. I gotta send this link to my family.

  • SnoopDougEDoug

    Watta maroon. One can easily deflect said computer questions by responging with the classic Microsoft support triumverate (sp?):

    1. Did you reboot your box?
    2. If that didn’t work, reinstall your application.
    3. If that doesn’t work, reformat your hard drive, then reinstall all of your applications.

    Your welcome.

  • Myself

    I’m a Linux guy and I often get these Windows related questions and I almost always either respond “I don’t know/reboot your computer”, or if it is a simple thing I just give my opinion on where to look.

    But what really, REALLY, boils my blood is when somebody ask me how to plot their quarterly accounting on excel, or how to add stupid/fancy effects or sounds to their power point presentations.

    Damn it!, ask your secretary, I bet he/she kicks my ass on office skills.

  • bundaegi

    Someone asked me once to try and format them new fangled high density floppies in their simple density floppy drive. I didn’t own a pc at the time but I knew straight away what was wrong: The floppies weren’t formated! It didn’t take me long to find what i was looking for: “format” for simple density, “hdformat” for high 🙂

    > hdformat a:
    Are you sure…? yeahyeah, sure!
    They never asked for my help ever again.

    But to this day, I sometimes get tricked into performing. Look at me, I’m bundaegi the circus dog!

    I keep telling people that I only _use_ windows. That’s my defense. You see, windows is nice and all but I only use it to run cygwin, vim, ssh, thunderbird… Windows itself? I know nothing about.

    Then people ask… “so if you have problems with your windows, do you ask for help?” with that little condescending smile as in “maybe I should be doing the helping? just ask me, mate, if you don’t know which one is the floppy drive”

    This is a trick question… Stay cool, the proper answer to “do you ask for help when your windows break?” is Yes! Of course I do! But looking at that prick’s smile I (of course) fall right into his trap and answer something along the lines:

    Are you talking to Moi? of course i can fix any windows problem on my own! give me a freaken hex editor and an opcode table and I’ll have your wireless driver fixed in under 5 minutes! Which means: looks like I’ll be doing some more (unpaid) computer servicing tonight.

    Now… where did I put the hex editor? 😉

  • Mark

    You are a brilliant writer and obviously I am not alone in that sentiment. Thanks for the diversion.

  • Uriah

    I’m a Linux and Windows guy, depending on whether I’m at home or at work, respectively. I understand what you’re saying, although I’m a Software Engineer + “Computer Guy”.

    I turn down helping people as much as possible. It’s not that I can’t help, it’s that I don’t want too. If I help one, it sets precedence for the rest!

    Let that be a note to budding nerds… play dead!

    Something you write worries me though “… for little other than the Internet-based programming that I do…” Straight away this sends off warning bells for me, “programmer” and “internet-based”, you’re not a scripter are you? HTML and Java, are not your programming languages of choice are they?

    Either way, good commentary.

  • rps

    Strangely enough, as a non-football watching American male, I can tell that your hypothetical conversation between a football fan and a guy who doesn’t watch it is EXACTLY like that.

  • Noel

    Great post… very insightful.
    I’m an electronics tech from way back and moved directly into computers as they became more prevalent. I’ve made the mistake of fixing every computer problem for everyone that asked, for free. Then I realized that replacing a broken furnace gas valve for a family with no money in the middle of winter is something you should do for free, not computer work.
    Yeah, maybe for family but not for friends or friends of friends. $50 just to crack open the box, $25 an hour and a minimum of 1 hour billable. I usually know what the problem is within the first 10 minutes; can have the fix ready to go if they decide they want to pay for it.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not a bad idea to know the most prevalent operating system IN THE WORLD, how to fix it, and how to diagnose the inherent hardware problems that go along with it. But if that’s not your bag then it’s ok to say “I don’t know”

  • JTH

    I went thru this as a Mac tech for a split-platform ad agency. The accountants would frequently ask me how to get their Windows boxes to print (or *work*, or whatever), and I felt no guilt whatsoever in saying, “I couldn’t possibly know.”

