Wisdom I Learned Working In I.T. : Answers Come From Questions

Picture of a woman smiling and talking on a phone in front of a computer. Below the picture are the words, "TECH SUPPORT: We can fix anything... except stupid."


Fixing computers for a living means you spend your whole day problem-solving. It’s insanely frustrating because you’re expected to be able to answer any question about any hardware or software problem there could ever be. Even if you went to school to study computers, all of your knowledge and experience is constantly becoming obsolete. So you have to constantly relearn your trade, but no matter how much you teach your self, you’ll never be able to memorize every error code, every symptom, and every solution to every problem that could possibly happen with every operating system.

However, you don’t have to. You’d be surprised how much you don’t have to know about computers and still be able to make a living fixing them… as long as you know how to think logically… which most people don’t. If they did, then most computer technicians, therapists, and police would be out of work. The following rules apply as much to fixing computers as they do to life:


Rule #1: If you want an exact answer, you need to ask an exact question.

When a user’s monitor goes blank they freak out and ask questions like, “Why is this happening to me?” “Why now?” “What the hell is wrong with this piece of shit?” etc. None of these questions are going to provide useful answers. So they call a computer tech who asks questions that cut to the heart of the issue such as, “What’s broken? What was the last thing you did before it broke? Does it have power? Are the connections loose? If we replace this piece will the problem go away or is the problem originating somewhere else?”

Life is the same way. When I’m sad, I don’t just mope around feeling miserable. I ask myself, “What is the problem? Why am I sad? What triggered it? How often does the occur and why? This keeps me from wallowing in hopelessness and ultimately leads to solutions.



 Rule #2: Use a logical, systematic problem-solving process

When I first started fixing computers I’d freak out every time I got a call about a problem I didn’t know how to fix. I’d ask myself questions like, “What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?” Eventually, I stopped freaking out and learned to look at a computer with the cool air of a mysterious, wandering gunslinger. I’d take my time and break down the problem systematically starting by gathering all the facts, eliminating variables, and testing solutions one at a time until the problem was solved. And throughout the whole process, I’d keep in mind that if you’re not asking exact questions, you won’t get exact answers.

Eventually, I found my method of problem-solving worked equally well in real life. I could see it in my friends as well. The ones who had the most problems in their lives were the ones who sat around asking themselves, “Why is this happening to me?” “Why is life unfair?” These are the people who when you try to offer them solutions to their problems they argue with you and bark excuses at you for why nothing will work. The people who have the least problems in life are the ones who size up their problems logically.



 Rule #3: The quality and quantity of answers you get are proportional to the quality and quantity of questions you ask.

Lucid people know that the causes and the solutions of any problem can be deduced by analyzing the variables in the problem. The degree of success you have deducing the causes and the solutions depends on how specific and articulate the questions you ask are. Using that mindset, they don’t wast any time freaking out or getting emotional about the problems in their lives. They simply go into analytical mode and start asking questions.

When I would get stumped fixing a difficult computer problem, I would stop, take a deep breath, and ask myself, “What questions have I been asking, and why am I asking myself these questions? Which questions haven’t I asked, and why not?” If I couldn’t solve the problem, I would ask for help from someone with more experience for help, but I wouldn’t just ask them for the answer. I would ask them to explain the series of questions they asked themselves to correctly deduce the variables in the equation so I would understand the system and know the right questions to ask next time and why.

So if you find yourself getting emotional about a problem, or one of your friends comes complaining to you about theirs, the first question you need to ask is, “What questions have you asked?”



 Rule #4: Knowing where to find the right answer is just as good as knowing it from memory.

When I first started working at a computer help desk, most of my coworkers were equally inexperienced. We only had one guy on our team who could answer any question. I only used him as a last resort, because if I bothered him every time I got stumped, his entire job would consist of mentoring me. So one day I asked him, “How do you know so much? Why can you solve more problems than anyone else here?”

He looked at me like I was stupid and said, “I don’t know the answers to all the questions you guys bring to me, but I don’t have to if I know where to find them.” Then he pointed to his computer and said,” We’ve all got Google on your computer. There’s a wealth of information on the internet. If I don’t know something, I ask the internet.”

So now, when I run into a problem I’m having even a little difficulty with, I don’t ask myself, “What am I doing wrong!?” I ask myself, “Where can I find the answer without having to make every mistake myself first?”



If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:


The Meaning of Life
How to Think Like a Genius
Knowledge and Learning
Biker Philosophy
My Tweets About Philosophy 

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