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Businesses

Growth Job Sector: Freelance Technical Support 599

An anonymous reader wrotes: "Over at World New York, they've posted excellent advice to the geek masses: If you're out of work and know how to use a computer, you can make a killing doing freelance technical support." Update: 07/25 20:00 GMT by M : The author has asked that we link to the article on homepage.mac.com due to server overload. :)
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Growth Job Sector: Freelance Technical Support

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  • by kmak ( 692406 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:11PM (#6532700)
    It'll probably work.. until everyone's doing it.. I guess the real question is, "Is there enough idiots out there to support all the 'geeks'?"
    • by jonman_d ( 465049 ) <nemilar&optonline,net> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:13PM (#6532726) Homepage Journal
      "Is there enough idiots out there to support all the 'geeks'?"

      You're new to tech/user support, I see...
    • by ChiPHeaD23 ( 147491 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:14PM (#6532743) Homepage
      If there's one thing we'll never run out of, it's idiots.

      The whole "the Universe or human stupidity" thing.
    • I guess the real question is, "Is there enough idiots out there to support all the 'geeks'?"

      Idiots supporting the geeks? I thought the geeks would be getting the support jobs..

      Well anyway, how much does an idiot charge me for some help tweaking some shell scripts, or a little bit of perl programming?
      • Er? (Score:5, Funny)

        by mblase ( 200735 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:26PM (#6532878)
        Well anyway, how much does an idiot charge me for some help tweaking some shell scripts, or a little bit of perl programming?

        They don't charge you anything, you charge them, ideally by the hour.
    • Re:Only in theory... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MidKnight ( 19766 )
      Here's a relevant quote for you, then:
      • "No one in this world ... has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby. "
      - H.L. Mencken

      Remember, this is the general public that doesn't understand why a monopoly in general-use operating systems is a Bad Thing (tm). Yeah, that's right... I had to throw some anti-Microsoft sentiment into this, so sue me.

      --Mid

      • Re:Only in theory... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ichimunki ( 194887 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:37PM (#6532995)
        While I'm not sure suing you is a viable business plan, I have been wondering what the geek world thought of starting a home computer leasing program where regular users would lease a computer (running GNU/Linux, of course) from my (as yet hypothetical) business for a regular monthly fee. In addition to low initial costs for the users, minimal configuration computer is free with a 12 month contract kinda thing, I would think knowing that someone out there was obligated to help with tech support would be very comforting. Basically take how the typical cell phone plan works and apply that to GNU/Linux system leasing and service support. Would it work?
        • by ajakk ( 29927 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:43PM (#6533059) Homepage
          One of the main problems is that computers depreciate in value extremely quickly. You would need to lease the computers to the home users at a price that would be near the same cost of buying the computer. Thus, because individuals (in general) prefer ownership to leasing, they would just buy the computer as opposed to leasing it from you.
      • Re:Only in theory... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pmz ( 462998 )
        Remember, this is the general public that doesn't understand why a monopoly in general-use operating systems is a Bad Thing (tm).

        Then, why do they know enough to be suspicious of monopolies in other industries? If they went to buy a car, and they had no choice but to buy, for example, a Ford Pinto, Ford Streaky Clean windsheild wipers, Ford Slippery When Wet tires, and Ford Big Bang gasoline they would throw a fit that would make a 2-year-old envious.

        My theory is that humans are very susceptible to use
        • My theory is that humans are very susceptible to user interfaces. All cars are basically the same, all screwdrivers are basically the same, etc., but there are enough differences between MS Windows and Motif CDE to make people uncomfortable.

          Another thing to consider is that a stereotypical teenager might have observed his stereotypical father driving for 16 years before being allowed to touch the steering wheel. While the teenager hasn't been paying attention to the mechanics of driving all this time, he

      • by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Friday July 25, 2003 @02:14PM (#6533962) Homepage Journal
        I think thist quote is absolute bullshit. TONS of people have lost money underestimating the intelligence of great masses, especially in the last few years...i'm thinking of America Online, but there are others, especially in the tech sector and double especially in the dot com dreams of Silly Con Valley.

        "So easy to use, no wonder it's #1!" Yes. Easy is good when something is cheap, it becomes automatic. But when the price goes up, people are willing to do more work to save a few bucks.

        I think the adage should be "A fool and his money are soon parted...but fools don't get that much money to begin with." Managers excepted.
    • The answer is yes. Right now you have two levels of idiots -- those who need tech support and those who provide tech support. It's a case right now of the blind leading the blind. An actual geek who knows what they're doing could put the current tech support shops out of business.

      From an actual call from my wife and later me (both engineers):
      Wife: Our channels went out during a storm and we're only getting about half of them now.
      Tech: Turn off your receiver, pull out the SmartCard, wait 10 seconds, re

      • Re:Only in theory... (Score:5, Informative)

        by phoenix_rizzen ( 256998 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:52PM (#6533151)
        Ah, the joys of Level 1 Support, also known as "If it's not in our checklist, we can't fix it" support. :)

        Generally, the first thing you do when you call support is ask a question that you know couldn't possibly be answered in their checklist, and ask to be transfered up the Support Chain.
      • Re:Only in theory... (Score:3, Informative)

        by macshune ( 628296 )
        I used to be a tv cable guy, and (IIRC) if there is water in the line, the upper channels can get cut out because the higher frequencies run along the outside of the line. It obviously wasn't the cable in your case, but it does happen.

