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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?

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

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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

It's usually an ID10T error. But normally, its a hardware or software issue. So as a website programmer, I simply say "Sorry I only work on websites. Besides, it sounds like a hardware issue, you need a hardware tech, and I don't know anything about that anymore."

Yes, I normally have to make exceptions for friends and family members.. but it irritates me. I almost always will procrastinate on it, since it is low-priority to me.

In Retrospect, get yourself a T-Shirt that says "I wont fix your computer."

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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."

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I learnt to say no. It's not rude.

You can simply explain that you already have a day job and that so many peoples were asking for help with their computer hardware that you once end up putting multiple hours per week/month in repairing computers for friends/colleagues while you don't really need the extra money. Every peoples whom I have said that have been understanding and usually insist that it's fine if I don't want to do it.

For family members and close friends I usually tell them the same story, but I add that they are on the exception list and that I will be glad to help them. Some of them offers to pay me, but I never accept. If they insist I tell them my usual price is 85$ per hour, two hours minimum :)

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Making up excuses is probably more rude, actually. – Maxpm Mar 6 '11 at 5:45

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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If it's family or close friends, I fix it if I can, or if I can't I promise to deal with the problem until it's solved (Okey, bring it to me ... sure, just leave on your way' in the mornin' and I'll look it up. I don't think it's serious, but if I can't handle it, I'll take it to ... and you'll get it on Wednesday, latest. I'll give you a call if something needs to be replaced, but it looks like it shouldn't.) Refund usually comes in the form of apfelstrudl on delivery :-)

For pretty much all others, I either help them with a piece of advice or two (which in a lots of cases does help with the problem) or advise them where it would be best for them to take the machine, and so on. Quick internet searches included. And I really don't mind helping people if I can (I don't think most of us in these community sites mind helping, after all.)

Apart from the above, most people don't ask ... although I have the reputation of a "computer guy", I don't however have one of a "chatty guy" - so most never get a chance to ask :-)

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Had the pregnant spouse of a friend of a co-worker call me about a printer problem. Finally, I had to tell her to return it and sat on the phone for what seemed like an hour just listening to her sob. Now I tell horror stories about all the computers I've screwed up. I hate working with: hardware, networking, security, and other people's code. Pretty much in that order.

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I quote Dijkstra:

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

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I actually have two hierarchies that govern who and to what extent I will help:

Relationship to Person

  • Parents: Just fix it. I owe them that, and then some.

  • Siblings: Fix it, expecting a modest favour in return (dinner/pizza/etc.)

  • Friends/Relatives: They bring the machine to me, along with booze, and entertain me for the duration. Bartering is also acceptable, if they can offer something I genuinely want.

  • Coworkers/Family Friends: Standard consulting fees apply. 2 hour minimum.

Severity of Problem

  • Trivial: E-mail a URL to a tutorial/help page. Usually includes screen shots, so it's easier for both of us.

  • Minor: If it takes 10 minutes or less (i.e. set up a printer), I just do it on the spot.

  • Major: Malware, OS upgrades, etc. Relationship hierarchy applies directly.

  • Severe: E.g. system won't boot, hard drive crashed. I tell them truthfully that it's beyond my area of expertise and that they need to get a replacement/repair (hopefully still under warranty).

This tends to work pretty well for me. The only time it gets dicey is when dealing with the "friends who aren't really friends but only call when they want free help." In these rare cases I usually say I'll help but act distracted or incompetent so that they'll just give up and ask somebody else. I don't really care if that's dishonest, they're already being jerks by abusing the very tenuous friendship.

Oh, and one other thing: I make sure that everybody I help understands this hierarchy, so that they don't decide to "recommend" me to all of their family/friends as free labour.

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By far the best answer. I'm pretty sure anyone on Programmers.SE can relate to it (unless you're from Africa or smth)... – Radu Murzea Jun 6 '13 at 18:36

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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

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I actually can do repairs and whatnot.

I charge an hourly rate. Minimum one hour.

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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.

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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'.

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I ask them to clean my house. No one has accepted yet.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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