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Working on Personal Computer Issues at Work

Techies get called on for help with many things techinical, and for close friends and family, we'd help out, I'm sure.  However, where do we draw the line on who's friends and who's not?  We do need to be compensated for are efforts like any other trade, right?

I've never had a problem with people who border on this.  I have had clients that were friendly with me, and they make joke about compensating me with only inexpensive gifts or gestures (a gift basket, lunch, Cheetoes, or setting me up with a girl they know), but they were all in good fun.  They do pay their fair share at the end of the service, of course.  They're happy, and they still call or refer me to people that also need help.

No Respect, No Respect at All!
However, there are times when people try to low-ball you AFTER you performed the service.  I started to make it a habit of letting the person know ahead of time an estimate of the cost at the begining.  I hate doing this because it starts to sound like I'm putting money first and service and customer relations second.  Still, if I don't, the client will have a lot of room to negotiate, or worse, deny payment after the work was done.

However, this experience tops it all.  Months ago, a co-worker asked if I can fix his personal laptop.  We aren't close, and he works in a different department, so I don't even see him every day.  He only knew of me because I'm a help desk technician in our organization.  He brought the laptop in and I took a look at it. It just wouldn't power on at all.  It wasn't the battery or the power supply.  After informing him of this, I told him the best thing now is just pull the data off the hard drive and put it on a DVD or external hard drive.  This way, he can copy all of his personal files (photos, videos, music, documents, etc) onto a new laptop whenever he decides to purchase one.  Not only that, but once he copies the data over, he'd have a point-in-time backup.  He agreed, and I informed him that I'd charge him $40 for the work.  He agreed.

First, I made a snapshot image of his entire hard drive just in case.  Just in case of what?  Well, anything!  In case I accidently screw something up.  In case the drive dies before I could extract the files.  In case the client doesn't pay (I'd just restore the drive the way it was, and put it back in).  This is especially helpful when you are re-installing Windows for a client, and they don't pay.  You can just restore it back to the way it was, viruses, malware, and all.

Then, I copied all of his data from his My Documents, Favorites, and Desktop folders from all the different loccal profiles.  Thankfully, they all fit into a DVD, for which I burned for him.  It's completely user readable, meaning that he can just stick it in a working PC and just open up the files - no need for any complicated external programs or procedures.

After I was done, I gave him the DVD and his hard drive and the guy starts to walk away.  Whoa!  Wait a tick, sir!  Did you forget something?  I politely asked if he wanted to pay me tomorrow.  He laughed at me and said "you're funny!"  With a serious face, I said "excuse me?"  He actually said to me "I thought you were joking when you said it was $40!".

He did pay up, but wasn't happy about it.  I reminded him that it was personal side work.  I even reminded him that I told him all of this before I started the work!

The Bombshell
That was about a month ago, and I bumped into him in the lunch room this morning.  He seems to be avoiding me, but I still striked him up with friendly banter.  I even asked if he was able to get to all of his data, and if anything was missing.  He said no, and then told me how he could have had it done for free because his tech-savvy friend was in town.  Wow... how tactless!  Being professinal about it, I calmly said "it's always best to ask a tech-savvy friend first".  He retorts by saying he'd thought a co-worker would be better, but he didn't know he would be charged $40!  Yes, he actually mentioned the dollar amount, so you know he was still playing back this moment in time for the past month!

Still trying to remain calm,  told him that it's always best to ask someone close to you first.  If they can't do it, they will tell you.  I help my family and friends all the time.  If you have a techie friend, why didn't you ask him or her first?

He had the galls to say that one of his friends told him that their tech department helps with personal computer issues and don't charge.  Well, then, perhaps he should have his friend take his laptop with him to work then.

How sleazy are you that you're willing to save $40 by taking up other people's time?  You're just taking advantage of their generosity!  Techies are people, and they have feelings.  They also have bills to pay, just like you!

Some Allies
Thankfully, I had another co-work who was in the same room who over heard all of this.  After the guy stormed out, she told me that $40 was a steal to have a computer fixed, and didn't understand why he was expecting free work for personal computer issues.  After all, when we work "for free" for work-related issues, it's not really free.  We get paid via our bi-weekly pay checks!  Should that pay check cover his personal computer issues?  As for the "but we're co-workers" argument: Were we good buddies?  Has he ever accompanied me to lunch?  Smoked with me outside?  Grabbed a beer after work?  No, no, no, and no.

I have a techie friend (who may contribute content to this site) who can sympathize.  He works as a help desk technician as well, and is well known for working on personal computer issues outside of work.  Everyone just expects to compensate him with cash.

At my work place, my previous department manager expected everyone who asks for personal work to compensate in they way they choose - either by buying lunch for the entire team, or by good old fashsion cash.  This is because they would come directly to him, and he would just delegate the work to us.  However, the techies were discouraged for asking for anything in return, and thus the gratuity system.  People who don't compensate us goes into a "black book".  Okay, it's just a text file, but it has names of employees who we will not service their personal computers any more.

My manager since left the company, and we've been suffering in the system since.  We are now starting to ask for monetary compensation.  My mantra is "advice is free, work is not".   It's not like we are charging Geek Squad prices.  I mean, does $40 sound expensive for pulling a hard drive out of a dead laptop, making an image of the drive (I usually keep the image around until I need the space, so the client has recourse if something is missing), extracting the data, and burning it to a user-readable DVD format?  Before I knew he was holding a grudge, I even offered to migrate his data (including his Favorites) to his new laptop!

My techie friend says I should have charged him twice that.  Maybe he's right.  I should ask for another $40 before the guy goes to lunch.

Reader Comments (2)

I have met people similar to your 'co-worker'. They are called USERS. They USE other people to get what they want and manipulate using very unfair tactics. They whine and complain when they have to pay cash. I really dislike them. They seem to think that the world owes them anything. They are offended when asked for something in return.
My experience is has taught me to:
1. Avoid these people once they make themselves known.
2. Spread the word about how they tried to use me. Friends don't let friends get used.
3. If necessary, confront them publicly. Nothing sanitizes a situation like the light of truth in the open air.

As example, I had a boss that tried to stiff me for extra work done. I had to file a union grievance and eventually went to a formal arbitration hearing to get paid. I'll never forget the arbitrator listening calmly to both sides and then turning to my boss. He asked simply, "So why didn't you pay him?" Finally the arbitrator ordered that I be paid in the next pay check. I would not have pursued this if the union wasn't behind me. I could have gotten fired without the union's support.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Burkert

when you are working with your personal computer you can face some problem. but it did not happen regularly. so you do not think about it seriously.

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterandrew saimon

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