        Nice anecdote, btw. Illustrates how companies can't really taylorize tech support. Was the guy you called in India?
    • "Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the universe trying to build bigger and better idiots. So far, the universe is winning. " -Robert Cringley

    • The problem I see, is that all the companies may encourage you to do freelance tech support, with your rates a little lower than established firms. Then viciousness ensues, the firms are undercut in price and begin going in death throes so they attempt to function with lower prices. Then unemployed freelancers lower their business. Eventually, you hear "what do you mean you want 7$ an hour for computer support, that's robbery". You need to have a very good reason for going into business for yourself. Unem
    • Spyware (Score:3, Interesting)

      by blunte ( 183182 )
      Considering probably 4 of 5 computers has spyware dribbling out of every orifice, I'd say there's plenty of business.

      In fact, as long as MS is the market leader in OS and desktop "productivity" software, tech support should thrive.

  • I'd rather (Score:5, Funny)

    by BoomerSooner ( 308737 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:12PM (#6532707) Homepage Journal
    I'd rather lay bricks in oklahoma in august, it's less frustrating, more consistant and pays just as well.
    • Re:I'd rather (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ishpeck ( 160581 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:20PM (#6532799) Homepage Journal
      Technical support is a draining experience. I worked in techsupport for a while. The company I worked for had a 110% turn-over rate for employees. If they needed 20 people to keep the call-floor running, they would hire 22 people every quarter to keep up with the amount of quitting that happened: It's that miserable listening/talking-to people who are predisposed to hate everything related to computers (including you).

      You can make a killing in tech support -- assuming you don't kill yourself before your first paycheck.
      • Re:I'd rather (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Derkec ( 463377 )
        I've seen a lot of these sorts of comments. What it shows to me is that the company is very poor at managing it's staff and it's relations with clients. Having worked support with my current employer, I know we haven't had much of a turnover rate at all. We are small, encourage the employees to work together on problems, and generally maintain a positive relationship with our clients.

        Still, a straight day or week or tech support is draining. However, if that day is broken up with other work (writing code,
  • by Wiggin ( 97119 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:12PM (#6532715)
    judging by the quick slashdotting, there must be a lot of unemployed geeks out there.
  • Liability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:13PM (#6532728) Homepage
    It's too much of a liability. Trust me, I know. I almost got sued because some ladies drive physically crashed after I worked on her Windowz problems (spyware locking up PC). So even if you have them sign a before and after contract, just the rigamaroll of having to go through all that is a pain in the ass. No thank you, I would have to be incorporated with a few other people. This is NOT something you want to do by yourself.
    • Re:Liability (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SpacePunk ( 17960 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:23PM (#6532837) Homepage
      This is why you do one of, or both of two things...

      1) get a million dollars worth of liability insurance. Cheap enough really.

      2) Form your service as a Limited Liability Corporation that has no assets.

      So, if you do get sued, and they do gain ownership of your LLC; they get nothing. And, you can happily go off, form another LLC and continue business.

      Remember, your dealing with idiots, and when dealing with idiots you can't do enough CYA.
      • Re:Liability (Score:4, Informative)

        by warpSpeed ( 67927 ) <slashdot@fredcom.com> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:54PM (#6533178) Homepage Journal
        2) Form your service as a Limited Liability Corporation that has no assets.

        IANAL, but my 'L' told me that this will not hold up in court. To form an LLC you must put some assets into the company, otherwise it is just a shell to protect you. The court will see right though this and allow the plantif to go after you directly.

        The Site is /.ed so I could not read the article, but I would suggest that after you finish with the work, get your client to sign off that s/he is satisfied with the work. That will not help with getting sued (any one can sue you for any reason), but it might speed the process up a little to get the case dropped. Again, IANAL

    • Re:Liability (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TenaciousPimple ( 614571 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:55PM (#6533189)
      This is true.

      Once you touch an idiot's computer, you are seen by them as responsible for everything/anything that happens to them afterwards.

      Also, from this point on, they won't consider for a second to investigate their problems for themselves, but insist that you fix them.

      For example, I had a friend that I helped out by upgrading his computer. 2-3 weeks later he calls me with problems. Since I'm a nice guy, I go check it out.

      Turns out it's nothing I did, but a trojan that infected his computer. When I got there, I already knew how to fix it, as a result of a 5sec. search I did on Google from the symptoms he gave me.

  • by ambisinistral ( 594774 ) <ambisinistral&gmail,com> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:13PM (#6532730) Homepage
    Isn't that what boobs that are a few credits short of a Community College degree and badly printed business cards have been trying to do for years?

    That market is saturated pretty bad if you ask me.

    • Well, I have certifications and job experience going for me to land me a job. I don't have a College degree (two years of college under my belt), but then at least I'm not in debt over it either. Besides, I STILL don't know if I want to be working with computers all my life. Which by the way is primarly why I haven't pushed for the effort.
    • by cant_get_a_good_nick ( 172131 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:27PM (#6532885)
      I had a friend of mine, genius he wasn't, who tried this. His website is full of typos and grammar errors. That would fill me with confidence as a client.

      My fave consulting story: he begs me once that he needs me to help fix someone's printer. Mac couldn't print. After some convincing (I was jealous he was doing it and I knew i was too lazy to get off my ass) I went over. Tried some basic stuff, didn't work. Went to core simple things:
      Printer plugged in? yep, light on and everything.
      Cable plugged into Mac? yep.
      AppleTalk turned off on serial port? yep.
      Printer cable plugged into printer? ummm, nope.

