August 22, 2014

Oh, The Tech Mistakes That I’ve Made

Avoiding tech mistakesFor more than seventeen years now, helping smart people get the most of technology products and services at work, at home, and everywhere in between has been my life’s work. People sometimes assume that I’m a role model when it comes to such matters. That’s tremendously flattering.

Often, though, I’m something at least as useful: An object lesson in what not to do. If there’s a tech-related mistake to be made, I’ve probably made it. Repeatedly, in some cases.

Avoiding my missteps isn’t a bad strategy for success with hardware, software, and the Web. Herewith, a few of the dumb things I’ve been known to do …

  • Biting off more than I can chew at once. You don’t need to address every issue that technology can solve for you all at once. In fact, if you try to, you’re more likely to create new problems. Worse, you may have more trouble diagnosing and fixing them than if you changed one thing at a time. I just wish I always remembered that.
  • Not remembering that technology is made up of systems, not standalone products. Sure, you want good PCs and operating systems and application software and printers and networking gear. And I sometimes devote most of my attention to buying the right standalone products. But almost all of the power of tech is wrapped up in how hardware, software, and services work together — and a fair amount of the stress that tech can induce comes when they don’t work together.
  • Working in haste. Just about every time I’ve ever had a computer upgrade go awry, for instance, it’s because I tried to rush it. My success rate is vastly higher when I take time to read instructions and double-check my work, and when I allow time for any troubleshooting that proves necessary.
  • Letting troubles fester. Sometimes I’ve cheerfully ignored warning signs that something was amiss — like when I used a PC for weeks after its power supply began making weird buzzing sounds, or when I noticed a potential security hole with a Web software installation and didn’t seal it up pronto. Sometimes I’ve lucked out; sometimes I haven’t.
  • Failing to devise backup strategies and disaster-recovery plans. Even the best technology products and services are far from bulletproof. And the more essential they are, the more important it is that you ask yourself what you’d do if they suddenly died on you. I know, for instance, that if I’m going somewhere to deliver an important presentation, I should at the very least tote along a copy on a thumb drive, just in case my laptop conks out. I have, however, forgotten to practice what I preach from time to time.
  • Seeking help too late. Like many folks who love technology, I take pleasure in making my own decisions and solving my own problems — and I frequently dive into challenges that are really above my pay grade. I usually emerge unscathed and smarter. There are times, though, when it’s worth seeking assistance from a professional — especially when any hiccups could have serious consequences.

Whew! Strangely enough, I’m sort of proud of just how many tech mistakes I’ve managed to make over the years: If you’re not constantly boldly going where you’ve never gone before, you’re not learning. Or so I like to tell myself. If you prefer to learn from my mistakes rather than your own, I understand. And I suspect I’ll continue to make plenty of them on your behalf.

* * * * *

Harry McCrackenAbout the Author: Harry McCracken is founder and editor of Technologizer, a new site about the Web, PCs, and personal technology. He’s been a computer user for almost exactly thirty years — and spent nearly half of that time working at PC World, where he wound up as editor-in-chief and won awards for his editorials and blog.

16 Comments ▼

Harry McCracken




16 Reactions

  1. Been there, done that! You’re definitely not alone in making tech mistakes. I too have learned lots of things the hard way. It’s difficult because I’m not too tech savvy but I have been getting progressively better. You’re right, you only learn from mistakes.

  2. I, too, am guilty of letting troubles fester. My problem is that I don’t attempt to fix things until they’re actually broken. I am also guilty of working in haste as well. Thanks for sharing this because it’s actually nice to know that I’m not the only one making mistakes from tiime to time. :-)

    But each and every one of them – I’ve learned from and probably have come out for the better because of it.

  3. Thanks for sharing. From personal experience I would’ve added not using the contemporary technology more often, then not. Progress is a great thing and some things that take me hours can be completed automatically requiring no time at all. For me this is especially with backing up daily work – before I got the right tools the backup was pain.

  4. Number 3 here! This seems to be me most of the time. Trying to learn to slow things down but it’s more difficult than is sounds. This post was a nice reminder though. Thanks for sharing your mistakes with others so we can all learn from the experiences.

  5. I used to think of computers as superior beings that were capable of so much more than humans, and I forgot that computers created incredible things as quickly as they could destroy them. Unfortunately, my wake-up call came when my computer refused to turn on one day, and I lost everything. I am still amazed by some of computers’ powers, but I do not take them for granted anymore, and I back up everything!

  6. I strongly agree with Michelle. I have that kind of misconception or shall I say mind set before regarding computers. I think everyone of us have already been able to make these tech mistakes, in however, way it was. If you say no, you haven’t-I bet you aren’t aware of that or doesn’t even care.

  7. I have a bad habit of “letting troubles fester” until I’m really in a bind. Then I kick myself that I didn’t address the issue before it became almost unfixable. I’m trying to change that about myself. :)

  8. Add “making temporary solutions permanent.”

    “Oh, I won’t leave ftp running for long, so I’ll just use a short, guessable password.” Fifteen minutes later, ftp was still open, and the brand new server was now hosting all kinds of new files!

    Wipe server, reinstall everything. Lesson learned.

