January 16, 2004
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It is easier to buy a computer today than ever before.
For your average user, any computer system they buy will have more power
and more software than they will ever need. In fact, the biggest problem
most users will face is learning how to use all the power they are given
without getting hopelessly confused. This is where you and your high-tech
experience come into play. With thousands of people buying new computers,
or upgrading their existing systems, every day, they need your expertise
to help them from going astray.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
In many cases, installing a new computer system, and training its owner,
is a matter of simplicity. Despite all the bells and whistles that might
have come with the system, your first job is to make it understandable
to the user. It may seem odd, but you need to teach them how to ignore
all the neat software they have so that they can actually begin using
the system. You have to do this because it is simply too easy to be distracted
by all the bells and whistles. Many users will want to talk about editing
video and burning DVDs before they even know how to turn the computer
on or off.
It is your job to lead users through the forest of options, pointing out
this tree and that, as necessary. Just like a guide shows you the highlights
of a museum or a national park, you are the guide for their new computer
systems. If you lead your users astray, it is not only they who will suffer.
Users that don’t get enough guidance can turn into support nightmares.
They will become bogged down in software far beyond their skills and be
unable to complete their most necessary tasks. This will generate countless
phone calls and can generate enmity between you and them. Do everything
you can to keep your users on the trail and stop them from wandering off
into the weeds.
Remove, but remember
There are several things you can do to smooth the path. First, remove
any unnecessary icons from the user’s desktop. While doing that,
though, make sure you have some knowledge of these programs so that you
can add them back later, when the user is ready. On a machine running
Microsoft Windows, clean out the Start Menu, as well. You can leave all
the programs listed in the Programs submenu, though, as this will provide
you quick shortcuts to replace those you have removed.
Next, create shortcuts for the programs that the user needs today. This
might include an email application, web browser and one or two other programs
the users wants to start using immediately. I usually set these icons
aside in a specific area of the desktop so they stand out from any of
the usual desktop icons.
Making a list
When I first schedule an appointment with a new client, I ask them to
make a list of everything they want to do with their computer. This might
include general items like “surf the Internet,” or specific
tasks like “print envelopes.” When we meet for the first time,
after any install and setup operations have been completed, we begin working
from this list. What I try to do is teach them one or two of their tasks
on the first visit so they have a sense of accomplishment and feel they
can do something, no matter how small, with their new computer.
Along with this task-oriented training, I weave in the basics of using
a computer. I drop in tidbits about using the mouse, menus, dialog boxes
and anything else that comes up as we work our way through a particular
task. If I tried to jump right into this basic training, it is possible
that the user would rebel against it, wanting to actually “do”
something instead of just learning the basics. By interweaving this information
with other, more interesting topics, I can still communicate important
fundamentals that every computer user should know.
The next time you install a new computer, or deal with a new computer
user, I think you will find that these ideas can help to simplify the
process and give the user the best start possible. Don’t let flashy
technology dazzle you, or, more importantly, confuse your client. Remove
the worst distractions until your user is ready to take the next step
in complexity. One of your many tasks as a high-tech careerist is acting
as a guide for your clients. Doing this well can ensure a long and prosperous
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