One of the things I hate is when friends/neighbors find out that I am a programmer, and automatically assume I like to fix other peoples computers (hardware/software problems).

As a programmer, what can you do to explain to others you are not a hardware person?

102 accepted

After years of getting burned by this stuff...

  • if you fix it, then you are now RESPONSIBLE for every problem they ever have again on their computer - for all eternity
  • if you don't fix it (i.e. crashed hard drive), then you are either STUPID for not fixing it, or AT FAULT for being the last to touch it.

SO NOW, I simply reply to EVERY query with:

"Gee. I don't know. But if you find someone who can fix that, let me know. I could sure use a good "fix-it" person myself".

They almost always leave you alone after that. ;-)


Say it with a t-shirt!

No, I will not fix your computer.


I just go ahead and fix their stuff - the disastrous result ensures they never ask again.


Why do people ask for computer (IT) help if you tell them you?re a programmer?

Because the distinction between 'programmer' and 'troubleshooter' is lost on them, as they know nothing about the industry as a whole. This is by no means unique to computer programming.

My partner works for a bank and deals with commercial business. She is constantly getting asked about residential property and interest rates, because for "most people", bank == mortgage. Every time she then has to explain that commercial business is entirely different and she can't help them... To which people stare blankly, then ask the same question a second time.

what can you do to explain to others you are not a hardware person?

You can try to explain to them the differences between 'programmer' and 'tech support' but this is probably going to go over their head and they're not going to buy it... Especially when you probably can fix their computer and you just don't want to or have the time.

What seems to work for me just being honest. It's not offensive to say "that sounds like it would take a couple of days to fix, and I don't have the time, sorry" if it's the truth.
Also, if you say "Your local computer shop should be able to fix it if you take your PC in," then the next action for them is "go to computer shop". If you leave them hanging there with a broken computer and no idea what to do about it, they'll just come back to you in 2 weeks.

At any rate, fixing computers confers many rewards such as free beer, favours, and general goodwill. I always do it if I'm able to and have the time - never underestimate the value of goodwill and favours


You probably asked this to give people a chance to vent, but here's why:

They ask you, because you have got more idea about whatever the problem is than they do. As a programmer you have a better chance of figuring out if it's a hardware problem, driver problem, application problem, etc.

What does annoy me is random questions about how to use shareware programs that I've never heard of.


Even though everybody owns one, computers are still a mystery.

How many times have you heard stories about some hickups which went away after reinstalling Windows; malfunctioning programs causing the users to talk about the computer as if it was human and it just didn't feel like doing what it was told; or the computer ate my homework.

From my experience, I can only say that programmers have a different view of computers than non-IT people.

For example, I set up a mailman for a friend, and told her to add the email addresses from her current mail program. She didn't know how to do it, so I had a look, and even though it was a Mac and Entourage and I am a Windows guy, I had no problem walking around the menues and finding the Export data function - her comment was that she would never have guessed that that was the command to use.

That's why we are seen as the computer heroes. We click where no-one else dares to click ;)


If a close friend or relative asks for help fixing their computer, I just fix it. Even though it is a pain at times I feel a certain responsibility to help my family with their problems when it falls in my domain of expertise. I have never met a decent programmer would couldn't do a bench-tech computer repair job in his sleep.

It is another thing entirely when friends of friends, random people in the neighborhood, etc start bringing me their systems for repair. I quote them a price for my labor (nothing extravagant but at least $20/hr). If this upsets them I remind them that if their car broke down they wouldn't expect the mechanic who lives down the street to repair it free of charge! My time is valuable and I don't enjoy diagnosing and repairing peoples 10 year old Compaq machines.


My parents -- who raised me, fed me, kept me warm at night, and paid for my education -- are entitled to lifetime tech support.

Everyone else, I advise that they purchase a machine with a warranty from a reputable company, and use it.


