Don’t Ask How They Fixed It

The problem is that so many people who think they know what they are doing when they use a computer really have absolutely no idea whatsoever what they are doing.

The following comic from xkcd (home page here) posted yesterday captures this very thought.


The computer user in this comic is telling someone—probably one of his friends or relatives who actually does know his way around a computer and its operating system—his '”really good system” for sharing a YouTube video.

As it happens he probably could not have come up with a messier, more complex, and error prone method of sharing YouTube videos if he had studied "Doing it the Wrong Way" at Stanford University for a year. And the IT-savvy friend or relative he is sharing his “system” with has his hands over his head thinking “omg, this is so stupid, but I won’t say anything or I will just get into a deep and stressful discussion with him/her on why what he/she is doing is insane and then I will have to spend half an hour showing them a better way to do it”.

The problem here for IT-smart friend or relative is that if he decides to try and explain why the “system” that is being used is really stupid then:

  • he is going to get into an argument with his friend or relative, and/or
  • he is going to have to try an explain, in simple terms, why the “system” being used is a really bad idea, and/or
  • he is going to have to demonstrate the correct better (and usually more simple) way to do whatever it is that needs to be done (to someone who still really thinks that there was nothing wrong with their 15 step “system”).

All this amounts to a load of stress. And anyway, the person being shown the new improved “system” will forget what he (almost) learnt and will then become and ongoing support problem for the IT-savvy friend or relative.

This all leads to the last comment on the comic “I’ve learned an important lesson: If they say they’ve solved their problem, NEVER ask how”.

Yes! If someone tells me they had a computer issue but they worked out how to fix it I rarely, if ever, ask how they did it. I usually nod my head and mutter something like “Excellent. Great. Good to hear” and then move the conversation over to something not involving computers or computing. If I forget myself and accidently ask how they sorted out the computer problem they were having the answer they give is generally downright depressing. This is because nine times out of ten I know instantly from the way they “fixed” the problem that they are now going to have other ongoing issues with something else.