      The kid also had a PowerCD, essentially a CD player you could use as a portable or hook to the Mac (i told you this was years ago). Kid wanted to show me some games, so to show me, he shut the computer down, removed the CD and restarted it. My jaw dropped slightly. "Umm, you know you can drag the CD to the trash can to eject it". "Wow, just like a floppy?" "yeah," I said "just like a floppy". I asked my 'consultant' friend why didn't he teach the kid that. He said "well, I didn't want to confuse him." Oh, so to not confuse him, you show him an alternate way of ejecting a CD instead of showing its just like all removable media. Umm, OK.

      Hmm, then again this is the same guy who's car was on fire, didn't notice it, and when a cop pulls him over to kill the flames, pulls into a gas station.

      Silly thing is, he got a lot of clients, including one of The Kennedys. He's going to her house, in her car, and she says "I have to stop by work for a second." Pulls up to the Merchandise Mart, at one time the only commercial building in the US with it's own ZIP code (they've since sold off their interests). he goes "wow, you work there?" "Kind of, I own it." Goes to show, sometimes you don't need to be smart, just have to look smart to the people paying you.
    • by zulux ( 112259 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:43PM (#6533062) Homepage Journal
      Isn't that what boobs that are a few credits short of a Community College degree and badly printed business cards have been trying to do for years?

      That's me.

      Except that some of my clients have grown, and my business has grown with it. In 7 years we went from

      Me - fixing windows 95 CD-ROM drivers.

      to

      Me and four other people - making accounting packages with PostgreSQL and XUL, installing OpenBSD firewalls/WAN, FreeBSD file-servers, making KDE apps that are served with Linux, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

      All the while making a shit-load of money.

  • A few extra factors (Score:5, Informative)

    by TopShelf ( 92521 ) * on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:13PM (#6532732) Homepage Journal
    While overall this is a pretty well drawn-out argument for striking out on your own, there are of course extra difficulties along the way, like:

    1) Health Insurance
    2) Liability
    3) Accounting

    Not that these factors can't be dealt with, but they are, amongst other things, stuff you normally don't have to worry about as an employee of a company.
    • I agree with this.. I was able to round up several small programming jobs and training over the Internet and collected some nice little checks, but I had my wife's health insurance and little liability since I wasn't working directly on their computer. If I knew there would be a steady stream of jobs coming in and I could pick and choose -- maybe I'd try it again. http://www.mp2kmag.com [mp2kmag.com] - The Magazine for MapPoint
    • by notNeilCasey ( 521896 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <yesaClieNtoN>> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:31PM (#6532932) Homepage
      1) Health Insurance

      check out the Working Today Freelancer's Union [freelancersunion.org]. They offer Individual and Family Health & Dental Insurance plans [freelancersunion.org] for freelancers in tech-related jobs in the greater NYC metropolitan area.
    • by Brian Stretch ( 5304 ) * on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:37PM (#6532992)
      1) Health Insurance

      Get catastrophic health insurance. I'm paying about $75/month for a $2,000/year deductable ($500/year deductable for prescriptions). Basically, unless I get hit by a truck, get cancer, or some other catastrophy, I don't bother the insurance company and they don't bother me (or my docs, etc). The cost diff between that and Blue Cross is more than enough to pay routine expenses, even after having to pay them with aftertax dollars (which is the real reason why health insurance is employer paid: tax deduction).

      2) Liability

      Get the obligatory Nolo's Quick LLC [amazon.com] book. Setting up a LLC will protect your personal assets. But yeah, there's a lot of lawsuit-happy morons out there. My homeowners association has been sued by a few fellow homeowners who don't realize that suing an association of 300 members that they are a part of is really, really self-defeating.

      3) Accounting

      I'm still working on that one. Actually, I'm working on getting a master's in accounting, now that the job market for software engineers is shot to hell. But my prof told me about how he just spent serious money getting someone from Rent-A-Geek (I kid you not, they drive around what appear to be repainted Slashdot Cruisers, remember those?) to fix his wireless network. $75 for them to come out plus over $100/hour on top of that. (The diagnosis? The Linksys WLAN card was DOA. Shock.) Since I was the guy that tech support came to when they got stuck on Wintel platform issues at my last job, doing home/small business freelance tech support sounds plausible to me. Maybe I'll give it a try.
  • by phaetonic ( 621542 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:13PM (#6532735)
    and after 6 months, i was on the brink of insanity and would take my anger out on friends and family. mom: why isnt sound coming out? me: you stupid cunt, you have the sound muted, dont you see the red circle with the slash going through it on the speaker icon? jesus you are so stupid..
  • by SugoiMonkey ( 648879 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:14PM (#6532736) Homepage Journal
    $5 an hour with free cookies and milk to boot.
  • Yup (Score:4, Interesting)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:14PM (#6532745) Homepage Journal

    That's how I got my current job ~2 years ago. Configuring 2 Cisco PIX firewalls on a contract basis. Now I'm full time and love it.
  • I've done some of this freelancing myself when I got bored...but unfortunately, some of the not-yet-graduated-from-college dolts end up in "official" positions and think they actually know something.
  • by LordYUK ( 552359 ) <jeffwright821@g m a i l .com> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:17PM (#6532775)
    I mean, heck, just take a page from AT&T... (actual call!)

    Me: Yeah, hi, I have a cable modem through you and...
    Drone: You have a what?
    Me: I have a cable modem, its not ...
    Drone: You have a what?
    Me: I. Have. A. Cable. Modem. High. Speed. Internet. You. Know? Its out, flashing lights...
    Drone: Oh, you have broadband. Unplug your modem for 5 seconds, and then plug the network cable directly into your computer if you have a hub/router (obvious they have no clue what either is, its probably just in their script as such).
    Me: I've already done that, and no, its not the hub, the hub works fine.
    Drone: Let me send out a technician.
    Me: ARGH!!!!

