It's Not Working or How to help your tech support help you.

I've worked as a developer (on various different languages and systems) over the past 6 years. Before that I worked in tech support and help desk support for a couple of companies. Something that has acted as a constant across this entire time are the three words "it's not working".

As a developer/tech support person, those three little words haunt my dreams.

I thought I'd try to explain what it is about them in the hope that people can go away with new knowledge that will allow them to improve their contact with their development or IT help desk team.

Imagine a system that is supposed to send an automated email when you press a button.

There is clearly only one way that this system can be working. If you press the button then it sends an email.

Now, if I told you "it's not working" then what now?

It could be that you press the button and you receive no email.
It could be that the button isn't actually there anymore.
Maybe you press the button but the content of the email is incorrect.
Maybe it sends the email to the wrong person.
Maybe it sends the email to everyone in the company in error.
Maybe you get a bounce back email from your mail server saying something went wrong.
How about an error message popping up on the screen when you press the button.
Or it might crash the software that you are using.
It might even cause a fatal error and shut down your computer entirely.

The list goes on...

Most things have only one way of operating when they are working.

However, when something is not working there is an almost endless list of possible things that could be happening.

How you can help?

Not everyone will know exactly why something is not working and that is perfectly understandable. But everyone can explain what is happening.

By taking a couple of minutes to describe what IS happening you will significantly reduce the amount of time that it takes for that problem to be fixed.

Compare a message along the lines of...

I tried to use the email button but it's not working.

to a message along the lines of...

When I pressed the email button it looked like it was working but then I received an email telling me the recipient could not be found.

While the first just leaves a load of questions to be answered the second message instantly pinpoints a potential cause (and fix) for the problem.

You will find that whoever is trying to help you will appreciate it a lot more too.

Help your tech support people (or developers) help you.

Everything will be better that way. I promise 😀

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