March 19, 2004
Discuss High Tech
Waiting for this. Waiting for that. Waiting seems
to have become the common refrain in high-tech work these days. Rebuilding
a computer from scratch has turned into a 2-3 hour session, where it would
have taken only an hour a few years ago. What’s worse, clients are
getting fidgety about all this time wasted waiting. Why are they paying
you to stare at a screen while a progress bar updates. There are good
answers that that question, but finding some solution to “the waiting
game” is very important to your high-tech career.
Tens of thousands of files
The simple fact is that it does take a number of hours to prepare an average
computer for use. More complex systems can take half a day. The most frustrating
part of the process is caused by the shear number of files involved in
an average installation of Windows XP or Mac OS X. Operating systems that
once contained hundreds of files have grown to tens of thousands of files.
Even though our machines have grown dramatically faster, and provide us
features undreamed of 10 years ago, an install involves an hour or more
of staring at the screen, doing absolutely nothing.
Now, while it may seem great to get paid for sitting around staring at
a progress bar, I am sure you can begin to see the problems. What do you
do with the client for those hours? How amenable are they to the time
involved? While I am not yet seeing a major problem with unhappy clients,
I am seeing a possibility of it growing in the future.
I liken the problem to that of charging for travel time when visiting
a client. I have never charged travel time charges. I find them hard to
justify. If a client is far enough away to warrant a travel charge, I
am more inclined to assist the client by phone or help them find a consultant
in their area. Clients usually have a problem with paying for your driving
time. They feel they are paying for nothing, and I agree with them. I
don’t pay other service workers for travel time and so I find it
difficult to justify it for myself.
More and more, I am feeling the same way about time spent watching a cursor
spin. This comes from several directions. In a very personal way, I often
feel that I could be doing something much more productive with my time.
I don’t feel comfortable doing other work, like calling other clients
or writing this column while waiting for a machine to install, but I also
find myself fidgeting and grumbling instead.
What to do?
While they are imperfect solutions, at best, I have figured out a few
ways to make the waiting time a little more bearable. Clients often have
additional questions about their computers than the main reason for their
call. I try to discuss future needs and simpler problems that don’t
require hands-on use of the computer. I have been surprised home much
we can accomplish while the computer spins its wheels. We have mapped
out network upgrades, software changes and a host of other issues. If
you are lucky enough to have access to another computer, you can go even
further. Sometimes, if there are issues with another computer, the network
or a printer, I will move onto that problem in an effort to keep working
through the issues. In some cases, I will bring my laptop to use for demonstrations
just to insure we have something to do.
You will need to keep a close eye on the other system to insure that the
install doesn’t take any longer than necessary, but I feel it is
very important to give the client a sense that you are doing more than
twiddling your thumbs.
Another possible solution is to begin doing install and recovery work
in the comfort of your own office. This is especially useful in cases
where the client does not have a high-speed Internet connection. You can
let the install work while you go about your other business, all without
the client looking over your shoulder.
Although there are ways around the issue of “the waiting game”,
I am concerned that this will become far more than a game for my clients.
As programs grow larger and more complex, as computers add more and more
features and hardware, the time involved in configuring them is sure to
grow even longer. Without better solutions for addressing these issues,
we could all become subject to some very harsh stares from our clients
and a growing antipathy for our work.