Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Because I'm a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer.

How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and coworkers? Do you charge people for it?

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by Mark Trapp Sep 16 '11 at 2:27

Questions on Programmers Stack Exchange are expected to relate to software development within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I normally just fix them. – tenpn Sep 20 '10 at 10:20
@tenpn: Must be your first time, have fun fixing them again. – gAMBOOKa Sep 20 '10 at 12:45
obligatory: – ioSamurai Sep 21 '10 at 3:06
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. -- Thomas A. Edison. – Lie Ryan Sep 28 '10 at 1:26
@Ryan Also obligatory: – Maxpm Mar 6 '11 at 5:12

60 Answers 60

(True incident.. but edited as required)

Person X: hey there mate, listen my laptop/computer is kind of slow and I've still got 2 GB of Hard Disk Space left. dunno know what the problem is.

Me: Haven't I already told you that running Game while Burning a CD and downloading at the sometime is a little too much for a Pentium IV processor with 256 MB of RAM.

Person X:C'mon man, nothing you can't fix right? do that fragment thing again or something.

Me: Well there is one thing we could do, how about a hardware upgrade, first lets get you a good mobo and a processor with lots of RAM it'll only cost you around $1000 its notl like you're buying a new computer.

Person X:Well um..hmmm...I just remembered.. I did'nt empty my recycle bin. Silly me . See ya .

Me : Bye. Good luck with that.

share|improve this answer
    if (isPersonHotChick)
         me.Say("yeah sure i'll have a look, during my pause (of the year 2999).");
share|improve this answer

I tell them: "I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to shindle your roof, either."

Of course, this works with almost everybody, except my mother. Nowadays I just tell her to get a mac.

share|improve this answer

Most programmers are knowledgeable in computer Hardware and anyway most problems often involve solving operating system failures in Windows, Linux or Mac OS X etc... People from the "outside" view computer science as a whole that incorporates programming as well as electronics and embedded systems.

Personnally I help family most of the time but since I've graduated I find it harder and harder to find the time to help friends, and even family about their daily software problems which to windows users are legion... Sometimes there will be hours of troubleshooting included to solve a problem of compatibility between two products that have been bought by the person initially with no knowledge of whether or not they are actually compatible...

So it depends on the selfishness of it, if I'm asked whether or not I can help build a machine and install the stuff on it and the other person actually sticks through the whole process then I don't feel like I'm being used. It's all about giving and receiving.

If you feel you're being used then something's wrong. If I were you I'd just advise buying thrice the price outdated hardware from Apple to those who are really helpless so you won't ever be bothered again :D.

share|improve this answer

I give them the example of a dentist, a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon (e.g. would you go to the first if you had a broken bone?) People who ask you to fix their computers are unaware of the distinction between programmers, hardware engineers etc (and the specializations therein).

share|improve this answer

I give them a visiting card (made for the special occasion) and I ask them to schelude an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.

share|improve this answer

People who have computer problems run windows. As I ditched Windows back when win98SE was all the rage, I can safely affirm that I known absolutely nothing about windows (though it's not absolutely true about XP, I never even used an actual Vista/7 machine).

share|improve this answer
Oh, occasionally someone who's not running Windows has a computer problem; it's just that they usually end up dealing with it mostly on their own. – SamB Sep 21 '10 at 21:23

For people who are neither family nor friends, I make an appointment and charge $40/hour. For family I usually go over and stay for supper. Luckily everyone in my family either knows enough tech that they don't call me, or is a really good cook. Friends go on a case by case basis. One of them is a car guy, so he gets all his tech support free and as quick as I can get to it, and in exchange he takes care of car trouble for me.

share|improve this answer

I tell them "I'm a programmer, not a hardware or computer fix it guy. It'd be like going to a Pediatrician and asking them to look at your feet to determine if you should get orthotics."

share|improve this answer

if I like them, and it seems like something I wouldn't hate, I'll say sure, but you owe me dinner. Done a number of things for my one friend, gotten free meal every time, and just had fun after, good excuse to hang out.

Otherwise, politely say no thanks, you can find the info on the internet, and if they keep bugging me, tell them I don't know how to fix it, I'm a Linux guy.

share|improve this answer

I tell them it costs €50/hour or €200 flat. People should not expect to use your skills for free. At least not on a regular basis.

share|improve this answer

Easy i say.

Just reformat it. If they get viruses so easily they may not use a computer often so may not care if it gets rid of the virus. If i am 5mins walking distance from the computer i'll go, open up MS config, check out the non MS services, uncheck some boot up apps and i am 'done'. If it doesnt work i say 'reformat it'.

share|improve this answer

If its someone I know, I tell them I don't fix computers anymore.

If it's Family, always.

I don't like to make money on computer repair and maintenance because I feel like a crook. Charging someone to remove viruses or 5 minutes to place and configure PCI-hardware components just doesn't seem right to me.

share|improve this answer

I actually can do repairs and whatnot.

I charge an hourly rate. Minimum one hour.

share|improve this answer

Immediate family gets whatever I can do. If my father is willing to come over Sunday afternoon and fix a broken water pipe, I can get the printer working for his construction business.

