I was recently given the task of writing a Windows Service in Managed C++ (or C++/CLI I can’t quite figure out what it’s actually called). Having had 3.5 years of C++ experience from college and basic literacy I started clicking around in Visual Studio like a blind man searching for a nickle. Everything was going great until I got to the code it generated… there were ^’s and gcnew’s and all kinds of craziness. It looked like the Standard Template Library and C# had gotten together with a bottle of tequila, the next day C++ was knocked up and throwing up carets all over the place. This was not the C++ I had learned back in college on our quaint little Unix box editing code in pico, this was some new monster that vaguely resembled an old friend. Undaunted I clicked this link and began the journey on the road of enlightenment. Right now I have a Windows Service that builds and hopefully over the next few days I can confirm that it actually works.
This got me to thinking about the vast wealth of information sitting literally at our fingertips. I recalled the phone call I had with my mom over the weekend that went something like this.
Mom: They asked me at work to archive some files by burning them to a CD.
Me: Oh, how’d that go?
Mom: Well I had to use a Mac, and I don’t know those so I asked for help.
Me: Makes sense.
Mom: The only person who knew how to do it said to use Toast, but that wasn’t installed.
Me: What did you do?
Mom: Well I thought, how hard can this be, googled it, and followed the tutorial, it was really simple.
Me: You’ve just taken your first step on the road to geekdom, congratulations.
The dirty little secret is that for anyone that’s good with computers, unless you ask them a question directly in their area of expertise, they might have some vague notion but will more than likely just end up Googling it. “My computer crashed and the BSOD said STOP CODE 0xA70000084, what does that mean?” What you will hear on the other end of the phone is me biding my time while I type “STOP CODE 0xA70000084″ into Google and look for the answer. Because, and this may surprise everyone who is not a computer person, having a CS or MSI degree does not mean that you programmed Windows. There is a world of stuff for us programmers to try to hold in our brains, and every error code shooting out of Redmond is low on the totem poll.
If all us nerds are just Googling things, then why don’t normal people do it. We know that everyone Googles stuff: “Naked ladies”, “Hot naked ladies”, “Other naked ladies I haven’t already seen”, “How to erase your browsing history”, etc. Why don’t non-technical people think about typing that perfectly searchable error code into that happy little textbox? There are a litany of reasons from laziness to sloth, but I think the one that most people fall into is intimidation.
Google is power!!! You ask it a question and you get a list of a gajillion results. Don’t believe me, I’m going to search for blue screen of death and it returns 9,710,000 results in less than half a second. If you are a non-technical person that is a sea of information, its even worse for technical problems, as the most relevant links are normally some discussion board with a thread 900 replies deep, the solution normally some incantation you chant over the motherboard while spraying the monitor with goat’s blood. For the technical doing things like digging around in the System32 directory and clicking around is everyday no big deal stuff. For the non-technical, who normally have the “I hid this for your protection, don’t touch these files or your computer will explode” screens still on, it can be a terrifying leap of faith.
The thing that we can do to encourage our non-technical friends and families is to teach them to fish. Normally we just want to give them a fish and get on with our lives. When you take the time to explain how resilient a computer is and how easy it is to find the information, after a while they will come around to solving their own problems. And it’s like sweet sexy meth when they do. Try to remember what it was like to have that thrill for the first time of being able to command the computer to do your bidding, once they get a taste they will want more, which may actually end up being more work for you, but it’s the good kind of work that furthers another’s understanding of the world.
Drop some lmgtfy love on your loved ones, help them help themselves, introduce them to the intoxication of solving their own technical problems. Once people realize that computers do what we tell them and not the other way around, the world will be a much better place.