Darren kept looking over his shoulder while he explained how "jacked up" his computer was. Around the office, Darren was the cool guy. Always fun and funny, his office was a favorite hangout for his coworkers. But his unbootable computer had reduced him into a trembling blob of nerves -so uncharacteristic of him. His hand wringing and bottom-lip-nibbling told me that he was hiding something. This was no random computer crash.
"When did it happen?" I asked.
"This morning I turned it on -it wouldn't start," he said, peering out into the hallway before he closed the door.
Computer techs can smell this unique nervousness a mile away. When people do something they know they shouldn't have, resulting in an unusable computer, they withhold information. They hope you are so skillful that you can fix the problem without discovering the cause. They don't care if it takes a long time -they'll pay -as long as their unwise deed remains camouflaged throughout the fix.
I pressed the computer's power button. Darren sat and watched -hoping I'd demonstrate the right mix of competence and naivety.
I motioned for him to move closer, widened my eyes near his face and said, "Tell me what you did. Don't lie. I'll know." He blushed and glanced back at his closed door to escape my eyes. (My big-eye face is effective. If you're lying, then you don't wanna see it -trust me.)
Darren broke. "I uh, installed a game," he confessed. I nodded, as if I had already known.
"What game? Don't lie. I'll know." Big eyes again.
Darren squirmed in his chair, scratched his neck and sighed the words, "Second Life."
I looked at Darren's scuffed, beige computer case on the floor, dust bunnies squeezing through the back vent. It was ancient and didn't meet the minimum requirements for the game. His computer wasn't crashed, it was overloaded, suffocating under software too big for it. I removed the program, but Darren's nervousness didn't evaporate even after he saw his familiar desktop screen again.
"What will you write on your bill?" he asked, knowing his boss would get my notoriously-detailed invoice.
I smiled at Darren -like a well-rested lion might smile at a limping antelo... OK, actually, I patted his shoulder and said, "My bill will say that I fixed your overloaded computer and that it is due for an upgrade." Darren finally relaxed, feeling the clemency.
After coercing honesty from Darren, his computer fix was relatively quick. He'd been through enough -no need to bust him. But if he had withheld helpful information, forcing me to discover from scratch what he did, showing compassion would have been a bigger challenge for me. In fact, I might have arranged for a fake bill to cross Darren's desk, detailing his flagrant software sins. What fun!
If you do something regrettable on your computer and call for expert help, tell the truth -completely. A competent tech will discover what you did anyway, and a kind one won't embarrass you. If he or she fixes your problem quickly, everybody saves time, nobody loses face.