    God I hate them. Thank you Speakeasy! At least they laugh when I tell them how much I hate the cable companies!
    • I have SpeakEasy as well, and they are spectacular. You pay for the bandwidth, that's it. No port blocking, great tech support whenever you call.... I just wish they offered local phone service, so I could give them my $$$ instead of the decrepit Baby Bells.

      --Mid
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:18PM (#6532781)
    What a great opportunity to meet bored and lonely housewives.

  • by genevaroth ( 685479 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:19PM (#6532785)
    IT is done, toast in this country. The best way to make money is to open a firm in india and have an IT sweatshop. You would be better off opening a typewriter repair shop, at least its a noble way to starve yourself to death.
  • Mmm, freelance! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Emperor Tiberius ( 673354 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:19PM (#6532795) Homepage
    I used to do this for almost two years, before I started working for an ISP. I charged a nice $20 dollars an hour deal, with extra charges for hardware replacement, software installation. My little business was able to "boom" simply because I was cheaper. All the freelance techs out there now think, "Hey, I'm so 'elite' I can charge $75 an hour!" Wrong.

    I would see signs/ads, everywhere (literally), begging to have people hire them at prices that reached into the hundreds per hour. I'm a simple guy, without too many expenses, I buy a ton of games, and for me, $20 dollars an hour was great. I got to choose my own hours, and make myself profitable.

    As for the "idiots to techs" ratio question, some people obviously haven't worked in the tech field [long enough]. Until the day they make a computer completely crash/idiot-proof, there will always be a need for a technician.

    My two cents...

    • Re:Mmm, freelance! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by prgrmr ( 568806 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:29PM (#6532901) Journal
      I charged a nice $20 dollars an hour deal, with extra charges for hardware replacement, software installation. My little business was able to "boom" simply because I was cheaper. All the freelance techs out there now think, "Hey, I'm so 'elite' I can charge $75 an hour!" Wrong.

      The hourly rate one can charge depends entirely on what skills one has and the type of work being done for whom. If I had to go it alone, being a Unix System Admin, I wouldn't dream of charging less than $100/hr, and mostly likely closer to twice that. I also would try to concentrate on the Fortune 5000 types of corporations, as those are the guys with the money to burn. Of course, I'd only work about 30 hours a week as a result, but much of that would likely be 2nd or 3rd shift. Those are the hours critcal work is best done, and leaves the regular staff (if any) available for the 9 - 5 routine.
    • You did pay income tax, cover your liability, and all that good stuff out of that $20 an hour, right? What about health coverage?

      Otherwise I commend you for making assistance affordable to Regular People. Self-sacrfice (and I mean you are ripping yourself off) is rare these days...

      ----------

  • Hell No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by j_kenpo ( 571930 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:20PM (#6532805)
    You couldn't pay me enough to deal with that crap. I used to do freelance tech work, and you know, it was quite possibly the worse job I've ever done. There were far too many miles put on my car, and having to do your own customer service calls really sucks. I don't think I was ever at a point of higher stress. Its not that it didn't pay, but trying to fix and teach the common person how to deal with everyday computer problems gets repetitive and grueling. I think if I'm ever in a situation where I was when I did freelance work, Ill sell sperm instead... at least Id get some sense of satisfaction out of it.
  • by poffenvis ( 683863 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:22PM (#6532826)
    With so many thousands of fellow geeks out of work already for the last couple of years, this market is already saturated.
    Besides, people aren't willing to pay the amount of money it takes to take care of stoopid Windoze problems- a reload on an average system can take 4-6 hours (with backups, new drivers, etc.)
    Hard to get more than a couple systems a day through, then you've got to figure on all the time and energy spent on trying to get clients.

    I'm making more money (sadly enough) as a convenience store manager than as a geek nowadays.

    And now, as well, with even programming jobs being shopped overseas, the market for geek skills is even tougher.

    Changing careers may be a better option than chasing after elusive (and non-existant) tech money.

    peace,
    r.
  • by Yaruar ( 125933 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:26PM (#6532866)
    Don't know about the US, but in the uk the way to go is just to retrain as a plumber or electrician. Average pay in the uk for support has dropped to well under 20 pounds an hour with a lot of basic support jobs paying just over minimum wage. Bear in mind that a freelance plumber or sparky can probably make 30-50 ukp an hour... I know what I do if I lose this job....
  • Riiight.

    You can set your own hours! Work over the phone! Pay no money up front! Buy from the safety of your own home! Live the life you've always dreamed of!

    Herbal viagra has nothing on this get rich quick scheme. Where do I sign up? :-P

  • I've been doing technical support since I got out of school with a brand spankin' new BS in Computer Science. Tech Support was all I could find and the only killing going on my poor, battered spirit.
    :(
  • by 222 ( 551054 ) <stormseeker.gmail@com> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:28PM (#6532894) Homepage
    Im sure the majority of /. readers have done something like this, but the difference is that my spare wanderings supply the *majority* of my income. Simply by bringing up computers, or speaking to people at bars of cool technologies, ive found myself doing work for a reasonably large crowd. Once you've done work for someone, they almost ALWAYS have a friend that needs something, and that friend has a friend, and so forth. While its not the most stable work in the world, i always seem to do alright. (I would put it on par with waiting tables, the numbers always seem to end up partially in your favor). The best part? You can charge $50/hour showing some nitwit how to install kazaa, and hes all the happier. And they love you :)

  • by Liselle ( 684663 )
    I do technical support as a full-time job, making a living. Maybe there is some spin in this article (that I can't read, because their servers are on fire), but I don't see how throwing out the things that I get by working for a real company will make me rich. I'm certainly not rich now.
  • by superid ( 46543 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:29PM (#6532902) Homepage
    Suppose I want to be a freelance tech support / Windows Superman who can swoop into peoples homes and repair their neglected boxes. By the letter of the MS law...errr...license....what can I actually do?