Here's how I see it:

#include <assert.h>

class IMakeThingsWork
    virtual int MakeItWork() = 0;

    static IMakeThingsWork* GetNearestFixitPerson();

class ITPerson : public IMakeThingsWork
    virtual int MakeItWork()
        extern int TinkerWithIt();
        return (TinkerWithIt());

class Programmer : public IMakeThingsWork
    virtual int MakeItWork()
        assert(false && "I am not an ITPerson!");
        // if you're kind, fix it anyways
        return (ERROR_SUCCESS);

int main()  // entry point for most folks
    IMakeThingsWork* pPerson = IMakeThingsWork::GetNearestFixitPerson();

    if (pPerson)  // that's you
        return (pPerson->MakeItWork());


So there you have it!


It's just an excuse to get you round their house when their husbands are out.


Well, in all fairness, it's probably for the same reason if someone says they're a doctor or an attorney, that you (or people like you) hit them up with medical or legal questions (regardless of specialty)... or if someone is a plumber, you talk about a leaky faucet, or if someone is a police officer, you ask how to get out of a ticket.

If you don't care to help, just say you're not sure or explain it's not your area of expertise.


I'm a programmer, and I consider it a basic skill to be able to diagnose at least basic hardware issues. I feel like there's an appropriate Coding Horror article to link here, but I can't think of one of the top of my head


I once used this analogy:

I'm a driver, not a car mechanic. I might be able to change the tires or replace the coolant, but don't come up to me with engine problems.

Actually, it had a bit more about me knowing my way around my own computer (car), having to use it for work and all, but that's the gist.

Edit: Yes, it did work. I think the key is showing them that you are a user, just like them.

And I said "once" because there hasn't been the need for a (relatively) lengthy explanation ever since. Usually "I don't know" suffices -- and they stop bothering you after a couple of times.


"Well, I usually charge $50/hour for this type of work. Visa or Mastercard?"


I came across this on TheNextWeb blog

It can easily be extended extended to include programmers as well

alt text


"I'm more expensive than your car mechanic" usually works for me.


I solved this problem years ago. I just tell 'em "I've been using Linux for so long I forgot how to get around in Windows.. with the new Vista and all..." ; ) This will obviously only work if the person asking the question is a Windows user, and more often than not, they are.


As a programmer, what can you do to explain to others you are not a hardware person? I've given up trying, metaphors with mechanics etc get lost on people, because they can't remember if you're the guy driving the car, or fixing the engine, and they don't know if their computer problem is with "the driver" or "the engine", so they end up asking anyway sigh

When someone says ?I?m having a problem with my Pc?, I immediately either wash my hands of it, or I go over and sort it out. Immediately is the key word in there.

I?ve learned the hard way, over many years.

Non technical friend / acquantance says "I'm having a problem with x . . . "

Me : "Gee, don't know nuthin about that, I do insert-jargon-here and thats completely different, best of luck with it". (for insert-jargon-here I could say to most of my friends ?I wyrdle herdules round grindles?, rather than ?I write code?, and they?d be as wise)

Close friend mentions in passing "I'm having a problem with x . . . ", at the earliest possible moment I call over (regardless of whether or not it suits them) and keep them up until the problem is sorted (till 4am if necessary, if I'm up re-installing windows or office, that guy is up too).

This tactless behaviour serves to negate several potential problems.

  • People learn not to bother you with trivial stuff, or they'll be up till 4am
  • People learn not to bother with the ?I'll pay you with food approach?. i.e ?Hey I'll cook and you call over and fix it?. It means they're doing you a favour and/or they?re paying you for your trouble, when it's you fixing their feckin PC. How much do these people think I make? Do they think I regularly go hungry for the want of friends with computer problems? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a free meal, but expecting me to fix their stuff is behaviour I don't encourage.
  • It gets rid of the guilt caused by deferring these things and putting them on the long finger

e.g. Guilt from deferring a friends pc problem

Friend : ?Gee, call over some night for dinner, my computer is running real slow?

Me : Sure, some night soon

(Three months pass)

Friend : ?Gee, remember you said you?d call over? My Pc starts grinding out smoke now when I run Word, I can?t imagine that?s a good sign?

Me : It sure isn?t, I?ll call over some night soon

(Another three months pass)

Friend : Dude, my computer died and I lost the whole Family Tree thing I was doing for my poor dying Mother, and the contact details for her long lost twin that she never met, but hey, it?s OK, on her death bed she said ?It?s Ok, don?t blame Binary Worrier, he probably had much more important things to do?

