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Friday fun for the IT crowd: Family tech support edition

December 19, 2014

Working in IT has many rewards, but moonlighting as family tech support isn't one of them.

And this time of year is filled with requests for help. Many IT pros say their families wait all year for them to visit—not for their company, but for their help updating computers and resolving outstanding issues. Then there’s that yearly plea from Dad to help him access his vacation photos so he can inflict them on family visitors.

While our polling shows most IT pros voluntarily help friends and family with tech projects, 28 percent actually hide the fact they work in IT to avoid the overwhelming requests for help. How can you come clean about working in IT without getting sucked into a frustrating backlog of help requests every holiday? We scoured the ‘net for resources and came up with a few great hints.

“No, I said right-click …”

Tired of talking the non-tech-savvy through difficult problems on the phone? TechnoBuffalo recommends you install a free or cheap remote access program on your relatives’ computers. Adriana Lee reports it rescued her from endlessly frustrating calls—and possibly saved her marriage.

Survival essentials

ZDnet publishes an annual Thanksgiving Tech Support Survival Kit, and I’m pretty sure they won’t mind if you bust it out for winter holidays, too. A few of their top tips include:

  • Bring a few large flash drives in case you need to back up or transfer files, plus you can carry any troubleshooting software on them
  • Speaking of troubleshooting software, invest in a good program and make sure to bring it on your flash drive or CB
  • Install automatically updating security programs—they might make next year’s visit easier

Video chatting for technophobes

Have young children and distant relatives? Video chats will make your life better. Like many toddlers, my two-year-old doesn't get the concept of the phone, so refuses to speak on it. But video chats with Grandma? He demands them almost daily.

The most well-rounded choice for connecting different devices is Skype. It plays well with desktop computers, laptops and even your iPhone or Android smartphone. You can also set up group video calls, which might be a nice way to celebrate the holidays if you’re far from loved ones. Skype makes it pretty easy for newbies to get started, but your relatives may need help adding contacts.

Google Hangouts are another low-tech option. The service is easy to use, and you can install an app on your iPhone or Android. If your relatives are familiar with Facebook, the site’s video chats might be a more familiar interface. If you really want to take the tech work out of it, you can always spring for an iPod Touch that runs FaceTime. Its highly intuitive interface and touchscreen make it an excellent gift for older relatives, and there’s little tech support needed. Which might make it an excellent gift for you, too.

If you've helped solve some of these sticky long-distance technology issues, please share your successes in the comments.  

Catching up on last-minute shopping? Check out our recent post, Apps to help you beat holiday shopping. Hint: It's written with procrastinators in mind. 

Lisa Dare is a marketing writer for TEKsystems who enjoys learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in tech. She frequently blogs about IT career advice and the lighter side of tech, and on her off days loves to kayak and play with her toddler son.

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