    Will the typical user be able to produce any OS media whatsoever? Full version (ha!) Upgrade? (possibly)... recovery cd?

    If not what am I left with? Windows Update? perhaps. The admins in my office carry a pack labeled "CDs to Fix Most Anything" and these include our corporate ver of various MS products.

    If I went to Staples and purchased a full ver of XP Pro, could I use it to repair existing broken installations. I do not mean a complete reinstallation, rather, I suppose it would be the /i386 stuff, cabs and infs.

  • Bonus! (Score:5, Funny)

    by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:30PM (#6532915) Journal

    If you're out of work and know how to use a computer, you can make a killing doing freelance technical support.

    In addition to making a decent wage and setting your own hours, you can decide how to respond to each customer without having to worry about what The Boss thinks of your approach:

    Caller 1: "Hello? My computer won't work anymore!"
    You: "When did you first notice the problem?"
    Caller: "Oh right after I took it apart and washed all the components with warmy, soapy water. It was getting really dirty."
    You: "You fuckin, fuckin, moron. No help for you!"

    Caller 2: "Hello? I'm having trouble getting the floor pedal to work. How hard am I supposed to be stepping on it?"
    You: "Floor pedal? What the fuck?"
    Caller: "You know. That hand-shaped device with the rubber ball imbedded in it!"
    You: *click*

    Caller 3: "Hello? I can't get Microsoft Outlook Express to work with my AOL account."
    You: "Well, Dude, it sucks to be you. If you were using pine on a Linux box I might be inclined to help you. But nooooo, you wanted to help Microshaft and AOHell strengthen their monopoly. Well, have fun with their tech support lines 'cause I sure as hell ain't gonna help your monopoly-strengthening lazy ass!" *click*

    Yeah, I can see the freedom to provide the appropriate response a real bonus to this job!

    GMD

  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:32PM (#6532934) Homepage
    "Good morning. Badass Tech For Hire, Incorporated, Tom speaking.

    "Oh, hello, Jim. How're things at World New York? ...oh...I see...hmm...well, let's see what we can do.

    "First off, what do you see on the screen? ...Nothing? Is the server plugged in? Mmm-hmm...it is? Okay, that's good. And the power is on? ... you press the little button, but nothing happens. OK. And are any lights on? No. Hmm.

    "It sounds like you may have a hardware--what's that? Really? Well, that's not good...yes, it does smell rather bad when that happens. *laugh* Yes, I can see how having the extinguisher right there came in handy...

    "Well, I'm afraid...huh? Your backup just went, too? That's odd. That only ever happens when--hang on. *clickity tappity clackety CLACK*

    Oh.

    "Jim, have you ever heard of a website called 'Slashdot'?

  • Incompetence (Score:3, Insightful)

    by marshac ( 580242 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:33PM (#6532949) Homepage
    I have done a little bit of work on the side doing this, usually when the normal guy is on vacation or something. I hate these jobs. Why? Because I'm always cleaning up messes left by the normal guy. Have you ever seen a network of 50 workstations, all without any centralized user/workstation management (ie: no domain or anything)? I have. It's scary. How do you make a printer avail on the network? Duh, printer sharing... the thought never occures to anyone to get a stand-alone print server. How do you deploy software? Over sneakernet. We won't even go into the horrible network security, the rampant viruses, or the spyware installed on every workstation (but hey, Outlook has color now!). Since i'm always just the fill-in guy, whatever I recommend falls on deaf ears. The icing on the cake? The usual guy makes $60/hour doing this. Before anyone says it, no, these shoddy networks are not the result of lack of funding... these companies have plasma screens on the walls, and very nice chairs.... it's not lack of funding, it's a lack of will on the part of the IT guy to improve the situation, and perhaps a lack of skill/knowledge. For someone who knows better, it's a very frustrating experience.
  • by bsands ( 685642 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:34PM (#6532959)
    The reason that I hate doing any type of tech support for friends, co-workers, family, or anyone one else I know, is the golden rule of fixing computers. Which reads, if you fix it for them once, the next time anything goes wrong, they blame you, or want you to immediately come and fix it. Then somehow think a fixed computer comes with a 5 year repair warranty. They will call you all the time to "ask a quick question", as if your time means nothing. After this happened a couple of times, I won't touch anyone's computer.
  • by MoNickels ( 1700 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:37PM (#6532986) Homepage
    Wow! My second Slashdotting. The site is down. Fortunately, I don't host my own, or I'd be red-faced.

    Here's an alternate link:

    http://homepage.mac.com/monickels/techjob.html [mac.com]

    And the full text:

    By Grant Barrett @ World New York

    This article by the New York Times suggests that people are becoming technically adept by necessity, and that, as happened with radios and automobiles, eventually all technology will take care of itself and be as mindless to operate as toasters are today.

    I see that day as decades off. Computers are still complex to make, complex to learn, complex to integrate with other gadgets. More importantly, they still have more than one knob or lever. Until that day of machine self-reliance, I see a golden opportunity: an under-served market waiting for the ambitious to step in.

