Originally Published: Friday, 6 October 2000 Author: Ryan C. Gordon
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

The First Rule of Tech Support is You Don't Talk About Tech Support

The tech support crew at Loki was irked by my mention of their profession's suicide rate in last month's article. They felt I was poking fun at a difficult occupation that doesn't get enough respect in the first place. Fair enough. I decided that some research was in order, so I set out to gain a better understanding of how tech support functions in this brave new world of 30 year-old technology. Editor's Note: This piece is satire. Proceed with caution and a sense of humor.

Editor's Note: This is satire. This is not serious. This is not an in-depth look at the support offerings of Linux companies. This is a humor piece. This is not for the humor-impaired. This is Ryan Gordon's editorial, and it is primarily a work of fiction. Do not take this seriously. Sit back, grab a soda and enjoy it. Ryan's views are his own, not necessarily the views of Linux.com, VA Linux, or anyone else. Take it away, Ryan. --Emmett

Working at Loki, I get a lot of free stuff.

I get stuff I can't even use, but I get it all the same. SuSE sent me their German distro on DVD, and not only do I not own a DVD drive, but I don't speak German, either. 3Dfx sends me Voodoo5 cards, and I call them and pretend that we're an all-Macintosh shop, so then they send me new Intel boxes to try the cards in. They fall for that every time; they really embody the best spirit of the Linux movement. Microsoft sends me software. I used to stack those discs on top of the ones from AOL, but the pile grew so big that it became a safety hazard. We now hand those CD-ROMs out to homeless people as drink coasters down at the local Goodwill.

The true beauty of the free stuff that gets sent to me is that it almost always has a valid serial number included. This means that when the stuff inevitably doesn't work, I can skip the hopeless trolling of IRC channels and DejaNews. It's my 'get out of HOWTO jail free' card. That's right: free tech support, baby. Suck it down.

The tech support crew at Loki was irked by my mention of their profession's suicide rate in last month's article. They felt I was poking fun at a difficult occupation that doesn't get enough respect in the first place. Fair enough. I decided that some research was in order, so I set out to gain a better understanding of how tech support functions in this brave new world of 30 year-old technology.

With a handful of valid serial numbers from all my free stuff, I proceeded to contact a bunch of tech support divisions. These calls are handled by people that are passionate about their products, and they are trained to handle confused callers that want to be just as passionate, but can't be because the junk doesn't work. Below are some of the transcripts from these conversations.

Please note that I've changed the names of the companies and individuals to protect the innocent.

My first plan was to be fair in all things; I wanted to allow time for the tech crews to give a reasoned response to my questions that best represented their employer. I concluded that communication by email was the most fair path for investigative journalism. To avoid special treatment due to my email address, I made one up.

Email #1, September 19th, 2000.
From: Michael Ignacious Pucknut <mipucknut@aol.com>
To: support@healickscode.com

hi`

does yuor program run on windows me? im really looking forward to runing it, since that penguin thing is so kewl what's the heck is a RPM is that like an MP3?? i cant get them to play in winAmp so they must be what that l337 new linux tehcnology is for oh, i fownd this kewl ftp site with a bunch of mp3s and stuf but i need a passwrod to get in can you help me hack it?

thanks for help

lol,
--mikey.
:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

...I sent that on the 19th, and I haven't gotten a reply yet. I can't imagine why, unless the support crew installed the jeffk filter on their inboxes. After waiting a few days, I decided that a more confrontational approach was all that would help me get some good content before deadline. It was time to break the golden rule of Geekdom; I actually took the phone line out of my modem and stuck it back in the phone. As I blew the dust off the receiver, I chose my next target.

Call #1, September 26th, 2000.

[ring.]

Tech: "CanBreak tech support, may I have your product serial number?"
Ryan: "Sure, it's [xxxxxxxxxxx]."
Tech: "Thanks! What is troubling you today?"
Ryan: "May I start off by saying I love your accent?"
Tech: "Merci! I am so French! Ho ho ho!"
Ryan: "Riiiiight."
Tech: "What was your question?"
Ryan: "Does your product run on Red Hat?"
Tech: "Excuse moi?"
Ryan: "Red Hat. Does it run on Red Hat?"
Tech: "CanBreak Linux does NOT use any RPMs from Red Hat, monsieur."
Ryan: "What?"
Tech: "We are our own distribution!"
Ryan: "What's a distribution?"

[obvious sigh comes over the phone line.]

Tech: "Red Hat is a distribution of the GNU/Linux system. It's a collection of software that makes up an operating system."
Ryan: "Like MacOS is an operating system?"
Tech: "Precisely."
Ryan: "So your product runs on ... MacOS?"
Tech: "Uh, no."
Ryan: "What, just that new MacOS X Server? I keep hearing about 'X Servers' when people talk about Red Hat, so I figured that might be important."
Tech: "No no no...an 'X server' is a means of showing graphics."
Ryan: "Oh, yeah...that's the new Microsoft API for multimedia stuff...they have a DirectX SERVER now? Is that like Windows NT versus NT Server?"