  9. …and then folks like me step in to save the day! ;)

  10. Hi Harry,

    A tech mistake/bad habit I’ve broken myself of, is not setting up folders to organize document and image files properly — and do it early. Because once you just start throwing documents and images here and there willy nilly in your computer, before you know it you have a mess on your hands. It creeps up on you.

    When you deal with the volume of files I do, if you don’t organize your computer it soon looks like the equivalent of an office with stuff stacked on every surface, floor and chair, and papers sticking out at all angles from filing cabinets. Then you spend half your time searching for stuff — so inefficient.

    I’ve learned to nip that in the bud early. I set up folders according to topics, name my files descriptively, and keep it organized!

    Luckily, when it comes to program files, my computer defaults to an automatic setup, with an automatic file hierarchy and naming convention. I am so glad for that — otherwise program files would be chaotic, too.

    – Anita

  11. I did a mistake when I removed the floppy disk without turning of the computer. This was during my college studies. Luckily I got hold a of a tech guy at Southern New Hampshire University and he fixed my laptop. I learned a lesson… ;)

  12. sorry for the typo, it should be “turning off”.

  13. My worst tech mistake is my new expensive Vista Ultimate desktop and hybrid ATI Tv tuners. They have been a nightmare for two months! The Sony system has failed to get a HDTV signal on a new expensive system, straight out of the box. I think consumers deserve to be warned, the desktop cannot even detect the tuners, and all are “certified for Vista”. Sony customer support is terrible, cannot fix them and won’t take then back. How could I let consumers know effectively? Thanks for any advice.

  14. Jessica S Naples, FL

    Return your system to your seller.

    This is not the easiest procedure, and payment by credit card is helpful, but you must bypass the first and second lines of defense – they are trained to say only “no”! Your reason for return: The machine you received is NOT THE MACHINE YOU ORDERED!

    First, call SONY, request a second level support tech. If this cannot be fixed, get the reasons why it cannot. Ask SONY if yours is a BTO or “built-to-order” machine.

    Then return to the seller; if you cannot easily bypass the first two levels, start at corporate and work backwards. Do NOT forget to tell them you are considering writing a letter to the editor of one of the popular PC magazines. The public might be interested in knowing these facts.

    There is a correct person to handle this problem. You just have to find him or her.

    Mail order computer magazines like PC Mall and PC Zone are among the most difficult to get refunds from. They sell “Built to order” or, “BTO” PC’s to the consumer. These are machines that have been discontinued, parted out, and marketed to the reseller, who has ordered a bunch to be re-assembled, or, “Built to Order”, by the manufacturer (SONY) from the list of available discontinued parts which was sent to the RESELLER. Resellers order the cheapest parts, making the least expensive computer for maximum profit, with the discontinued parts. They use the name of the discontinued computer because the configuration is the same – just the parts are different, always lesser, never more. This is why functions like yours often do not work – they need the newest components in order to work. Often a required component has been replaced with a lesser one that is not yet configured for the new function.

    None of these machines are like the discontinued model, except in name only. They are already 1 year old when we get them. This could be why your components aren’t working properly – the ones that ended up in your machine were not meant to work together.

    When’s the last time any of us have seen a sale on discontinued year-old computers? NEVER! We’ve been sold these as “new” machines, paying the price for a new machine that has already been discontinued, while receiving a “new” machine, newly reassembled from discontinued parts. Most often this is used for laptops with many possible configurations. These most easily lend themselves to reassembly with substituted parts.

    For a real education, get a SONY supervisor and ask about their BTO (“Built-to-Order”) machines. If the one you get “doesn’t know” or won’t discuss it with you, get somebody else. Be prepared to spend hours on the phone tracking this down. I was sold a $3k machine that was slower than my 2-year old Dell! The “built” number on your machine is the date it was reassembled from the discontinued parts ordered by the reseller. I think the number on my processor and its capabilities hinted at the real story behind the “new” machine I was sold.

    I got my “education” through a mail ordered “new” machine and SONY tech support, just like the example above. My original call was because I couldn’t find more than 2 options for my machine on their web site. I was lucky. The first tech I spoke with told me I had purchased a “built-to-order” discontinued machine. I was also charged twice as much for a 2-year “SONY” warrantee. SONY doesn’t offer a warrantee other than the one that comes with the machine.

    The ways the public is gypped are infinitesimal!

  15. Jessica S Naples, FL

    PS: If you got your machine directly from SONY, then they are the ones who rebuilt it and they are the best ones to get the correct parts into it. I wouldn’t expect SONY to have to disassemble and reassemble discontinued machines as they are in a position to “build to the direct order” of the customer while the machine is still current.

    Who knows? This has been so profitable for the reseller, why wouldn’t the manufacturer do it as well?

  16. Hi. Full disclosure: I work for NomaDesk, which offers small business users (or nomadic professionals, as we like to call ourselves) an innovative way to share documents and work together on a “virtual filesever.” I read this post with great interest. You give some great tips that I can really relate to. Something to add – having a secure backup solution that is also a collaboration tool might come in handy when thinking about technology.

    Thanks!

    Andre Keil
    Director of Product Management

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