Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Hippocratic Oath for Computer Support personnel

April 2004

By Mike Gould

Last month we explored the user side of the user vs. support interaction. This month, the other side of the disk: how not to drive your users crazy. Chances are you are not a support person, so feel free to pass this on to those in whose gentle care you entrust your computer, data, and life itself.

I'm a support guy, and this is the oath we all recite each morning as we do jumping jacks out in the company parking lot, just before we sing the company song.

As If
Just kidding (about the jumping jacks, anyway). The following is not enshrined in some geek temple, just a list of things I think are an important part of the support mindset.

I will lose no data
Data is the whole point of our existence: files, folders, email, stuff on servers, stuff in the documents folder, stuff on obsolete floppy disks, stuff littering the desktop. As a support person I will do my utmost unstinting effort towards the preservation of these precious ones and zeros.

I will protect my users as much as possible from the slings and errors of the Internet
It is a jungle out there and I am Tarzan, Sheena, and Gunga Din. You are Livingston, I presume, and I am here to guide, protect, warn and preserve you from the evils that be. I will find you the right website for your new camera, ask you not to reply to that nice man with all that money in Nigeria, suggest that responding to spam is counter-productive, and remind you to back up your email.

I will promote the regular use of system updates and patches
I am also Igor to Microsoft's Dr. Frankenstein, and I will aid you (um, you would be a villager, I guess) in your never-ending search for the perfect digital brain. Uh, no, Igor wasn't really a good guy and I am. Heck with it, you know what I mean. I'm here to keep you up to date so the bad guys don't get in.

I will fight viruses and spam to the best of my limited resources
As guardian of the gates (no, not that Gates), I will keep up-to-date on the latest news of this week's virus epidemic and ensure you know how to update your antivirus program. I will recommend anti-spam strategies and try to talk you into paying for them. I will try to talk you out of spamming your customers and everyone else on the Internet.

I will explain things in a calm rational manner, to the best of my user's capabilities to understand
I will have the patience of a saint, the wisdom of a sage, and the ability to speak in complete sentences using words an eighth-grader can understand. No words having more than two syllables, three, tops. I will draw diagrams, suggest similes, and maintain metaphors, all in an effort to make things as clear as possible.

I will protect my network from the evil that abounds.
I am the gatekeeper of my company's spur off of the Internet. I am Cerberus, guardian of the sacred server. I will maintain firewalls, scan for open ports, and ping and pong my way through my domains (and sub-domains) in a never-ceasing patrol for interlopers.

I will back up my servers religiously
I am the keymaster, he (or she) who answers the mystical question "Uh, I seem to have erased the Yoyodyne folder off the S drive; it's due at the printers in an hour, can you recover it for me?" The holy tapes in hand (or safely off-site), I reply with the holy mantra: "Again? You bet".

I will have at hand an up-to-date collection of upgrade CDs and enough tools to fix minor hardware problems
I am Bob Vila, I am Norm, I am that guy on Monster Garage with all the tattoos. I have tools and I know how to use them. System disks, Norton Utilities, Service packs, home-burned compilations of patches and drivers, yeah, we got that.

I will be confident enough in my abilities to feel free to yell for help when I encounter a problem I cannot fix.
But yea, when I walk through the valley of dead Viaos, I know someone who knows more than I do and I have them on speed-dial. I have the URL for Microsoft support, AppleCare, and Dell in the toolbar favorites of my browser. For none can know it all, especially me.

I will not disparage the user for using an Operating System/Platform/hardware/software/peripheral that I know to be a piece of junk
Hey, maybe it was on sale. I will do my best to make it work, and if that is impossible, suggest the least expensive alternative that will work. I will also suggest gently that inquiries be made of support personnel before snapping up that cool-looking-but-impossible-to-use-with-your-system bargain on Ebay. Or the Shopping Channel. Or Kmart.

I will encourage my users to learn as much as possible about their systems
In a futile effort to put myself out of business, I will suggest further reading, point out websites with deeper answers, and show the user where the control panel is. I will hand out papers listing keyboard shortcuts, leave instruction manuals with users, and mention upcoming seminars.

It's rough work but somebody has to do it. I am geek, hear my lore.

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of, and welcomes comments addressed to

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