Me : Boy do I feel guilty now.

I don't like feeling guilty.

Either of my sisters mentions in passing . . . I call to their house, take the kit home and fix it, or bring it to a computer doctor if I can't do it. Family comes first.

I can do the basic things with PC's (adding wireless network cards, adding ram, recovering data from old hard drives). I'll give anything a go unless I think I'm in danger of doing harm, then I tell them to bring it to a computer doctor (which I've found they almost never do unless I do it for them, which I'll only do for family)

Thats me.


Because I'm a programmer I'm assumed to know how to do things like Mail Merge and print out mailing labels in Word. Even when I'm no where near a PC.

Thing is I usually have a better chance of figuring it out than my parents do, so I don't mind so much.


I use the car mechanic analogy: there are people who fix transmissions, others who fix engines, guys who do body work and painting, others who change tires, work on brakes, on front end components, repair upholstery. And then there are people who work on foreign cars, others on just Fords. People who work on modern cars, and people who work on older cars.

And computers are way more complex than cars: there are more way more types of things to learn about "computers" than there would be to learn about every type of fix on every type of car.

So, pretend I work on manual transmissions for American cars from the 70s. You're asking a question about the exhaust system on a new Volvo. Do you still want me to help you?

That helps them understand that just because I "work on computers" it doesn't mean I know how to fix their problem (or that I've even heard of the software they are having problems with!)

And then, if they insist, I listen to their problem, try to come up with some ideas, pretty much prove that I am useless, and eventually they learn to stop asking.


"family tech support" is a common problem. It really does no good to explain that you write software, and that fixing desktop-support problems is a different set of knowledge and skills which is wholly different from networking problems etc. Most people don't know the difference between Geek Squad and Jeff Atwood. Or care.

i finally just told them i would be happy to help, at my normal billing rate - since i would otherwise be spending that time working.

oddly enough, calling Geek Squad or whoever they bought the computer from suddenly seemed like a Much Better IdeaTM


I really don't mind helping other people out with their IT Problems.
I don't see how a person that uses his/her computer for writing letters and maybe some emails should know how to deal with a driver problem or something like that.
As a programmer i do have a certain expertise with these things. So why not let my friends make profit of that.
I also have a friend who is good with cars and helps me out everytime mine breaks down. So i dont mind him calling me and asking for computer help.


It's probably because you have a better clue than they do since you work with computers more than them.


Well most people assume that being a programmer, you have gone beyond basic computer knowledge and into making software for the computer itself. This is usually perceived as pretty advanced stuff so people assume you know basic computer problems if you've gone that far into the technology.

It's a common misconception that if you do something abnormal with computers that the average internet-browsing facebook-dweller doesn't, your computer knowledge is assumed to be a little more advanced.


It's strange that people who work in IT, whether they be programmers, db admins, hardware engineers, etc. are the only people that others expect free work from.

If you have a lawn care business, your neighbor would never ask you to trim his hedges for free. But if your a "computer guy", everyone expects you to just fix their problem for free like it's no big deal. I don't get it.


I say "Sorry, I'm a Mac guy. I don't know anything about Windows."

It's a complete lie of course - although I do own and use a Mac, I also have several versions of Windows running in VMWare, and Macs are no different inside than PCs these days. But it does send them packing, and it's less upsetting to them if they think I can't fix it, than if they think I won't.


I also get the "oh you're in computer science, can you help me with my powerpoint/excel/word/(insert random microsoft software) problem?"

I recommend installing logmein on your families (or at least the non computer literate subset of your family) computers. It's much easier to log on to their computer remotely to install and run anti-virus/anti-spyware software rather than explain to them exactly why paying for the "anti-malware" software that came up in a pop-up is/was a terrible idea. And 9 out of 10 tech support questions I get involve spyware, even if they don't know it when they're asking. Next most common are driver problems, which can also be solved by logging into their computer to download and install the proper driver.


I think this comes down to the attitude of the person being asked:

I don't enjoy fixing another persons computer woes, but I don't mind helping someone out (as long as they don't take advantage). I usually end up fixing the problem as, being a developer, I like to solve complex problems, which means when faced with a difficult problem, I'll generally persevere until I do fix it or I can advise.