    The following is a small excerpt of a manuscript, modified to suit this topic.

    ...

    Technical Self-Employment Is A Fat Paycheck Waiting to Be PocketedBy Grant Barrett @ World New York [worldnewyork.net]

    This article [nytimes.com] by the New York Times suggests that people are becoming technically adept by necessity, and that, as happened with radios and automobiles, eventually all technology will take care of itself and be as mindless to operate as toasters are today.

    I see that day as decades off. Computers are still complex to make, complex to learn, complex to integrate with other gadgets. More importantly, they still have more than one knob or lever. Until that day of machine self-reliance, I see a golden opportunity: an under-served market waiting for the ambitious to step in.

    The following is a small excerpt of a manuscript, modified to suit this topic.

    ...

    Technical Self-Employment Is A Fat Paycheck Waiting to Be Pocketed

    Last year, at a Christmas party held by a client of mine at a very nice restaurant in Manhattan, I ran into a friend of a friend. I don't know him well, but we've socialized once or twice, and have had solid geek conversations in the past. He does Active Directory management for big corporations.

    I should say, he used to do that. He's been unemployed now for more than a year.

    After we shook hands I could see his face change from a friendly howdy-do. He dropped down into commiseration mode: the corners of his mouth drooped, his head ducked, he took a Hapsburg stance--his feet angled, his left foot perpendicular to his right, heel against arch, his torso yawed a few degrees off center, his hands lightly on his hips--and waited expectantly.

    I knew what he wanted. I make my living with private computer consulting: client-site tech support, mostly, but pretty much any of the little computer-related tasks small businesses have. I knew he wanted to talk about the tech business. And he wanted me to start, so I complied. "How's business?" I asked.

    He jumped in according to the script. "Oh, it's not been going well at all. Awful. I've been out of work. I can't find anything. How're you doing?" He anticipated a long bitch session of headhunter mistreatment, interview mishaps, finicky clients, resume failure. He relished the chance.

    "It's great," I said. "I've got more business than I can handle. I'm giving it away. I've probably handed off or turned down enough business in the last six months to employ another person full-time. In fact, I've just turned over a second $30,000-a-year piece of business to another tech so I could concentrate on other clients."

    He looked at me in amazement. His eyes bugged out. I saw doubt, then self-doubt, there, and eventually he just walked away.

    My theory: If you are reasonably adept at using or setting up a computer, there's no good reason to be unemployed.

    Forget the boom-time Nineties. They're gone. I'm sorry.

  • by SphynxSR ( 584774 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:39PM (#6533009) Homepage
    naked freelance support. and yes it is a new meaning of HARD drive.
  • by YllabianBitPipe ( 647462 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:42PM (#6533057)

    Recently read a book saying that any sort of repair-related career does fine during a recession. Reason should be obvious: people can't afford to buy a "new" whatever, or are scared to put out that kind of money, so they spend money keeping up to speed whatever they already have.

    Also, think about the huge demographic of baby-boomers retiring or about to retire. All those parents, grandmas and grandpas about to have a huge chunk of free time on their hands. Maybe they're not so mobile anymore and hanging out at home a great deat. Most likely they're going to be buying a computer and getting on-line, for email, to do their amateur photography, etc. A huge target market. Plus they may be sitting on a nice pile of retirement money.

    So I'd propose starting a up a consultant type business where you repair people's computers, do tech support, maybe even help people pick out computers to purchase, and target older retirees. Focus on house calls, and of course, super friendly customer support (say "yes sir, no ma'am"). Oldsters eat that stuff up.

    Just as long as I'm the boss and you do all the house calls...

  • Life is a bitch (Score:5, Insightful)

    by floydman ( 179924 ) <floydman@gmail.com> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:43PM (#6533064)
    Ok, i worked as a senior Technical Support, i had a team of 4 engineers, all well well trained and stuff.. I was well paid....I supported very complex multiple platform/database client server and web applications (i.e knowledge scope of our employees was quite amusing)...thats one part of the story

    A friend of mine, was a freelancer support geek, he supported ppl with no idea of computers , install windows here, reconfigure a driver there, fix the Internet connection over here, stuff like that...

    AND HE MADE TWICE AS MUCH MONEY AS I DID....

    Move your guns away from my face,i am not complaining here, my point here, is that it is irrelevant...you can be doing really complex things in a very large firm and another guy with half the work load you have gets paid twice as much just because of his connections and ofcorse (his spare time being unemployed)..

  • by TellarHK ( 159748 ) <tellarhkNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:44PM (#6533077) Homepage Journal
    One way this could be really beneficial to people is to consider it an alternative and temporary source of income between job hunts. It doesn't take a -lot- of effort to put together a decent looking flyer, and a waiver form to limit or eliminate liability. A couple weeks ago I noticed such a flyer at a convenience store near where I work. Here are some things I noticed that were major signs to stay away.

    1: 'Certified' was in italics on the lower left hand corner. All by itself. Alone. One word. Certified in WHAT? If you have applicable certifications, explain them genuinely. If you don't, describe your actual knowledge instead.

    2: Let the prospective customer know you stand behind your work - but at the same time, don't put yourself in a bad position to be liable for anything. Say that your liabilty is limited to one free hour of additional service, should you determine that an oversight on the initial visit wasn't sufficient.

    3: Offer what you know. This sign I saw in the store said they offered -computer detailing- service, anti-virus and OS installation... and that was about it. If this person knew more, they'd have said it.

