Blog Post

How to Solve Tech-savvy Shortfalls

crisis_phoneWe’ve talked a lot on WWD recently about the tech-savvy of our clients, our site’s users, the public, and, well, everyone … except ourselves!

We might like to think we know it all, and many of us spend innumerable hours reading, researching and learning so that we do actually know a heck of a lot. But for all of us, there are times when things get hairy — times when we wrestle with technology and struggle to get even the (apparently) simplest things done. Although web workers may not like to admit it, we too experience technical challenges from time to time.

When I think about the people I know who aren’t tech-savvy, their responses to tech problems seem to encompass these options:

  1. Employ strong language in questioning the piece of technology’s intentions.
  2. Strike the device in use, or one of its peripherals.
  3. Ask “what kind of idiot designed this thing.”
  4. Call offspring or partners for advice.
  5. Complain to friends.
  6. Hack an improbable and unproductive workaround at best; give up at worst.

Fortunately, as web workers, we don’t have to resort to such tactics. We have access to a veritable treasure trove of possible solutions to technical problems, courtesy of the web and in-the-know contacts. So what techniques do we use to solve tech issues? Here, in no particular order, are my usual ports of call when my knowledge of technology falls short.

  • Check Preferences. If I’m having trouble using a service or piece of software, my first thought is that I must have specified something incorrectly in my preferences for the service. So I check my preferences — for the service itself or for the piece of functionality that I’m trying to use — to ensure I haven’t missed some crucial checkbox that will enable the facility I need.
  • Check the Help files. Yes, I do read the Help files for software, services, and so on. If I’m having trouble using a device, I’ll read its instruction manual. In my experience, much of the proprietary software products and physical devices I use offer reasonably helpful Help and instructional content, while few online services do. I use the Help search tools (which often leave much to be desired) as well as browsing the contents listings. Despite the failings of many service’s Help files, I frequently find the answers to my questions using this approach.
  • Check development blogs and service updates. The developers of some services contribute to company blogs or publish service development updates to some part of the organization’s web site. These pages can be fabulous sources of to-the-minute information on functionality issues, service problems and bugs. More than once I’ve found the answers to my problems via these sources — most recently, for diagnosing issues with web hosting and RSS services.
  • Search the web. If I can’t find what I need in the service’s Help files, I usually search online to see if anyone’s discussed the feature or issue I’m facing. Even if I can’t find a precise phrase match for my issue, some quick searching will usually lead me in a roundabout way to a solution to my problem — someone will have mentioned it as they’ve developed a separate service, for example, which will give me an inside hint about what I need to look for next.
  • Ask a question in Help forums. Some services have active, passionate Help forums, which can be a real boon. I remember the first time I used NeoOffice/J and had a problem. I asked a support question in what were the small hours for those in the USA, and expected to wait days for a reply, if indeed one might ever come. But the reply came inside ten minutes, and it worked. Help forums can be a great way to get useful assistance from real people who understand both the service you’re using and how it feels to be stuck with a problem.
  • Phone a friend. If I know someone who deals with the service I’m using, I may contact them to ask them if they’re familiar with the functionality I’m wrestling with, or have any advice to help me solve it. But, as a remote worker, I tend to use this option only as a last resort, primarily because my contacts are busy and may not be able to help me as quickly as I’ll be able to help myself.

These are the basic tactics I use to overcome any … ahem … “technology challenges” I may face in the course of my work. What do you do to solve the technology problems that inevitably crop up for web workers?