If I fix the problem, I feel good and I may get some favour in return, which is usually something I suck at, or hate (getting a nice meal cooked or some chore sorted) - but it also builds my reputation as someone to ask about computer problems.

It's a viscious cycle that's taken years of work to perfect.



I as a recently graduated telecommunications engineer was supposed to fix the TV set or my mom's mixer


I make my family buy from Dell and get an extended warranty. That way when they have a hardware problem I have them call Dell instead because "it's their fault".

For the neighbor case, not much to do :(


I'd likely phrase it this way:

"My company pays me $X/hour to do this stuff. If you are willing to pay that rate then I'll fix your computer, otherwise I'm sorry I don't do samples."

In a way this may backfire if you do have a network of various other helpers like people who fix cars or appliances as you are sort of kicking them out, even though it may be that you have no clue how to fix their computer you could use the cheesy line:

"I'm sorry, but I don't do Windows, especially Microsoft ones."

There may be a case where someone hasn't really gotten familiar with Windows and thus can't help but this distinction may be lost if they don't understand that different Operating Systems can have very different ways of handling things

  • X - Some large, scary value.

Why? Because you are in IT... That's as detailed as most people go.
Any more detail and their eyes start to glaze over.

My personal strategy these days is that I only do it for immediate family and really close friends, if I have time, with the expectation of beer or similar in return.
Strictly no to extended family or friends of friends.

I might give 5 minutes on the phone to good clients, tell them what they need to ask for, and point them in the direction of somewhere with skilled teenagers willing to do it for $10 per hour.

I explain to them that I am not that knowledgeable about current generation hardware (I was a tech many many years ago), and that someone who is up to date, with a good collection of spare parts will be able to do it cheaper and earlier than next year.

For the more vague software problems like "how do I do a mail merge", I try to empower people by telling them about the F1 key, and politely suggesting they become friends with it.


You can ask for sex like this guy

Especially if its to the same sex as you, dont worry you just wont have to fix anything!


As other people have mentioned here, a lot of non-techies see no distinction between "software engineer" and "all-round computer expert". And thing is, I think that in many, if not most, cases, they're right.

In my case, I mostly write embedded software, but I've also built several PCs for myself and other people, so I don't mind (too much) helping people out. It tends to be rewarded with tea and biscuits, and endless gratitude. :-)

What does amuse me is when people merge all engineering disciplines together, and assume I can also fix their vacuum cleaner or mend a broken chair. But again, techies tend to have a very methodical approach to problem-solving that can be applied to all sorts of things, and which can seem like magic to non-techies, so maybe that's not so crazy either. (Although I reserve the right to reply that it's a mechnical/civil/electronic engineering problem).

So to answer the original question: because there's a good chance that you can fix it. And because we like tea, biscuits and gratitide. :-)


In computer terms, I'm an orthopedic surgeon. It sounds like you have something wrong with your hoo-hoo, so you're probably better off calling an OB/GYN.

peace|dewde http://dewde.com


Show me a programmer that doesn't know how to fix basic computer problems and I'll show you someone destined for management!

Seriously though, I try to help with the easy things or things which won't get me into trouble later. Sometimes this means not doing something the "best" or most convenient way, like installing some POS software that you wouldn't touch but will be easy for them to use.

I've also stopped offering to build PCs for people and instead directing them to Dell or someone else who I know they can call when it doesn't work.

Absolue WORST thing you can do is trying to save them some money by hooking them up with pirated software, especially stuff requiring activation. Worst. Idea. Ever.


I whole-heartedly second the current top response here. Working on someone's PC causes all sorts of headaches, now and in the future. You are liable (in their minds) the moment you touch it. For any little problem that pops up in the future, you will be their first call. They'll continue to pester you endlessly, and start asking you to help with their friend's and family's PCs too. Word will get out and others will request help. Furthermore, once you help ONCE, you will have a harder time saying 'No' without offending them.

The replies that say you should help for a free meal and eternal gratitude seem oddly in contrast with the typical programmer's personality. I, for one, simply want to be left alone in solitude so I can get work done. I have no interest in paying such a steep price for someone's gratitude.

