No Question is Stupid Unless You Work in IT

NOTE: The story below contains an example of HTML code. I’m using a space in the code, to keep Blogger from interpreting it as real code.

In an ideal world there are no “stupid questions”. Every question presents an opportunity to impart knowledge…. unless you’re in IT. I know. I was part of that dark underbelly where you are the puppet master controlling the strings of the almighty network and thus the strings of many users who just want to get their job done. It’s a place where questions can frequently become fodder for the amusement of a socially challenged, intellectually condescending and arguably marginally gifted lot (don’t tell them the last part, their sense of superiority might become angered and I might feel their wrath). I know, I’m an IT offender. I used to have a “wall of shame” – a wall dedicated to questions from users that made me feel smarter – questions that made me smirk. My crowning e-mail sat on the top and read “Beth, if you don’t receive this e-mail please let me know.” In fact, on dark nights when I’m feeling low and unimportant, I think about that e-mail and feel a little better about myself. That’s IT.

I’m still a recovering User Abuser who tries to make up for their past sins by putting on my patient face and fighting the urge to mock every person I run across who hasn’t found their “any” key. It can be a struggle, but fortunately as people have become more comfortable and savvy around computers, it’s a manageable one. And I’m able to keep the demon inside me that chortles at their skills down. That was until two days ago.

I was helping someone with basic HTML code – how to bold, how to cause a break in a line, how to break for a paragraph – very basic. “Beth, how do you know this?” I just do. I couldn’t think of the how; it’s just something I know. I don’t remember a “beginning” only a “knowing”. I’m sure if I thought about it, it had to do with “view source” and an old program called Mosaic. Anyway, that’s unimportant – this was just a basic overview. What I needed her to type at that moment was < b > and I was happy to teach someone who had no experience with HTML something new and simple. Then she asked, “Beth, how do I get the “” keys.” I blinked rapidly, taking a moment to process the question and to shush the IT demon inside who just snorted loudly. “Well, you have to hit those keys there” and I pointed to the on the keyboard.

This is where I need all of you to pause and take a good look at those keys – lower row, right hand side. Just look at them a few seconds and remember she was supposed to type < b >.< /b >

She typed “,b.” and then asked, “why did that happen?” And the sarcastic demon inside burst free and whispered to me as a response, “Beth can’t answer you right now, every capillary in her brain just simultaneously exploded, she isn’t here. Please leave a message.” I literally couldn’t answer her for a few moments. After more blinking and a harsh look at my mocking demon I managed to get out, “you might have more luck if you hit the shift key” and I forced a smile that miraculously didn’t look like a grimace. She smiled and produced the < b > looking up at me for praise. “Good work! You’ve got the hang of it!!” I had to leave. I had to mock. I can’t help myself.

So, it’s back to the 12 step program for former IT people to take that first step again – Acknowledge that you are not intellectually superior to anyone. Step 2 – Realize no question is stupid when you’re teaching computer skills. It’s going to be hard. Does anyone want to volunteer to be my sponsor?

EDIT 1/23/12: My blog stats showed someone recently read this blog and since I have zero memory of ever typing it I had to come take a peek. Apparently, I wrote it when I was still using Blogger and in the conversion to WordPress it took whatever HTML code I used in my example (with the spaces) and turned it into actual code. I’m just guessing I was going for “bold”. I’m not positive since I have zero memory of this story or having these particular thoughts, though I do confess I was quite a jerk at times when I wore my IT hat. I can say that in the 4 years since I originally wrote this I’ve hidden away my computer knowledge and forced people to maintain my computer. Also, these days I rarely mock anyone for their lack of computer knowledge, but I do think fondly about that email mentioned above and wear a certain smug smile.