10 Secrets Your IT Guy Won't Tell You

If you own a computer, you’re going to find yourself in need of a “techie” someday. Your computer will slow down and stop working efficiently, or worse, it will crash completely and you’ll be visited by the black screen of death. When that day comes, you’ll call a tech guy (or gal) and hand your computer and all its precious — and very personal — data over to a complete stranger.

I’m not an IT person, but I happen to be married to the guy who gets the computers after all hope is lost — after the local computer shop has told you it can’t be fixed (and after they charged you an exorbitant amount of money for not fixing it). My husband (Gary) has a day job as a programmer and senior systems analyst for a Fortune 500 company, but by night, he becomes the Computer Whisperer, bringing systems back from the abyss. He rarely charges anyone (unless you count the cookies and other treats he receives from grateful friends) but considers it a hobby and a personal challenge to rescue lost computers.  I’ve seen with my own eyes the deep magic of data recovery and the resurrection of a system that had been left for dead, so I’d like to offer a few things I’ve learned from watching him in action these many years.

Here Are 10 Secrets Your IT Guy Won’t Tell You:

10. “Turn Your Computer Off and Back On” Really Works

Anytime you call a technical-support person or someone who repairs computers, the first thing you’ll be asked is, “Have you tried turning your computer off and then turning it back on again?” They’re not asking you this to mock you (even though it probably sounds that way), they’re asking because sometimes it’s just that simple. My son runs an IT department and won’t even talk to a user having a problem until they’ve tried this. Often people panic when their computers freeze, especially if they get the black screen of death. They assume it must be catastrophic and don’t think to do something as simple as hitting the power button. If your computer completely crashes and you can’t reboot the traditional way, you should hold down the power button until the machine shuts off and then give it a time out. After ten or fifteen minutes, turn the power back on and see if it will boot up. More often than you might think, “troubleshooting” ends up being “turn your computer off and back on,” which solves the problem.

9. Viruses and Malware Are the Cause of Most Problems

Nine times out of ten, your computer problems are caused by viruses and malware. Having a good virus-protection program (and keeping it updated) will prevent many of the problems that computer technicians deal with on a daily basis. Never click on a link in an email and (it should go without saying) never open something that you didn’t request.  Never, ever click on a window that pops up on your screen unsolicited and watch carefully when you download programs to make sure there are no additions. Many free downloads now tack on additional programs when you’re mindlessly clicking through the “I agree” statements. Take the time to read before clicking.

If your computer is slow,  freezing up, or experiencing other problems, try running a full scan for viruses and malware (it may take a while!) and remove any problems discovered from the scan. Also, the vast majority of browser problems would be eliminated if you set your browser to automatically delete your cache upon exiting.

8. Computer Repairs Take a LONG Time

My husband watches old movies while he’s working on computers. He eats while working on computers. Sometimes he even sleeps while he’s working on computers! (I told you, he is amazing!) While it’s true that there is a great deal of skill involved in computer repairs, a lot of it involves time-consuming system scans and updates that can take hours — even days. Be patient if it takes a few days to get your computer repaired. Most likely it’s all the scans and clean-ups that are taking so long (plus there’s a Planet of the Apes marathon on AMC that is competing for your computer’s attention right now).

 7. IT Guys Ask Hard Questions

“Did you download this program?” I have no idea. Maybe?

“How about these eight programs? What are they for? Do you use them?” Um…

“Which virus-protection program (of the four you have installed) did you intentionally download?” Is there one that starts with an ‘M’? Yeh. Maybe that one. 

“Do you actually play Angry Birds?” Oh, come on! 

He’s really not trying to make me you feel stupid, he’s just trying to do some basic housekeeping. Some of those extensions and downloads that looked really cool at the time take up a lot of space and slow your computer down. The same rule applies to your computer that applies to your closet: If you haven’t used it in the last six months, purge it from your computer. A good computer guy will help to walk you through this process. Patiently answer his questions, even if it means confessing to your Candy Crush habit.

6. All IT Guys Are Not Created Equal

It’s not unusual for some poor soul to bring his computer to my husband after he’s been told by [insert name of big box store here] that it can’t be repaired and it needs to be replaced. Or she took it to her neighbor’s nephew’s cousin’s 12-year old genius brother who managed to get it from the blue screen of death to the black screen of death. Often people have paid hundreds of dollars to repair a computer that’s not even worth that much, usually because they’re desperate to retrieve their pictures or their half-finished term paper (because they’ve never heard of this magical thing called the cloud). It’s best to get a recommendation from a friend before taking your computer anywhere for repairs so you know what you’re getting into.

5. Your Computer Tech Guy Googles Stuff

There are approximately 87 billion things that can go wrong with your computer. Do you think your tech guy really knows how to solve all of them? Or maybe that he has the deluxe, supergeek version of Computers for Dummies to help him work through your computer problems? Nah. He has to google stuff, just like the rest of us. The difference is that he knows the right questions to ask the giant Google brain.

To be fair, most people who work on computers have a wealth of information contained in their geeky brains and they can solve the most common problems without an assist from the internet. But there are so many variables — different computers, operating systems, viruses, malware, and whatever-freaky-thing-you-downloaded-last-week — that no one brain can possibly hold all the knowledge needed to solve every problem that could potentially arise. The crowdsourcing aspect of computer forums and message boards helps to fill in the knowledge gaps.

Googling isn’t an advanced ninja skill, by the way. Before you spend a lot of money on computer repairs, try googling the problem you’re having to see if you can find a solution on your own.

4. Many People Don’t Need a Computer

A lot of people own powerful laptop or desktop systems that they don’t really need because their computer use consists of little more than browsing the internet, checking Facebook, and playing Candy Crush. For those individuals, a tablet might be a better choice than a full-blown system. Not only are tablets simple to use, but they eliminate a lot of the problems associated with traditional computers because they’re locked down and don’t allow users to save or download excess programs and files that can contain viruses and malware.

3. You Don’t Always Need a New Computer

Unless you’re a power user — heavy-duty gaming, streaming videos, making music, etc. — you don’t need to upgrade your computer every time a new model hits the market. In fact, you can probably use the same computer for many years as long as you keep up regular maintenance. Newer models add extra capacity and speed for gamers and streaming video and lots of bells and whistles that you may not need. If you’re not having any problems, there’s probably no need to upgrade. If your computer is slow, it may be an issue with malware or viruses, or you may need to check your internet speed to see if you need to upgrade, but you may not need to replace your system to solve the minor irritations you’re dealing with.

2. Your IT Guy Knows What You Do Online

Your IT guy knows a lot more about you than you think (or may be comfortable with). If you take your computer to him for repairs, he’s likely going to spend hours and hours cleaning unnecessary garbage off of your system. That means he could possibly stumble across things you might not want anyone to see, like the hundreds of thousands of porn images you thought you deleted but were still on your hard drive or the 200 selfies you took in your bathroom mirror. Or, God help you, if you’re doing something illegal and harming someone, your tech guy could feel morally compelled to contact the authorities. The NSA may have your metadata, but your IT guy knows what you did last summer.

1. Almost Anything Is Recoverable

With the right tools and enough time, almost anything that is lost on your computer can be found. While it’s important to back up important files and documents (or use a service that will do it for you), if your system has a catastrophic failure and you don’t have a backup, all may not be lost. Despite what the IRS tells us, a good computer guy doesn’t just chuck a hard drive into the recycle bin at the first sign of trouble — he will consider it a personal challenge to conquer it and wrestle back every last byte of data from that piece of hardware.