    So that sense, I know exactly how you feel. “Computer expert” wouldn’t even be theoretically possible anymore, no one could possibly know it all. (Though some might be better at faking it.)

  • Kim

    ‘blogabout’ ?? Please don’t. The world of blogging has reached its number of buzz words.

  • dan

    normaly a programmer is a comp guy, becuase to program well you must know how a computer works.

  • Thayne

    I got so tired of friends, family, friends of friends and friends of family calling me to come fix their stupid computers that I just started farking them up even more. The calls have just about all stopped 🙂

  • Blah

    As if having everyone move to Linux would fix this? You’d have ten times the number of complaints, unsupported hardware incidents and mass confusion. My mom can’t run Linux; she can run Windows. You may be a l33t hax0r, but most people want simple plug and play… which means Mac or Microsoft.

  • No, “simple plug and play” only means Mac. (I use Windows myself, but have never been fooled by Microsoft claiming there was anything simple about their operating systems.)

  • You are a geek 🙂

  • I started writing a comment, but it ended up longer than the original article!.. so put it in my own space. I’m a complete blog newbie, so not sure how to get this ping/trackback stuff working.

    My response,”And even if you were a computer guy…”, is at:myspace

    Cheers. :o)

  • This is extremely funny…I fall right into this category…It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  • Due to technical problems (ie me being a complete flunkie), my response moved –
    Sorry about that, Chief!

    PS: I can’t find any help/faq on the BC site explaining how to format links in comments (if it is at all possible) or how to link/ping the posts. Is this something internal to BC only? -G.

  • interesting response subpixel.

    nice to know that there are others out there who realize that being a programmer doesn’t necessarily mean that you know (or even need to know) all about the innards of the machine itself.

  • Joe

    if your a programmer and dont know shit about computers then you probably pretty much suck. Any programmer out there should have knowledge about many different operating systems and/or how do do various computer related tasks, such as deal with a printer or copier, etc. Unless you went to some shitty ass 2 yr school or someshit then you should be very computer literate. I dunno where you guys went to school but you are lame if you dont know shit about computers.

  • Oh Joe (yer probably a troll but here goes anyway), you obviously haven’t experienced just how vast the IT field is and that no one person can carry all it’s knowledge. If that were possible, tier 1 techs wouldn’t need to brainstorm on a daily basis to solve issues and wouldn’t have a need for 2nd tier techs. Some folks know more of one aspect than others and vice versa. Say POINTER and my brain shutsdown. Say Subnetting and I start dancing around.

    Asking a IT specialist to know it all, is excatly like asking a Doctor of anthropolgy to cure cancer.

  • joelsmith

    The Computer Temper’s Creed

    In a cold, frigid room
    In the dark hours of the evening
    I met a fellow temp’er,
    we were both too tired to speak.
    He looked about nocturnal while
    I thumbed my badge-‘External’…
    Then the old man looked prophetic
    and he opened up his beak.
    He said, “Son, I’ve left a wife,
    and worked a hundred places.
    I even pulled six figures once.
    —Paid half in gas high-price…..
    But I’m tired of all this gamin’
    and dodging all the Blamin’.
    Spot me $4 bucks for a Pepsi,
    and I’ll give you some advice.”

    SO I dropped out two cold bottles
    and he drank down his last swallows.
    He said, “They call me Babbles…..”
    his sweat-ringed shirt, too tight..
    Then the room got deathly quiet
    and his face lost all expression……….
    He said “if you’re going to survive in ‘info-T’
    you got to learn to live the fight”
    “Those interviews are death chairs ’cause there’s
    10,000 kinds of softwares.
    You’ll never fit the bill they want
    Even if you were Bill Gates.
    But don’t let you go bummin’
    ‘Cause the Indians are comin’
    and the immigrants are right behind
    So babble……….. Stuff………. and Fake!”