[Another sigh. Some sort of French curse word. A gunshot. Thud.]

Ryan: "Hello? Hello? The guys at Red Hat said you were all just a bunch of dirty hippies; is that true? Hello?"

[There's a few minutes of silence, then a different dirty hippie picks up the reciever.]

Tech2: "Hello?"
Ryan: "Er...hi."
Tech2: "You need something?"
Ryan: "Is that guy alright?"
Tech2: "Who, Jacques? Oh, he's dead."
Ryan: "What?!"
Tech2: "Yeah, killed himself. Happens all the time. Did you have a question?"
Ryan: "I...uh, no. Thanks. Jacques pretty much confirmed what I already thought."
Tech2: "Thanks for calling the CanBreak technical support lines!"

[click.]

So there you go. High suicide rate. I just never imagined that workman's comp would be an issue.

I had to be fair and call the 'bad guys,' too.

Call #2, September 27th, 2000

[ring.]

Tech: "Macroshaft tech support, may I have your product serial number?"
Ryan: "Uh...let's see...I've got that around here somewhere...please hold."

[At this point, I turn on a Jimmy Buffett MP3 and hold the phone up to my speakers. I let 'em sweat it out for a few minutes.]

Ryan: "Still there?"
Tech: "Uh, yes."
Ryan: "Good! My serial number is 9-3-5-2-1-8-2-4-7-3-2."
Tech: "You're two digits short."
Ryan: "I am? Oh...let me ask /dev/urandom again..."
Tech: "Dev Urandom?"
Ryan: "Yeah. That's my manager. Uh, He's Indian."
Tech: "Oh, ok."
Ryan: "Zero. Eight."
Tech: "Thank you. What seems to be the problem?"
Ryan: "Well this is the darndest thing. I'm using your operating system, and it comes up to this screen asking for an offering. What should I do?"
Tech: "It's asking for you to insert a disc?"
Ryan: "No, it wants an offering."
Tech: "There's an advertisement? I don't understand."
Ryan: "I'm telling you, your product is asking for an offering."
Tech: "Could you read your screen for me, word for word?"
Ryan: "Should I start at the top left?"
Tech: "Yes."
Ryan: "Say please."
Tech: "Excuse me?"
Ryan: "Say please. I thought tech support people were supposed to be like super-courteous and stuff."
Tech: "Oh, right, sorry. PLEASE read your screen."
Ryan: "From the top left?"
Tech: "YES FROM THE TOP LEFT...er, please."
Ryan: "Ok. The whole screen is blue, and it says, 'An exception zero-dee has occurred at zero-zero-two-eight-colon-cee-zero-zero-three-cee-seven-two. It may be possible to continue normally. Press any key to attempt to continue. Or make an offering to The Unholy Lord Jacaroth to get your spreadsheet back."
Tech: "What?"
Ryan: "I said, 'An exception zero-dee has...'"
Tech: "No no no, go back to that part about the offering."
Ryan: "...or make an offering to The Unholy Lord Jacaroth to get your spreadsheet back?"
Tech: "Is this a joke?"
Ryan: "I just want to know what SORT of offering The Unholy Lord Jacaroth would like. Is this a chicken blood sort of event or do I need to round up some virgins?"
Tech: "Did Bill put you up to this?"
Ryan: "I mean, I can go to the supermarket, but I have to admit, this is a little unorthodox..."

[click.]

Since I'm on an operating system kick, I thought I'd round this out with one more phone call:

Call #3, September 28th, 2000.

[ring.]

Tech: "Red Cap tech support, may I have your product serial number?"
Ryan: "Yes, it's [xxxxxxxxxxx]."
Tech: "Thank you. What's your trouble today?"
Ryan: "Well, see, I've got this Nvidia GeForce card in my machine, and I'm trying to get Quake 3 to run with it, but I'm getting like one frame every five seconds."
Tech: "Uh huh."

[pause.]

Ryan: "Uh, yeah. I'm using XFree86 version 3.3.6 with the default installed libGL.so."
Tech: "Right."

[beat.]

Ryan: "And...libc 5.1."

[more silence.]

Ryan: "And, uh...I ran 'su -c "rm -rf /"' this morning. Any idea what's wrong?"
Tech: "Wow...that could be just about anything."
Ryan: "What should I do?"
Tech: "Why don't you try cramming it in your ear?"
Ryan: "Excuse me?"
Tech: "You heard me."
Ryan: "Cram it in...my...?"
Tech: "Ear. Cram it in your ear. Look, we're Red Cap. We could care less about your stupid little problems."
Ryan: "But as a customer I'm entitled to..."
Tech: "As a customer, you're an jerk. Leave me alone."

[silence.]

Ryan: "So, did you get beat up in grade school a lot?"

[click.]

There are a lot of lessons to learned from these interactions. If nothing else, here are a few maxims you should take away from this article:


You can send Ryan free stuff at icculus@lokigames.com, but it better be good.