The Nine Types of Users
"I tried the thing, ya know, and it worked, ya know, but now it doesn't, ya
Advantages: Provides interesting communication challanges.
Disadvantages: So do chimps.
Symptoms: Complete inability to use proper nouns
Real Case: One user walked up to a certain Armenian pod manager and said,
"I can't get what I want!" The pod manager leaned back, put his hands on
his belt-buckle, and said, "Well, ma'am, you've come to the right place."
"Well, I hit ALT-f6, shift-f8, CNTRL-f10, f4, and f9, and now it looks all
Advantages: Will try to find own solution to problems.
Disadvantages: User might have translated document to Navajo without
Symptoms: More than six stopped jobs in UNIX, a 2:1 code-to-letter ratio in
Real Case: One user came in complaining that his WordPerfect document was
underlined. When I used reveal codes on it, I found that he'd set and unset
underline more than fifty times in his document.
Frying Pan/Fire Tactician
"It didn't work with the data set we had, so I fed in my aunt's recipe for
key lime pie."
Advantages: Will usually fix error.
Disadvantages: 'Fix' is defined VERY loosely here.
Symptoms: A tendency to delete lines that get errors instead of fixing
Real Case: One user complained that their program executed, but didn't do
anything. The support person looked at it for twenty minutes before
realizing that they'd commented out EVERY LINE. The user said, "Well, that
was the only way I could get it to compile."
"Last week, when the moon was full, the clouds were thick, and formahaut
was above the horizon, I typed f77, and lo, it did compile."
Advantages: Gives insight into primative mythology.
Disadvantages: Few support people are anthropology majors.
Symptoms: Frequent questions about irrelevant objects.
Real Case: One user complained that all information on one of their disks
got erased (as Norton Utilities showed nothing but empty sectors, I suspect
nothing had ever been on it). Reasoning that the deleted information went
somewhere, they wouldn't shut up until the help-desk attendant checked four
different disks for the missing information.
"Will you look at those. . .um, that resolution, quite impressive, really."
Advantages: Using the cutting-edge in graphics technology.
Disadvantages: Has little or no idea how to use the cutting-edge in
Symptoms: Fuzzy hands, blindness
Real Case: When I was off duty, two users sat down in front of me at DEC
station 5000/200s that systems was reconfiguring. I suppressed my laughter
while, for twenty minutes, they sat down and did their best to act like
they were doing exectly what they wanted to do, even though they couldn't
"But it read a file from it yesterday!" 'Sir, at a guess, this disk has
been swollowed and regurgitated.' "But I did that a month ago, and it read
a file from it yesterday!"
Advantages: Apparently has remarkable luck when you aren't around.
Disadvantages: People complain when support folks actually use the word
Symptoms: Loses all ability to do impossible when you're around. Must be
the kryptonite in your pocket.
Real Case: At least three users have claimed that they've loaded IBM
WordPerfect from Macintosh disks.
"Well, this is a file in MacWrite. Do you know how I can upload it to
MUSIC, transfer it over to UNIX from there, download it onto an IBM,
convert it to WordPerfect, and put it in three-column format?"
Advantages: Bold new challanges.
Disadvantages: Makes one wish to be a garbage collector.
Symptoms: An inability to keep quiet. Strong tendencies to make machines do
things they don't want to do.
Real Case: One user tried to get a support person to find out what another
person's E-mail address was even though the user didn't know his target's
home system, account name, or real name.
"Well, first I sat down, like this. Then I logged on, like this, and after
that, I typed in my password, like this, and after that I edited my file,
like this, and after that I went to this line here, like this, and after
that I picked my nose, like this. . ."
Advantages: Willing to show you exactly what they did to get an error.
Disadvantages: For as long as five or six hours.
Symptoms: Selective deafness to the phrases, "Right, right, okay, but what
was the ERROR?", and a strong fondness for the phrase, "Well, I'm getting
Real Case: I once had to spend half an hour looking over a user's shoulder
while they continuously retrieved a document into itself and denied that
they did it (the user was complaining that their document was 87 copies of
the same thing).
(unfair, perhaps, as these tend, overwhelmingly, to be males)
"I need a Mac, and someone's got the one I like reserved, would you please
garrote him and put him in the paper recycling bin?"
Advantages: Flatters you with their high standards for your service.
Disadvantages: Impresses you with their obliviousness to other people on
Symptoms: Inability to communicate except by complaining.
Real Case: One asked a sysadmin to remove the message of the day because he
(the user) didn't like it.