That said, I often find it hard to say NO.. especially to family. I like to please people, but I always end up flipping out because my best intentions end up backfiring in the above mentioned ways.

I find that people who actually love you will understand you don't want to work on PCs and leave you alone. Those who don't love you won't understand.. So, easy way to get rid of the weeds... if you have the balls to just say No to these parasites.


This is my usual response.

?You study Computer Science! I have this problem with my Word document...
?Sorry, I'm a theoretical Computer Scientist, I know nothing about actual computers.


As someone that does both IT Support and programming, I find it hard to take off my coding hat when a customer asks a question. The ability to troubleshoot is incredibly helpful when programming, but most end-users only think they want to know the reason for the problem when they ask "But WHY does this happen???"

To address your question more specifically, I imagine this is a common problem with any specialized field. Most laypersons are not familiar with the many layers involved in that field so they think it's all one big issue. And in some ways, this isn't entirely wrong. Even though you are a programmer and not tech support, you probably know more about how to customize a web browser or email client then the average end-user. Not because it's your job or because you have special training, but simply because you have what one of my professors calls "Bit Literacy". You just get how computers work better.

Similarly: a car mechanic doesn't know the physics and chemistry of Bio-Diesel gas, but knows that you shouldn't put Ethanol in the same engine.

a pharmacist can't deliver a baby, but can probably guess that a sore throat is a sign of infection.

a drummer can't play Mozart on a piano but can probably tell you what key the concerto is in.

What drives me crazy is that end-users quite frequently do the following:

a) Assume I am pursuing or already have a CS degree (I have an English degree),

b) That a CS degree is required to do things like troubleshoot their internet connection,

c) That they need to know everything about computers or they are "computer illiterate",

d) That their problem is the computer's fault or their own and that either no one has ever had their problems or that everyone has the same problem.

Frequently this comes up in this scenario:

Me: Okay, go ahead an open up your Network settings.

User: My what? I'm sorry, I'm totally computer illiterate.

Me: The thing that is flashing and says Network settings.

User: Oh.

Me: Change Open to WPA.

User: So you must have a CS degree.

Me: No. I have an English degree. People with CS degrees make real money.

User: Ohhhhh. Wow. So how did you learn how to do all of this???

Me: By actually using my computer instead of asking other people to fix every small problem.

User: Wow! So am I going to have to do this EVERY time?

Me: No, just every time you undo all of the work we are doing right now or let your friend that says he is good with computers ruin everything.

User: So, I'm having this problem because computers are just stupid, right?

Me: Close, but not quite...

User: I'm sorry. This computer always has problems. Everyone else's computer works great, I must just have a bad one.

Me: Yeah, you must just have bad luck when purchasing computers, since the last 3 you've owned all were "bad".

Etc, ad nauseum.

Basically, when people hear you are involved in something that is specialized, they get really excited that you know more than they do in general in that field and hope you can fix their problems.

Another great example of this: I have an English degree, so people ask me how to spell things.


They aren't exactly exclusive skill-sets.

Chances are that you are the only person these people know personally who has computer-related knowledge beyond "how to make stuff bold in Word". Thus, they are going to come to you with their problems, just like they come to the guy down the street who spends all weekend waxing his Corvette when their engine "sounds funny".

I usually ask them "what error message are you getting?" Most of the time it is "I don't know; I didn't read it.", to which I answer "Well, next time it happens, write it down and ask me again." Half the time, I never hear back from them after this. When I do, I tell them to type the error message into Google.


I found that some people are actually "afraid" to try things out for themselves. My usual response to trivial issues is "just look around in the menus till you find a command that seems to do what you want". Yet still, the other person can't grasp that you can "just" do that!!!


A friend of me is medicine doctor. When someone ask her "I have pain here", she says "I see, you have to go to the doctor".

Exactly the same, I say "You need to call a technician" or say "I have father, mothers, sister, and aunts asking me for the same, when I finish with them I call you".


My friends generally know not to ask, because they already have enough of an understanding of what I do and what I know. Besides, depending on the original question, I can usually manage to de-rail them by asking that they think about their own problem. This usually takes the form "Well, what were/are you trying to do?"

