3.746 user-support and its support (216)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 14 Nov 89 20:41:15 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 746. Tuesday, 14 Nov 1989.

(1) Date: Mon, 13 NOV 89 15:47:09 GMT (42 lines)
Subject: user-support

(2) Date: Tue, 14 Nov 89 09:22:38 EST (48 lines)
From: Thomas Zielke <113355@DOLUNI1>
Subject: Re: 3.734 user-support (135)

(3) Date: Mon, 13 Nov 89 12:20:08 MDT (23 lines)
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: Re: 3.734 user-support (135)

(4) Date: Tue, 14 Nov 89 10:41:29 PLT (73 lines)
From: "Guy L. Pace" <PACE@WSUVM1>
Subject: User Support

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 13 NOV 89 15:47:09 GMT
Subject: user-support

Willard's words about support people struck a real chord.
I work as one of the described support people, with a job
description more or less like the one Dr. Zielke suggested
(actually a lot vaguer, but close enough). And yet the
reason I think people with humanities backgrounds are often so much more
successful supporting humanities users is not because
they have effectively mastered the DOS operating system or Norton Utilities,
but because they can better gauge the sorts of underlying assumptions, fears,
and methods of work. This is not to say all supporters with humanities
degrees make good advisers for humanities users, but I've found it
mainly is so. In my own experience, my humanities background has
made me a far better supporter than my technical expertise.
Thus, paradoxically, the reasons which make us particularly effective,
e.g. writing theses ourselves, researching interests along with
our humanities colleagues, are not taken as part of our jobs.

Personally I notice two immediate consequences of this ignoring
of academic interest and active research in a user support job.

Attitudes of academics vary widely. In some cases, particularly by people
who knew me before obtaining this job as a researcher, I am
consulted on equal footing. But far too often I am obviously
considered inferior, the tame lackey to perform the dull mysteries
of computing for the superior hard-pressed academic. To be fair,
I have noticed the opposite as well: support people who deliberately
foster a "we" and "they" division between support staff and
academics, often with much condescension.

The other consequence is that there is very little time to further
my research, and thus to keep in touch academically as well as
with new computing developments. I wholeheartedly agree with Willard
that support people should have opportunities for research, not ad hoc, but
written into the contract. As it is now, it is a struggle to
remain fresh enough in evenings and weekends to continue actively
with research - a struggle I'm gradually losing.

Susan Kruse
King's College London
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------56----
Date: Tue, 14 Nov 89 09:22:38 EST
From: Thomas Zielke <113355@DOLUNI1>
Subject: Re: 3.734 user-support (135)

Yes, I do agree to your opinion that a user-support person should also
be given the opportunity to do research work as well to teach classes
in, very generally speaking, computing techniques in humanities. In my
opinion, this is the only way to keep track with current problems (and
their solution) in everyday scientific life. And, of course, an offer
of computing courses would also reduce the amount of "silly" questions
dramatically; at least my experiences show that result.

One should anyway think of what we understand to be "user support". Do
we mean this to be full technical support, covering hard- and software?
Or do we rather want somebody to answer our specific questions how to
solve a specific problem?

I do believe that these two items should be somehow separated. There
should be somebody to address when one needs to know which hard/software
to buy, when a device needs to be repaired etc, when, in general, we need
*technical* support. Another person's job would then be to give information
on - let's say - academic problems. Of course these two persons should
closely work together, but still, I believe it to be better that we have
two experts in each area than to have one who is more or less helpless
in one of the fields.

I'm adding these points as I know the situation at the place I'm at. We do
have user support - but only when we have technical problems. That means that
I can ask which floppy disk drive I should buy, but whenever I have a
problem like, for example, how to compute the Easter date of a given year
or what software to use to get a tax register of 1803 into the computer,
all I get is at best a *very* vague and/or stammering answer.

Anyway, I think this to be a question that we should discuss further on
this list, and I would be grateful for any other comment on this,
especially if somebody would tell me about his/her experiences with
user support people.