    “…..You’ve got to know when to Load ’em,
    And know where to Code ’em…..
    Know how to talk your way
    and know when to run…….”
    “You never count your hours,
    sitting at those meeting tables
    ther’ll be time enough for counting
    when the job cuts come.”
    “….Every temper’ knows
    that the secret to survivin’
    Is knowing who’s ass to kiss
    and not knowing, how to lie….”
    “Them real employees may build castles
    but you grin and take those hassles…
    They may wear jeans, and call in sick
    but you always wear a tie.”

    “….Now everythings made in China
    And your health care is Angina
    Bush has blown Retirement
    And the pensions are all fleeced.
    …..”But if we stick together
    we just might beat the ‘Whether’
    and one day find a permanent job…….
    or move to the Far East………..”

    And when he finished speaking
    He turned back toward his MSWindows(R)
    Crushed out his cigarette
    and began to bluff CodeSweep.
    And sometime in the darkness
    Babbles’ hours broke even
    our hero earned his unemployment
    and threw his resume on the heap.
    I came in that next morning
    and found a pile of boxes
    Linux, SCO and IBM
    and “Learn to Code in C…..”
    And in that mess he left behind
    I figured out my timeline
    but in his final words, I found
    I smiled, cause I could see

    You’ve got to know when to Load ’em.
    And know when to Code ’em…..
    Know how to talk away
    and know when to run.
    You never count your hours
    cause the job is never stable.
    But you know you’re not the only one
    who claims that they they know Sun…

  • Nice, made me laugh. I’m a programmer and a fairly good “computer guy” — that’s pretty much incidental to spending umpteen hours a day on one. I do get questions that I don’t know the answer to, though.

    My response is usually, “If you’ll buy me a copy of MS Office, I will gladly learn it and explain it to you.”

    Nobody’s taken me up yet 🙁

  • A friend sent me this a few years ago that I thought you might get a laugh from…
    Dr. Seuss Explains Why Computers Sometimes Crash…

    If a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port,
    and the bus is interrupted at a very last resort,
    and the access of the memory makes your floppy disk abort,
    then the socket packet pocket has an error to report.

    If your cursor finds a menu item followed by a dash,
    and the double-clicking icon puts your window in the trash,
    and your data is corrupted cause the index doesn’t hash,
    then your situation’s hopeless and your system’s gonna crash!!

    If the label on the cable on the table at your house,
    says the network is connected to the button on your mouse,
    but your packets want to tunnel to another protocol,
    that’s repeatedly rejected by the printer down the hall,

    and your screen is all distorted by the side effects of gauss,
    so your icons in the window are as wavy as a souse;
    then you may as well reboot, and go out with a bang,
    ‘cuz sure as I’m a poet, the sucker’s gonna hang!

    When the copy of your floppy’s getting sloppy in the disk,
    and the macro code instructions cause unnecessary risk,
    then you’ll have to flash the memory and you’ll want to RAM your ROM.
    Quickly turn off the computer and be sure to tell your Mom!

  • “if a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port”

    Why does that sound smutty coming from you?


    lol (alt laff to mwuahaa)

  • Because you have a dirty mind you sexy thing!

  • I would’ve thought you’d point out “then you’ll have to flash the memory and you’ll want to RAM your ROM.”

  • lol, I think I prefer the first one – must be because I’m so darn hetero!

  • No need to remind me Chrissy, did you think I though Chrisopher Rose was a drag name for Christopher Robin?

  • Prizrak

    I can so relate to that. I have people ask me the dumbest questions ever about Windows. Hell the other day I was asked about a problem with a Dell Jukebox. I’m also a Linux guy, programmer and a tennis fan 🙂

  • I wrote that (Dr Suess on PCs)! It was wayyy back [wooh!] around 1996, I still have the png file. I like the original although it was not so family friendly. There was also a bad powerpoint ‘movie’ that went with it, about my life in the computer dept at the State of Illinois, called “Oh the Things you Can’t Do!”

  • joelsmith

    Hey, what happend to your movie link, uncle jeff?? I was going to download

  • And here’s the button I wore to my State job interview (part of that Dr Seuss on the workplace series).
    Oh wait, I never got an interview. I guess you need to have one of those ‘green stars’…….

