During my years working in IT
support, I have become more and more interested in the many types of
people who call IT help desks. Like a biologist, I have found that
having a classification system is critical in understanding the
users that I help on a daily basis. It is with this in mind, and
with my tongue in my cheek, that I have categorized users into the
1. "The Expert": Userus expertia
"The Expert" user is the curse of most IT support establishments.
Experts try out something they heard about from "the bloke in the
pub," an unqualified expert on everything who offers advice to
anyone who will listen. Experts usually make a complete mess of
their systems when they follow the bloke's advice. Then they
compound the problem by trying to fix it themselves, often
destroying their machines. As a last resort, they call the help desk
and demand that their machines be replaced or mended immediately, as
they have urgent work that can't wait. There has been an Expert at
every place I have worked. I leave it to you to decide who your
resident Expert is.
2. "The Fiddler": Userus manipulata
The motto of "The Fiddler" is: "I wonder what happens if...." I've
placed these callers next because they are the most closely related
to the Expert. These callers don't realize that some files actually
make their computers work. If they don't recognize a file as one of
their own, they delete it and are surprised when something then
stops working. Unlike the Expert, they don't say anything about the
problem; you only discover it months later from a casual remark,
such as, "Oh no, that hasn't worked for ages. I meant to call you."
Fiddlers are usually very pleasant people�who will drive you mad.
3. "The Mouse": Userus rodentia
"The Mouse" is more common than the previous two and fortunately
less harmful. For this species of caller, the big gray box is a
source of blind terror. I can remember talking on the phone to a
Mouse at a UK communications company. She had worked in a telephone
exchange for years and was suddenly given a PC to help her. She had
not asked for it and didn't want it. The screen was making strange
noises, and she was concerned.
"I don't want it to explode or anything," she wailed.
"No," I said patronizingly, "they don't explode. There's no
explosive in them." Then I heard a loud "BANG!" through the phone.
"What was that?" I asked. "My screen has just exploded," she
4. "The Train Spotter": Userus geekissimus
"The Train Spotter" is most often the offspring of an Expert and a
Fiddler. These callers are usually harmless and don't have many
computer problems. What they do have is an IT magazine, which they
have read from cover to cover. The Train Spotter will invariably
corner an unsuspecting help desk tech and proceed to bore the tech
rigid by sharing their knowledge. The main difference between Train
Spotters and other callers is that Train Spotters do not usually
phone the help desk; they visit in person.
I'm not quite sure what they want from the help desk, but they take
up a lot of time asking various questions about new innovations,
about which I usually know nothing. I have found no explanation for
the existence of this user other than that the Expert and Fiddler
conceived the Train Spotter on a trip to a computer trade fair.
5. "The Paranoid User": Userus newbigata
"Paranoid Users" are convinced that the computer has an intelligence
of its own and is out to get them. The machine is constantly doing
something that causes a problem. The computer will maliciously alter
their documents, obliterate all references to their passwords, and
lose work they have saved. If a machine is ever going to break down,
it will be while being used by a Paranoid. This species' one saving
grace is determination. They never give up, as much as you wish they
6. "The I'm-building-a-case User": Userus fabricatum
"The I'm-building-a-case User" is grinding an axe to get some new
gadget brought in to his department or have an old one taken away.
They report hundreds of trivial problems, hoping upper management
will buy them the latest all-singing and all-dancing machine. The
real problem with this species of caller is the fact that they are
usually not trying to replace computer equipment. This user doesn't
see the difference between computers and any other piece of office
equipment. I have often been required to pass opinions on all kinds
of electrical equipment even after pointing out my lack of knowledge
on the subject. I do not evaluate coffee makers. I do not drink
coffee, and I know nothing about the black arts involved in its
7. "The Just-testing User": Userus gustulata
"The Just-testing User" is not even using a computer but wants to
test your knowledge and, if possible, trip you up. The best
technique for dealing with this species is by answering questions
with "I don't know." They cannot deal with this straight
capitulation. Most Just-testing users would love the chance to show
your boss how useless you are or how little you know. They are
thrilled when you give a wrong answer and will crow about it
8. "Pig Pen": Userus perfumia
Based on the Charles M. Schulz Peanuts character, "Pig Pen" has the
messiest, most unhygienic work area in the company. Pig Pen's
personal hygiene is fine; it is only the workspace that is a hazard.
It is a graveyard for old coffee cups, half-eaten green sandwiches,
used Kleenex, and moldy sock collections. Pig Pens are some of the
nicest and most technically able people you know. They usually give
the help desk very little trouble except when their keyboard needs
replacing, which is often. Pig Pen is a mainstay of most companies,
the backbone of whatever department he or she works for. If that
were not the case, the company would have let them go years ago.
9. "The I-don't-want-to-hear-that! User": Userus headinsandia
This is a rather curious species. They call, ask a question, and if
they don't hear what they want, they take it personally. I always
wonder why they ask, if they don't want to know the answer. It does
not seem to matter that what they want is not possible. All they
want is to hear the answer they're looking for.
10. "The End-of-my-tether User": Userus adlimitus
This is the angriest but, perversely, often the easiest to deal
with. After spending weeks attempting to resolve their own queries,
they finally swallow their pride and call the help desk. Calls from
this type of user usually end in one of three ways:
1. The problem's solution can be found simply by reading page 1 of
his instruction manual, which, of course, the caller has not done.
2. The caller is informed that the operation she is trying to
perform cannot be performed with the equipment or software that she
3. The caller has already found a solution but phoned the help desk
to let you know how frustrated, mad, or unsatisfied he is.