The Tech Support Effect

At a few points in my career I’ve worked in tech support.  It’s an experience I heartily recommend to every developer.  Every developer should spend at least a month or two supporting software because it helps you to understand the sorts of issues our tech support people deal with.  I really believe that too many developers, and I include myself in that group, don’t appreciate how truly valuable good technical support people are.

An interesting thing happens to many support people of long-standing.  They get a very negative impression of the software they’re supporting.  This is simple and understandable because all they hear most days are complaints about the software.  People don’t call tech support to tell them “Hey the software is working great!”  Even if 99.9% of the software is working exactly as it should, the .1% will be the part that customers call about. For lack of any better name for this phenomenon I call it the “Tech Support Effect”—that long term cynicism that sets in from hearing complaints and negativity day in and day out.  

I think the same thing happens in other areas of life as well.  The news can really depress a person quickly because the parts of our economy that are working aren’t the parts that get reported upon.  Gas may reach $5/gallon soon but no one in the news will tell you that the Europeans would be dancing for joy if gas were only $5/gallon over there.  Of course they have better mass transit but that’s another discussion. The 999 people who safely negotiate some dangerous turn on a freeway don’t make the news; it’s the 1 person who fails to make the turn that gets shown at 6 pm.  It’s easy to get a very skewed view of things.

And I definitely think this happens in software development.  We see the failings of our own software so often that we can really get down on ourselves and start to think of ourselves as idiots.  We can forget that many of us turn out thousands of lines of code that works substantially as it should when we’re shown a line of code where we forgot a semi-colon and that caused a problem for a customer.

The point is this; don’t fall for the Tech Support Effect in your own life.  All of us have things in our life we could wish would be better.  But every once in a while if you think of all the good things you’ve already got it can help to put the negative in perspective.

One response

  1. So true! I’ll add that as a developer, I seldom use my software, I only test it. This can easily give a skewed view of what impression your software makes on actual users.

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