  • Uncle Jeff

    Garrr!!! we apparently have a moderator with an overzealous delete key.
    Well, this is the new America, I better get used to it……………

  • Actually, Uncle Jeff, what we have is a
    Blogcritics Comments Policy
    which requires active links.

    If you look before you leap, you will see that I put yours in the little box marked “url” for you, although you could have put it properly formatted into your comment.

    If you, or anybody else for that matter, does not yet know how to make a link in a comment active, that most fundamental of lessons can be found at htmlcodetutorial.com or many other sites.

    So actually it’s the new internet you need to get used to. Welcome!

  • sixs


    Are you the same guy who wrote “Uncle Jeff’s ROM Video Arcade” with the 1000 Useless games? This stuff reminds me of it. ‘Mindless violeence, just like you remembered….’ lol

    The Godfather scene was pretty good. “Never forget the eighties. Ever…”

  • pfard

    actually the legend of Babbles was quite sad. I think I cried.
    we should all hug a temporary worker!

  • Install them linux !!


  • Eamon

    Where else can we find out information about techies that murder people?

  • Great Post! Over a year since your last comment but I still think there’s time for more. I am student studying for a Masters in Computer Science, concentrating on Java programming and I have every illiti-tech under the sun coming to me for adive about thier windows problems, and Im a mac user! I’ll be directing every one of them to this blog from now on!

  • sean

    I’ve retreated to answering computer questions with “just format” since it seems the people i know have problems with viruses(yay for windows) and end up multiplying whatever was removed in just a few hours…

  • noel

    Hi Guys. I know that there are a lot of smart ppl out there, so i hope that some1 can help me get around this problem. I just got a hp laptop and I am unable to get the software for the CCU-550 EV-DO USB MODEM. I tried the official website to get infor but they only have infor for vista 32bit. I then proceeded to download the software for vista 32bit to see if it would work on the vista 64bit but it didnt work. When I start up the program it opened but it did not work. My friend told me to look for drivers online and include it in the drivers folder in the software for the vista 32bit that I had downloaded. Could some1 plz help… I really need it to work.

  • Yeah I’m off to PlanetBucks too ;=}
    Brian great piece, absolutely hilarious! Totally reminds me of Uri on ShowbizzleDotCom! hahaha, Love it!

  • martin quaicoe

    please,I wanted to offer computer programming but I cant afford the fee can you help me but I have done a computer engineering here in Ghana

  • ajvc

    oh wow…this is nice…it really helps me a lot…as a young want-to-be-programmer, it gives me a relief..

    i thot im the only one dat studies computer programming that doesnt noe much about computers(especially hardwares)


  • smartbrains

    Thats good, doesn’t matter what you say, Brian-I will forever imagine you as that nerdy yet dishy “computer expert” from those AOL commercials. And I like the vision of me parachuting, showering the world with frantic obscenities. If you are software engineer, then do very well.

  • My

    For those of you who aren’t very knowledgeable about the computer world, programmers can do things when the computer works, but a computer guy can only fix it when it doesn’t.

  • Gobs

    No one has commented on this? Am I really the only other one that can relate to this? You and I differ in the fact that I’m more east coast, use Windows, and my watering hole is The Red Shamrock… Cheers!

  • Mike

    “Ah, so you’re a computer programmer. Can you tell me why my email won’t work and why my computer is so slow? I know you know how to use any software and do everything in all social networks.” Right! That’s like assuming I know every song that ever existed because I’m a song writer.

  • macks2008

    Even as someone who’s just starting to program (I completed an introductory python course from ocw.mit.edu, MIT’s opencourseware program, and am part way through an introductory Java course with the same source) at age 17, I’m already familiar with the cause of the article’s title. I haven’t actually had a situation yet where I could provide no assistance and could not explain through someone’s thick head why, but I’m sure they’ll happen if I’m not careful.

    Try to stay sane. I know it’s hard sometimes, but try anyway.