I got a hearty laugh and slap on the back from a doctor-friend when I asked for a free office visit. I didn't laugh with him and his smile faded when he realized I wasn't kidding. We were at a wedding reception and for a half hour he had picked my brain for ways to fix his screwed-up Internet browser.
Don't get me wrong -I enjoy helping my friends from time to time. Most friends and family are considerate and thrilled with any technical advice I might share. They don't expect me to reinstall their computers' operating systems, nor do they insist that I book an afternoon to accompany them through the aisles of Best Buy to help select the optimal CD rewritable disks. For that, I'm grateful.
The problem most people face when seeking free advice from a computer techie is that they use the wrong approach. If you have a computer problem you can't fix and a techie is nearby, there are several effective ways to approach him or her for free advice -present company included.
Be a friend first.
Let's say you are introduced to a computer techie at a party. After you shake hands and smile, don't immediately say, "Hey, listen, my email is slow. Any idea why?" Computer techies generally hate computer problems as much as anyone and don't want to get to know you through one.
It's best not to approach a computer techie with naÃ¯ve excitement -as though you will satisfy a deep yearning in him by asking a tech question. Spend some time in casual conversation. Ask the techie about his home life, love life, hobbies or perhaps ask about his latest downstream bandwidth results -they love that. Laugh hard at some of his jokes. Then, as he watches you catch your breath, ask your question. The time is right.
Lure the techie to make the first comment about computers. While in earshot, take out your cell phone and fake a call to order typewriter ribbon, and then hang up. Pity will spread across the face of any genuine techie and he'll be compelled to ask if you really still use a typewriter. Reply, "Yes. So, what do you use?" Voila! The techie opened the door for a conversation about computers. Your questions are ripe for the asking. Slip them in now!
Describe your computer problem in an interesting way. "My computer takes a long time to boot," or "I think I have a virus," are phrases that create boredom so intense in a techie that you might see his pupils dilate -if his eyes are still open during his yawn.
Instead of such a vanilla problem, hit him with something like, "I accidentally visited an adult web site and now my Start button has become something nasty and animated and I can't fix it." The techie will probably smile with intrigue at such a bizarre feat of malicious programming. Your computer problems just became interesting. Ask your real computer questions now -hurry!