If necessary, I will say "I don't normally support Windows - in fact, my own Windows PC runs Windows 2000." This often cuts everything short. :-)

Family are only a little different. If they largely follow my recommendations then I will help them. This is why my father has a Linux desktop and my sister uses Opera. My brother didn't want to know, so he doesn't get any support.


I must not know many people or maybe I messed up too many people's computers... But, I like it when friends or family ask me for computer help no matter what it is. If I can help I'll help, if not I'll just let them know. If too many people ask for help I just let them know that I don't have time right now. Friends and family understand that.

If it's someone I've just met or barely know and it's not something within my expertise I'll just give them advice, usually directing them toward someone who can help them.


Well, its the fact that we make programs that work on the magic beige(black or white if its a Mac) box that does cool stuff. They assume that its the same set of skills as it takes to write the program. From personal experience, they both require problem solving skills, but there the connection ends. Since I do have experience fixing hardware and solving software issues, I can help usually. But I do explain to them that usually asking a programmer to fix problems is like asking your mechanic on how to drive a tractor. He might know, but his area of specialty is fixing cars, not driving tractors. ;)


I don't want to do nothing but I also want to make sure the other person understands that this a friend's service, not free. I especially don't want to spend the whole weekend on this. Usually, they will insist that it's only "a small thing" and "easy to fix for someone like me".

So my answer is: "The first half hour is free, after that it's $100/hour."

If they argue, I say: "That's just my offer. If you can find someone doing this for less, I won't feel offended."


I wish all I got were "IT type" help requests. I get more than my fair share of those. I've also been asked to fix one of those ginormous Copy/Printing machines. And not just in a "it won't work context". But in a "it has mechanical issues" context. I've been asked to do the same with numerous printers/faxes/etc. I'm hardly an elite programmer or a computer expert, but in the land of the blind the man with one eye is king.

At my previous place of employment I was forced to take care of laptops of the owners/family of the owners. I can't say how much I loathed this. At my current job it isn't as bad - I can count on one hand the number of coworker cries for help with a home computer on one hand. I do still get approached for lots of work-related tech help requests that are not my or my group's responsibility (and it has been made exceedingly clear we are not engage in such things by The Powers That Be).


I have helped troubleshoot computer problems for neighbors and friends until recently. Once I got my good job, the $25 bucks an hour isn't worth it anymore.

Whenver anybody calls now, I just give them the phone number to the Computer Science department at the local University. There are college students that would do side jobs for beer money.


Santiago Romero's TechSlacky Howto (Pringao Howto in original Spanish) is the answer to your questions.


Honestly, I verbally duck and weave. Most people I deal with have a notion of the difference by now.


If I am not in a hurry at that time, I am willing to take a look and try a less-than-5-min-software-only-quick-fix.


I quit my last job because of this kind of crap. Call it being the geeky stuff janitor.


I think there are a lot of programmers out there that go through this same issue and the best advice that I think can be given is to be polite and make sure you understand what they are asking before responding to their question.

Depending upon the company, and this applies to smaller companies more than large ones, you might be required to do some hardware and IT support as a part of your normal job requirements. That is just part of how smaller companies tend to work and the best thing to say there is that if you don't want to do hardware support, avoid applying to small companies.

At larger companies it is unlikely that you will be asked questions about providing IT support as part of the job during the interview unless there was a mix up in what you are being interviewed for. This is where you need to make sure you are diplomatic because if it becomes clear that you are not being interviewed for a programming job, then you might not want to spend a lot of time there. However, it could be that the individual interviewing you knows of another opening and might refer you to that.

At the end of the day, you do need to play things a bit by ear as well. If you are working in a group where almost everyone is either a programmer or IT, this shouldn't be much of an issue. If you are working in a group were IT is in the minority, then you must just learn to expect a certain degree of IT support questions. In most cases, being polite and honest (if you don't know the answer, don't try and fake it) will help you in most situations.


I have a new excuse now. I tell them I use a Mac and don't know anything about Windows. :)


I have a large family and all my aunts, uncles and cousins used to come for me for help in fixing their computers, it got so bad i was being asked once or twice a week and 90% of the time it was because of spyware and adware grinding their computer to a halt and the other 10% because they just turn the computer off at the plug with out shutting it down corrupting the data on the hard drive.