    4: If you have a logo... don't use stock clip-art. This sign used the lined-pyramid default image on every default MS Publisher template as his logo. Depressing.
  • by Blitzshlag ( 685207 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:46PM (#6533091)
    Mod me down as off-topic, but I think this post is relevant to the nature of this thread. These forums are all doom and gloom these days. Is all of /.'s reader base unemployed? I guess this is what I get for reading in the middle of the work day, of course the only posters would be people who are out of work, or in school. ALL IT IS GOING OVERSEAS! NO GEEKS CAN MAKE MONEY! I'm not buying any of it. The numbers of returns for tech job searches on the likes of monster.com in the tech sector have never been higher than they are now. And I'm seeing jr. level programming positions advertising 60-70k/year. I'm in school and my programming internships (with 2 large companies) have paid better than what a lot of people are saying the average full-time salary is these days. Both companies have asked me to return after I graduate for full time positions starting at nice comfortable salaries. I'm no super genius either, I'm a good programmer who works hard. And it's not location, because I've worked in 3 states already. I dunno, maybe I'm young and stupid and not seeing the big picture.
    • by forgetmenot ( 467513 ) <atsjewell&gmail,com> on Friday July 25, 2003 @01:10PM (#6533339) Homepage
      Cheer up. You're not the only one noticing this trend. Personally I feel it's only a handful of BIG (seriously.. BIG) high-profile companies that are reducing costs by moving IT services overseas. But it NOT every shop doing so. Granted there's a lot of unemployed people out there but there's also still a lot of jobs. One has to wonder if the real reasons there's so many complaints about lack of work is more because of one or more of the following:
      1) Unwilling to relocate.
      2) Inflated egos spoiled by dot.com era salaries.
      3) Realization that MS Certification and/or 6-month diploma is NOT a meal ticket. (Note to readers: If you're unemployed and one of these, leave the real work to the pros, go run a convenience store or become a plumber instead)
      4) Not informed enough to go looking in the right places.
      5) Anti-social personalities.

      Methinks Slashdot could "help out" its unemployed readers by providing links to
      a) IT/software developer job-wanted sites.
      b) sites to help one improve personality/hygiene and general interview skills.

      There are already plenty of site like that but apparently a LOT of readers can't find them on their own.

      Oh wait... lookee here in the corner under "Services".. Wow.. it's a "Jobs" link.

      Now if only there was link to this page [webhealthcentre.com].
  • by vudufixit ( 581911 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:56PM (#6533193)
    And I'm on the verge of exceeding my income from the Help Desk job I lost a year ago. No one's blamed me for anything that's gone bad; in fact the word of mouth business I've generated has been outstanding. Yes, there are times when I'm called back to the same house umpteen times and I don't charge. Yes, there are times when people are sticker-shocked and haggle me down. But by and large I love being totally independent, not having a boss or partner (save myself and the government, respectively), and being able to make my own hours. Why have things worked out so well for me? I wonder about that, and I think there are several answers: 1. I have a very professional, yet friendly and approchable attitude. 2. I'm polite in people's homes and I don't fit the stereotypical "geek" profile people are expecting. 3. The clientele I serve are in a densely populated, tightly knit and affluent part of the country. Word of mouth spreads quickly, and these people are willing to pay. They have multiple computers, so they want DSL/cable hooked up and shared. And even when their Dells need fixing and are within warranty, they are so frustrated by hold times and first-level overseas tech that aren't trained - just reading from a troubleshooting script - that they're willing to pay someone to make a housecall 4. I'm willing to come over as early or as late as they want me, weekends included. Too many people think of their freelance business as a nine to five job, instead of a business. All in all, it's been a great development in my life, but I hope not too many people read that article in my area and get the same idea!
  • by Markvs ( 17298 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @12:58PM (#6533223) Journal
    The main problem of outsourced IT is that I've rarely seen two different consultants agree on anything!

    Consultant one: Well, you have a small shop and don't want a dedicated IT guy, so I'll set up Microsoft SBS (Small Business Server) so you'll have any function you can possibly need.

    Consultant two: I don't know what that other guy was thinking, but it's pointless! You could have just bought (insert single application here) and saved a TON of money! ...repeat as necessary with *every* piece of software/hardware in the environment, each time a new consultant comes by.

    Something broken? Obviously the guy who worked on it last/set it up was a moron. Needless to say that this gets much worse depending on how many different guys you use. And not having a company-to-company relationship can really hurt when the e-mail server is down and John won't return phone calls.

  • by Mad Man ( 166674 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @01:08PM (#6533324)
    Funny, ArsTechnica has a story today [infopop.net] about how computer users are becoming self-sufficient in some respects.

    The NYT is running a
    short piece [nytimes.com] on the growing phenomenon of people who, solely out of necessity and not out of any real love of computers, have been forced to become tech-heads.

    As consumer electronics proliferate and consumers grow increasingly disenchanted with technical support operations (which routinely charge for calls), many people are discovering that whether they want to or not, they are developing more than a little technical proficiency. Some, like Mr. Marcuse, become virtual experts. But many of these accidental techies learn only as much as they absolutely must...


    Phyllis LaBaw, 45, associate athletic director at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is seldom away from her computer. As a result, she has grown self-reliant over the years without having attended a single computer-related class, she said. "You start spending time, and you're going to get to the point that eventually you're going to learn how to fix what you've botched up."

    Still, for all the time they invest, most self-taught technicians would rather be doing something else.
  • by Rackemup ( 160230 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @01:13PM (#6533375) Homepage
    I had a full-time job at an IT company, I was the network admin, the QA tester, the company trainer and the website guy (4 jobs, only one paycheck of course). In my free time I did a little freelance tech support business doing house calls to make some extra cash. I only charged $20/hr and I worked around their schedule. I did that for about a year before I gave up.


