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Air Time: IT Support: Who You Gonna Call?

Remember Nick Burns, the "computer guy" made famous on "Saturday Night Live?" Nick is a systems administrator whose caustic attitude leaves no doubt about how much contempt he has for computer users. After spouting some technical drivel, he pushes users away from their keyboards with an order to "MOVE!" Then he fixes their problems with a few keystrokes and exits, stage right, only to return and chide his customers with: "Oh, by the way, YOU'RE WELCOME."

While touching a sensitive chord, Nick is hardly representative of the IT pros who fix our computer problems daily. In fact, most front-line support folks display an inordinate amount of patience in answering simple and repetitive questions. Unfortunately, as the complexity of information systems increases, the questions get a lot harder, forcing us to reconsider existing support models.

Recently, a Network Computing editor, fresh off an unpleasant tech-support experience, asked whether we could play a more constructive role, helping our readers better understand the human side of the systems they build and support. I liked the idea, but most didn't, concisely summarized by one colleague with: "It's not us."

If it's not us, then who is it?