Thomas Zielke
Historisches Seminar
Universit{t Oldenburg
Postfach 2503

D-2900 Oldenburg

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------32----
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 89 12:20:08 MDT
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: Re: 3.734 user-support (135)

I'd like to add to what Willard has said. I am a historian by training and
a support tech by employment. Since I do have the Ph.D., the history
department here lets me teach one course a semester, usually Western Civ.

I believe that my credentials have earned me a credibility with the faculty
that might otherwise have been hard to earn. And I a convinced that I am
better able to support them because I still go into the classroom every week
and know what the teaching process is about. I think I would be even more
helpful if I was allowed to undertake historical research, as that would
expose me to yet another set of tools. I really do think that a faculty
support person should continue to be an active scholar.

Ellis 'Skip' Knox, Ph.D.
Historian, Data Center Associate
1910 University Drive BITNET: DUSKNOX@IDBSU
Boise, Idaho 83725
(208) 385-1315
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------77----
Date: Tue, 14 Nov 89 10:41:29 PLT
From: "Guy L. Pace" <PACE@WSUVM1>
Subject: User Support

I must agree with Willard on the subject of what to look for in user
support, to a point. The question is still a bit muddy, to say the
least. I feel qualified to discuss this, now, since I've been involved
heavily in user support for the last few years. I love reading the
discussions herein, but the workload often keeps me from responding or
participating. And, that is where user support can get in the way for
some people. User support is one of those services an organization
can provide that grows of its own accord, especially when the support
(the quality and reliability of the answers) is perceived as very good.
But user support is not just answering questions. The support person must
also keep abreast of what is happening in the organization and in the
industry. Without the constant self-education, the support person quickly
falls behind the users and becomes ineffective.

On the point of "silly" questions, I have to say that in user support,
especially, there are no "dumb" or "silly" questions. Every question
must be taken seriously (and courteously). A "which key do I push"
question, when it comes up frequently, indicates a need for a specific
training session or class. If 40 or 50 people are calling regularly with
basic questions on WordPerfect, that should tell the user support person
there is dire need for a WordPerfect Basics class. The support person
needs to keep track of this and be aware of what these questions
indicate about the users' level of training. The ability of the "users"
(faculty, staff and students, in my case) to use the tools provided is
critical to the organization. If the users are inefficient, the
organization is inefficient. If the users are well informed, and trained
regularly, the organization becomes more efficient and productive.

I agree there is potential for "burn out" in this field, especially if
the support person does not have the capability to answer the same
question 50 times in one day with smile in his/her voice. The mind set
requires looking at each call or visit as a challenge to educate the
user, solve a problem, fix something that may be broken, or learn
something new yourself.

In my case, I deal with an IBM 3090, a VAX cluster, and both IBM
compatible and MAC micros (including the various software available on
all of them). I work with people (about 16,000+ in the academic
community here) with skills ranging from "how do I turn it on?" to
power users. I regularly answer questions from new students on how
to log on to the mainframe, from master and doctoral candidates on
how to get TEX to correctly format their thesis or dissertation, and
from the entire range on general microcomputer problems. When things
get slow, I work on training presentations, user notes and other things
that enhance the effectiveness of the Information Center.

Considering that I'm in a half-time position, I think the range of
duties and skills required is awesome. All I can say is I do my
very best (I answer between 15 and 20 calls or in-person questions
per 4-hour shift).

Even at my best, though, I don't believe I could pursue academic
research at any serious level and still keep up with the job.

I guess the bottom line is this: When you go about deciding who
would be an excellent user support person, make sure you state
clearly your expectations for that person and the position. If
you have a large user base to support, don't expect the support
person to do much outside of support and training. Also, once
you start providing support services, keep track of the level of
services. Often, burnout occurs when the level of service demanded
outpaces the support person's capabilities. If more service is demanded
get more people.

Regards in length
Guy L. Pace, WSUCSC Information Center

BTW: This note took about 1.75 hours to write. I answered six calls since
I started.