Friends/other family get by with a trade. For instance, I fixed an in-laws computer remotely for a beer magazine subscription... next time I'm asking her to send me some scotch!

Co-workers and other peripheral types better be willing to part with some cash! I've run a PC repair business, with some degree of success, so I know they are willing to pay if they have to.. ;)

share|improve this answer

I say one of

  • I dont' use Windows and this is why
  • I use GNU/Linux, Windows is too hard for me
  • I don't use Macs, I think they're ugly; Dell hardware looks better with my current decor

Which one depends on the situation and my mood.

EDIT: I will always make an effort to help my wife, and lately Windows software, (particularly) Word, has actually gotten way too complicated for me to understand. So option 2 above is close to the truth.

share|improve this answer

If I don't want to do it then I just bill them for, what I think will be, more than they can afford.

If they still agree... well then I just made $200 for replacing a hard drive.

share|improve this answer

I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!) Now 4 years later - we're married

share|improve this answer
She didnt marry you, she just entered into a life-long customer support agreement :-) – GrandmasterB Sep 21 '10 at 20:13

Take their money! Why not, it buys Josta same as any other money.

share|improve this answer

I quote Dijkstra:

Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.

share|improve this answer

I read a recent tweet along the lines of "Asking a computer scientist to fix your computer is like asking a botanist to mow your lawn." found it

My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. I can get to something as trivial, yet time consuming, as most computer issues are in 2-3 weeks. Nine out of ten times, they'll find other help by the time I get around to it.

share|improve this answer

My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it's $100/hr.

Reason: I like to help people but I don't like it when I'm abused as free support. So if it really is "just a simple tiny thing", then no problem, can do. But often "simply tiny problem" stands for "I have no idea what I'm talking about; just fix it!"

As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it's really worth it.

share|improve this answer

My husband actually fixes computers for a living, so when someone says "hey, can you see my computer? I think it has a virus" I just send them to talk with my husband, even when I fix my own computing problems.

share|improve this answer

My parents ask me this most often, and I always help them. They paid for enough things in my life that I feel the least I can do is keep their computers up and running smoothly.

For everyone else I say "sure", then I take 5-10 minutes and do as much non-permanent damage as I possibly can. I uninstall features, add extra logins, change device settings, and change path variables. Eventually, I say "I give up", and they pay someone else to fix their now /really/ broken system. So far, nobody has ever asked me to fix their computer twice.

share|improve this answer
this is offensive. – Reigel Sep 20 '10 at 7:53
Offended whom? You can think that is bad action but I can't see any offense here. – bigown Sep 20 '10 at 13:01
+1 Accurate answer. a nasty response, but an interesting one noentheless. Oh, and stay away from my computer! – Moshe Sep 21 '10 at 4:09
Wow.. What would you do if someone asked you to watch their children? Agree to do so, but then set them on fire? (only for a little while, so next time they will use a REAL babysitter!) – mpeterson Sep 21 '10 at 4:37
Programmers are so judgemental. Yes - of course I tell them that "I'm not very good and that I may mess things up", but they tell me to go ahead and try...once. – Alan Sep 21 '10 at 21:21

If it is family or a close friend I will give it a go. I normally help them to help themselves for about 3 minutes before getting impatient watching them hurt the poor thing more and take over!

I used to do it semi-regularly for a bit of extra cash on the side, plus for every hundred turn off and on again type solutions there was one problem that you could really get your teeth into, and of course solving problems is why we do what we do.

share|improve this answer

Parents are the only ones that I'll help. After that I usually claim ignorance. My only solution for slow/frozen/crashing computers is a format. It takes a few hours and is guaranteed to fix any issues. Most people don't like my solution though, so I don't bother

It's just not worth the time and effort, since most people presume you are doing it for free. If you asked someone to come and paint your house, you would pay them. If people ask for computer help, they don't expect to pay people. If they do, it seems to be more along the lines of "Here's $20 for coming over and spending 6 hours dealing with my garbage computer".

If I wanted to have a tech support job, I would have gotten one for my day job.

share|improve this answer

I just say "I don't know anything about hardware", I just do web programming... (I do know somewhat about hardware and have built my own computers, but this usually shuts them up) or something I used to say a lot (which I believe is 100% true for Windows machines) is, the only way I know to really remove viruses and fix it completely is to backup the data, wipe the hard-drive and re-install your operating system. This usually scares them away pretty fast too

share|improve this answer

Well whatever you do, besides family/siblings. NEVER EVER do it for free, or they will tell their friends "Hey so and so fixed my computer for nothing! come to him with all your computer problems"

......Please don't come to me lol.

share|improve this answer

A good answer is

Yes. The only way to be certain we get rid of any potential virus, trojans, and other malware, is to make a clean install of the operating system.

Please make sure you have a complete backup of all your data, and have the necessary installation media, and I will be happy to help accepting all the defaults for installations."

share|improve this answer

Ask $10 for half an hour spent infront of their computer trying to fix it.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.