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The 10 golden rules you should follow when dealing with IT staff

I recently came across some discussion forums with Information Technology (IT) professionals venting about end users in their organisations – and end users venting about IT. Both sides had legitimate grievances. However, having worked in the IT field for many years, my sympathies are more in alliance with the complaints of those who work in IT.

IT can be an extremely rewarding profession. You get to help people every day, you can be well compensated for your knowledge, and there's an inherent satisfaction in solving technology problems or creating and managing systems.

However, IT can also be a headache. You deal with people when they are frustrated, mystified and ready to hurl their machine (often an old machine, because IT rarely gets any budget to upgrade these days) against the office wall.

It's important to bridge the two communities of IT staff and other workers together. IT staffers are often harried, not thanked for putting out fires, and subject to misdirected abuse because some big-shot executive is having a problem getting her iPad connected to the corporate VPN.

Therefore, I've come up with my own ten golden rules for dealing with members of your IT department. Yes, IT staffers can be unintelligible at times, maybe not the most social of people in the workplace, and sometimes downright strange. But follow these rules and you will ingratiate yourself with your IT people. And a happy IT person means happier systems for you to use. Consider this a healing of sorts.

1. Don't state what isn't happening

Perhaps there is no greater frustration than when an end user emails or calls up their company's help desk to explain in excruciating detail what their computer isn't doing. For example, instead of saying: “My email isn't getting sent” – actually tell IT what happens when you try and send email. We know what is supposed to be happening, what's more informative is detail on what specifically is going on when you try to perform a task you should normally be able to do. Bonus points for copying down exact error messages – that's the sign of a clued-in, helpful end user.

2. Be honest: IT people aren't your bosses

IT typically has no power (or desire) to get you fired. If you took your laptop on a business trip to the US and spilled Jack Daniels on it while still woozy from mechanical bull riding with some Texan clients you partied with after a day of meetings, tell us you spilled alcohol on it. You don't have to get into details. Nothing is more maddening than to have an end user hand over a laptop and say, "It doesn't boot up, I don't know why," and, after days of swapping out hard drives, changing memory modules, and troubleshooting, to remove the laptop's keyboard only to see internal components awash in a sticky, noxious smelling fluid. Not only is that gross, but if you are honest from the start it helps IT get your machine back to you quicker.

3. Don't get ahead of us

You call for assistance in setting up a network printer. While the IT person is still on the screen where you have to select the right printer driver, you are already printing a test page – to the multifunction printer on the ninth floor that is nowhere near your workspace on the third floor. When IT walks you through a setup or any other process, you want to be slow, steady and follow along with the instructions. Try not to jump three steps ahead. Trust me, we have parents and family members who routinely call us for computer help who can do that for us.

4. Avoid installing programs on your own

Many IT departments prevent end users from installing their own programs at all. This restriction isn't a power trip; sometimes untested software can wreak havoc on company systems and actually break applications you need for work. Less restrictive companies will sometimes allow end users to install third-party applications. Your best bet? If you can install apps, check with IT to make sure that installation won't do any damage.

5. Don't wait until the last minute to change a soon-to-expire password

You know that message you get on your corporate system about every 30 days or so informing you that your password is about to expire? It's not meant to needle you, and you shouldn't ignore it. Many companies have compliance regulations and security policies in place that mandate users change their passwords regularly on a specific schedule. Such a policy is actually for your own protection and lessens the chance of someone else accessing your corporate account as you. When you get the message to change your password, change it. We know it's a hassle, but if you let it slide, you may find yourself locked out of the corporate network if you are trying to access off-hours or from some remote location.

6. Stop storing data locally

Business end users would be wise to wean themselves off the local C: drive. That drive is vulnerable, will most likely crash in the future, and is not an appropriate place for you to store data. When IT creates a network drive mapping and tells you to save your work to the S: or whatever letter drive, take heed. Those are network drives and backed up regularly. When your system goes kaput, IT can restore data from a backup as long as it's on a network drive.

7. Don't ask IT staff for your password

I can't think of one platform that allows you to go into user accounts and view everyone's password. If you forget your password on Facebook, Twitter, or most cloud services, for example, there’s a reason why you often only have the choice to reset it after answering some security questions. The password isn't sent to you. System administrators don't retain passwords, they are not supposed to. Besides, between managing servers, network devices, storage systems, and multiple user accounts, how can you expect IT to remember your passwords? If you can't remember your password, ask to have it reset.

8. Delete web browsing history before giving IT your machine

People make the mistake of not clearing their Internet browsing history before handing in a problematic machine for IT to troubleshoot. As your IT person, I don't want to know about your sensual massage fetish or that you searched for the next nearest upcoming Brony meet up. If you don't know how to clear the history in your browser, be it Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome, ask your kids. They've probably been covering their tracks for years.

9. Clean up your system before you hand it over

In addition to cleaning up the browser history, clean up the actual system. This means removing everything from the gunk off your keyboard to the marks off your monitor. If, for example, you are giving your notebook to IT to troubleshoot, be nice and clean off the cigarette ash, the breakfast muffin crumbs, and the encrusted spittle on the screen accumulated when laughing at that viral video your cousin sent you. When I worked in IT, I found nothing more irritating than when an end user who had weeks' prior notice that we were upgrading him or her to new equipment did not bother to remove personal items from their monitor or desktop PC, or those clipped to their laptop screen. IT people shouldn't be held responsible for breaking your favourite coffee mug. You know, the one that says: “I Can Only Please One Person a Day. Today Isn't Your Day. Tomorrow Doesn't Look Good Either.”

10. Reboot before calling

One way you can speed up the troubleshooting process – particularly when you are having software problems – is to do the one thing IT will most likely ask you to do first, and that’s reboot your machine. And don't tell IT you already tried that when you didn't. You would be surprised how many times a reboot can clear problems up, especially if you are the type of person who never shuts a system down.