Career Opportunities
A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

The Wait

March 19, 2004

Discuss High Tech Careers

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.

The Future

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.

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