Q: How should I deal with people who don’t have a clue what they are doing with their computer but constantly want me to help them resolve their petty computer issues?

A: Being known as a tech-savvy professional has its drawbacks. Specifically, we are frequently expected to help novice computer users fix their computer, printer, and internet problems. You know who I am talking about—those type of people who think a megabyte is something you get from a really big dog. Resolving their technical issues is only one part of the equation; the other parts involve trying to explain the resolution to the uninformed and training them to avoid the same problem in the future. Often these uninitiated don’t even understand the simple difference between an operating system, a browser, a search engine, or an email client (i.e., “I use Windows to get my email” or “My computer system is Chrome”). To further frustrate matters, they tend to run ancient computers with slow internet access, which makes the process of working on their technology akin to waiting for a “rescue sloth” to fetch help. To top things off, the chances that these novice users know their various usernames and passwords are slim. For better or worse, I find that I often have little choice but to muster a big smile and help my chip-challenged friends and family members climb back on their mouse. For those of you who share this pain, here are a few suggestions for working with these types of people.

1. Be grinchy. Conjuring the spirit of the Grinch when he explained to Cindy Lou Who that he would fix her Christmas tree light at his workshop, I find that working on others’ computers in the privacy of my office is far more convenient. Not only does this ensure fast internet access, but it also allows me to multitask and get real work done while I am waiting on downloads, diagnostics, virus scans, or disk defragmentation.

2. Work privately. My auto mechanic has a policy of charging $60 an hour for repairs, or $75 if I watch, and I echo this sentiment when resurrecting those museum-quality computer relics.

3. Print screens. I find it beneficial to press the PrintScreen button often (and paste the screens into a Word document) to capture screen images as I perform various tasks, such as setting up an email account. This enables me to provide the novice computer user with screen-printed pages that clearly show the changes I made and the settings I adjusted.

4. Training. Most computer problems arise because of inadequate user training. In most cases, resolving the computer problems also involves educating the user so he or she doesn’t cause the same problems again.

5. Attitude. Though it is often difficult to do so, I keep reminding myself to be patient and encourage novice users as much as possible. I try to teach them the basics, using short, incremental training sessions, and for optimum learning I make sure to seat them at the keyboard while I orchestrate each lesson. I encourage them to take notes if they want to, and I employ repetition to reinforce the learning process.

J. Carlton Collins ( ) is a technology consultant, CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

Note: Instructions for Microsoft Office in “Technology Q&A” refer to the 2013, 2010, and 2007 versions, unless otherwise specified.

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