    The upside was that I could make a bunch of tax deductions for running a home business and get some of my money back from the government.


    The downside was that it was a money-losing vebture from the start. A small ad in the weekly paper ran me about $90/month.. unless I got 5 calls in a month (which was rare) I was already in the hole.



    Friends would ask me "man why arent you charging way more money?"... the simple explanation was that no one would ever pay it. When everyone has "a friend who knows lots about computers" why would they pay someone $75+/hr to come over when they could get it for free? I gave it up when the costs kept rising and the calls got scarce, even raising my price to $25/hr wasnt enough to pay any bills. I guess the population base isnt high enough to provide enough computer-idiots to make a living on. Now I see at least 3 other people around here trying to do the same thing.


    I've been unemployed for almost 7 months now and I've enrolled in the military to get a steady job. Granted I'm in Canada but it's gotta be pretty similar in the US. Dont you just love IT?

  • by Maleko ( 40958 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @01:21PM (#6533442)
    I can't RTFA (since it's /.ed) but I am doing freelance tech support. I setup home wirless and wired LANs, setup NAT/Firewall boxes for cable/DSL subscribers, apply patches, re-installs, and some general security tweaks and basic security training with each customer. I also help with any problem my customer's has (yes any, I get some dumb emails) for free, if they can handle it through email. If I have to go to their house (or call them), they get charged. I charge a reasonable rate (depending on the job up to $15 an hour plus gas, and travel time). I am not getting rich by any means, but I make a decent living and can schedule work around time for my kids, and being a single parent, that is very important to me.

    Honestly, I couldn't ask for a better job, sure it has it's headaches, and some weeks the work is sparse, but I wouldn't trade the flexability it gives me with my kids for anything.
  • Geek Squad (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @01:23PM (#6533459) Homepage
    Geek Squad [geeksquad.com] has a great approach to on-site tech support. They offer flat-rate pricing and 24-hour service. It's not cheap, but the flat-rate aspect gets them customers.

    They have an image and attitude. Their company cars bear a "Geek Squad" logo. Their people wear white shirts and ties and pocket protectors. They even have a black SWAT van for major problems.

    It's too bad they're still a small company. They should be everywhere, like Roto-Rooter(tm).

    They're hiring.

  • some problems (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @01:37PM (#6533601) Homepage
    I'm a pretty smart guy, and for most problems, sure I can fix those. But every once in a while, you run into something that's been obfuscated by black-box-engineering. You can't figure out what the problem is, without seeing inside. In some cases, it's as simple as spending your money on an incredibly overpriced "xxx Unleashed" book. In other cases, you have to swap out bad hardware, and it could be one of a couple of dozen possible components.
    Do you stock your own supply of spare parts? Can you purchase them at cost, or do you have to pay retail for them?

    Finally - you'll always eventually hit some problem that you simply can't find answers for, either in expensive documentation - or PAID (cha-ching$$$) support calls to a vendor. Where you get endlessly jerked around. Personally, I could do every facet of this job, except this one, and love it. When I get stumped - and I know the answer's in there, but for a lack of good documentation, you're just plain stuck - as a freelancer.

    Hell, even when I've worked for Big Software Company Dot Com, and we had clout with Microsoft - I would hit problems that even Microsoft developer support could not explain. That's a crappy position to be in, and exactly why I am a believer in Open Source. If you can't find someone who understands their own f0cking source code, then you can at least go in and look yourself.

    I'm just saying - as a standalone freelance technical consultant, you don't have clout with the vendors, and you can't get the truly nasty problems fixed. Period.

    On the other hand, getting $100/hr taking apart iMacs to get CD's out of froze-up slot-loading CD drives ain't a bad way to make a living.
  • Too late now, everyones going to be doing it now that they read about it.

    Is this the first time an entire job market has been slashdotted?

  • by cfish ( 61161 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @03:26PM (#6534557)
    I thought this article is very depressing until I realized that this guy is NOT qualified for anything else.

    I'd like to make a point that "household tech support" is a bearable job for someone who knows no more than how to fix a printing problem, because it is "slightly" challenging for him.

    I'm not trying to be snobby, but I know for sure that good talents are still high in demand. But there's not a lot of ways to distinguish those from clueless people. Microsoft tries hard to do that in thier job interview, but people still have a database of thier questions. This, my friend, is the biggest problem I see in the industry.

    There are too many clueless people with a "tech" title whinning about not getting a job. (HTML programmers, anyone? The writer does not have any credentials.) They should do freeland tech support. I also know really skilled people without a job, but it will be a waste of talent to do this.

    One more thing: please don't vote for Bush next time. For one, the corporate tax break did nothing more than sending tech jobs overseas.
  • by jetkust ( 596906 ) on Friday July 25, 2003 @05:00PM (#6535472)
    He dropped down into commiseration mode: the corners of his mouth drooped, his head ducked, he took a Hapsburg stance--his feet angled, his left foot perpendicular to his right, heel against arch, his torso yawed a few degrees off center, his hands lightly on his hips--

    ...A crowd gathered around him. The music starts. He starts dancing his infamous Geek Ramba. The crowd goes wild. In mid stride, he slings off his leather Lord of the Rings jacket revealing a homemade Bittorrent t-shirt, a fresh nametag from the latest Star Trek convention, and a platinum necklace with a giant emblem in the shape of a penguin...

10 to the minus 6th power Movie = 1 Microfilm

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