They kept on having these problems even after i had told them all the dangers of file sharing software like limewire and that they should get an anti virus program. Usualy wiping he disk and reinstalling windows and all the drivers/updates was the only solution. After getting a new job i had to move away and now my brother (who actualy works in tech support) gets the greif instead.

Now i only have to support my wifes laptop :)


The same reason why you'd ask a doctor you meet if you should worry about that big mole on your face. Then he says, "I'm a gynecologist, dammit!"

As others have said, it's obviously because they think you can help them. So, help them. Then they owe you one. Never underestimate the power of favours. Just a gentle reminder that they will owe you one, will get you a lot in the future. Plus they might go to your funeral. ;)


You think thats bad - try getting an engineering degree, a PhD, becoming a CEng and then have people tell you they had an engineer around to fix their washing machine! Grrrrr.


Do the same to them, find out what they do, and ask them to do something related.

When you're in Hollywood and you're a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. All right, you're a stand-up comedian, can you write us a script? That's not fair. That's like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I'm a really good cook, they'd say, "OK, you're a cook. Can you farm?" --Mitch HedBerg


"Actually, I see some of this behavior in other programmers. If you were the last one who worked on an application when a strange production error occurs, some devs will point fingers at you. Even if it's obvious it wasn't you."

Actually, I have even seen this behaviour in managers who needed someone to point a finger to, even if they actually only needed the problem fixed.

OOPS need to edit.

On my holiday in Cuba, there was a guy in the group who refused to tell us what his profession was, because "otherwise, he would not be on a holiday any longer and just be back to work". I thought to myself, "The ONLY unresolved questions that EVERYONE has are either legal or else medical, so either he's a lawyer or else he's a medical doctor", but kept that thought to myself. Turned out he was a medical doctor.

Conclusion : NEVER let anyone know what your profession is.

OOPS need to edit again, 'cuz someone said : "It's strange that people who work in IT, whether they be programmers, db admins, hardware engineers, etc. are the only people that others expect free work from."

DEFINITELY untrue. Imagine yourself on a holiday and you know that this other guy in your group is a medical doctor or a lawyer. Are you REALLY SURE you DON'T HAVE ANY question you expect that person to answer "for free" ?


I let them know that software is the piece you curse at and hardware is the piece you kick. If you can kick it, I can't help you.


Just ask them to change your oil the following weekend and see how they react.


To most people,
    Programmer   =   I understand how computers work on the inside

So, naturally, they assume you are some kind of computer god who can fix their particular problem.


Some i met don't know whats a programmer, and some knows but don't know his role,

after some talking with them they think you are a magician, can do anything related to computer, starting from hardware, selling, buying, till high level programming issues.

To solve this i try to explain in more details whats a programmer is, but in many times, they look at me as a not good programmer :) after this explanation.


well, if its a person you have a decent relationship (like a friend or neighbor) I think its worth taking 5 minutes to at least hear them out.

Sure, alot of the time they'll just want you to be there on the spot customer service and its not something you can or should help them with. But sometimes you can provide some really good advice just because you're much more familiar with common problems than they are.

If my neighbor, who knows what my field is, came to me and said "Hey, neighbor, my machine has been crashing alot lately. What do you think is going on?" I'd basically just ask them the most obvious things. Ask "did you virus scan it?", "is your cooling fan working?", "did you just install new hardware?", "are your drivers up to date?", "did you just install new software?", "have you dusted the case recently?", etc.

really, only takes a couple of minutes to go through the list of usual suspects. alot of the time its easy to help them with no effort on your part. "Go to nVidia website and download the new drivers." How hard is it to tell somebody that?

Obviously you shouldn't be expected to go over to their house and trouble-shoot it until it works. But its not so outrageous to spend a minute and offer at least some casual advice.


I am like a delivery boy, I can deliver letters, but I can not tell you how to write one.


Why do people ask for computer (IT) help if you tell them you?re a programmer?

For the same reason that people come to SO asking IT questions. Sadly, there is no "Not programming related" button in the real world :)


I say "Sorry, I'm a Mac guy. I don't know anything about Windows."