A case study of a geek’s sense of time

Am I offbase in being annoyed about this? When I dropped my computer off, the guy at the desk said it would be ready in a week. That was eight days ago, so I thought I could reasonably expect it to be finished today. I called to see when I could pick it up.

1) “Um… I’m having trouble finding it, can I call you back?”
I was silent for a moment and he said, “Don’t be scared when we say things like that. It usually means that it’s on a technician’s desk. I just need to spot it.”

Sure. That’s fine.

2) He calls back. “It should be ready later this week. We’re short-staffed because one of our technicians went on vacation to Spain.”

I said, “So when will it be ready? I was told that it would be five days when I called in and a week when I dropped it off.”

“I don’t know. I mean, if you could see what it’s like here. We’re really short-staffed.” He sounded nervous, like he was a geek totally out of his element. Which was probably true. “We’ve only got two techs on the floor. A third one comes in at three. Your computer is about ten down in the queue.”

“That’s good to know, but what does that mean in terms of when it will be ready?”

“I don’t know.” It sounds like he’s having to grip the phone harder to keep it from sliding out of his sweating palms. “I’m not a technician; I build systems.”

“Well, what I’m trying to decide is if I should come down and pull it out of the queue.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that. There’s no guarantee that you could find someone who would have it done faster than four days and then it would just be back at the end of our queue.”

“Four days?” I stuggled not to shout at him. “Look. This wasn’t an urgent repair, but it was my only window of time to have it done. This is my primary computer. I have a gig coming in on Thursday; I need it back.”

“If you could see what it was like at our end, you would understand why it’s not ready. One of our techs is in Spain and we’ve been working our regular hours.”

The effort to not shout became harder; I’ve run shops before. “I have been on your end. A vacation to Spain doesn’t spontaneously arise; that should have been part of the planning with your scheduling. I was told a week. I’m annoyed because I was given inaccurate information.”

“He was already in Spain when your computer came.”

I didn’t respond to that, because clearly, that did not improve his case at all. “I need the computer back by Thursday. So I’ll call at five o’clock on Wednesday to see if it is ready and if it isn’t then I’ll just come pick it up.”

“Oh that should be plenty of time. I know it’ll be ready in a couple of days.”

“Wednesday is tomorrow.”

“Oh. Really?”

“Today is Tuesday.”

“Oh. Man. Well, I’ll tell them you need it back. But we’re really backed up right now.”

At this point, I was finished with the conversation because I wasn’t going to get anything useful out of the boy. “Thank you for your time. I’ll check in tomorrow.”

So, my mental note from this is that computer geeks have no sense of time at all. I’m sure this will come in handy on a story sometime.

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12 Responses

  1. Maggie

    Um. Wow.

    This is amazing.

    I’m married to a computer geek, and have spent quite a bit of time with other computer geeks. This is just bizarre.

  2. Chris Azure

    Wow, that’s actually very similar to my experience of trying to get a computer fixed in this country. After much shouting, we finally did get the computer back, but he forgot to include the Windows software, which we needed too.

    To get that back, we had to keep calling until eventually we got the guy’s manager on the phone, who finally forced him to hand-deliver it.

    Scotland wasn’t much better, of course.

    This is one reason I miss Hong Kong, where cheap, no fuss, next day (or sometimes same day) service was the norm.

  3. Chris Billett

    I’m a computer geek. I’m a Mac geek, of course, which just means I have better clothes and get out more (hello, sweeping generalisations!) but it’s all the same I guess… it’s hard to have a sense of time for a fix. Of course, I don’t have optional deadlines, I work for (I think I’m write in saying) the largest independent design company in the world so if something fucks up, like yesterday, I work until 11pm and go back in at 8am… and I don’t get overtime.

    I do sympathise with them, though. If you don’t know what the problem is, you’ve got to find it. That can take seconds, that can take days. Hard fixes can come to you in five minutes and easy ones can slip you for hours.

    I guess that in your case this isn’t the problem. It’s the lies. I don’t get into the lying…

  4. Mary Robinette Kowal

    Maggie: I should have said that I have a similar wacked sense of time when I’m online but, you know, when I’m talking about schedules I actually look at a calendar.

    Chris A.: See, next day service would be a lovely lovely thing.

    Chris B.: Exactly. It’s not the amount of time, it’s the irresponsibility and lying. Had they said from the get-go that one of their techs was on vacation, I would have waited to bring my computer in.

  5. momk

    “VACATION in Spain” ~ Was just a way to redefine the issue. The matter at hand actually was “I am ready to pick up my REPAIRED computer, as promised!” It’s a common ploy to change the subject of discussion when palms are sweaty.

  6. Maggie

    No, no. I agree, Mary. We all do weird things with time. I know I do. But for crying out loud, when these men and women I know have a job to do they tend to try to at least be professional and ethical about it. This means covering a lot of the bases that have previously been discussed in your post and others’ comments. You lose business otherwise. (Duh.)

    It’s true that a lot of computer geeks have social issues as far as the mainstream goes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be professionals.

    I’m still amazed. This isn’t how you run a business.

  7. -d-

    Time! Bah! I still don’t understand why I can’t leave 5 min before I’m supposed to be somewhere and get there on time even though it takes 40 min to drive there. Fortunately, your mother takes care of the scheduling (and the dress code etc.).

  8. Wordly

    I wonder if it’s computer repair geeks? My brother in law runs a repair business, but getting him to return a call or follow through is a three day process.

    I’ve referred people to him, thinking maybe this was just that special family treatment, but he’s just as hard on them.

  9. strugglingwriter

    I’m always amazed that these places (computers, cars, home repairs, plumbing) give time estimates because they are never correct. You would think they would learn to be vague.

    It’s pretty funny the guy didn’t know what day it was. They must be really busy. Still, I feel your pain.

  10. Sara

    My husband repairs computers for a living and he would never in a million years give that terrible level of service. I’ve known him to stay up all night repairing someone’s computer because he told them he’d have it back to them the next day and it turned out to be more broken than he initially thought. Competent geeks with social skills and a real world work ethic do exist. Yours sound like the feral variety lacking adult supervision.

  11. Mary Robinette Kowal

    Maggie: It’s so true. I think the thing that astounded me was that everything he said just made it worse.

    -d-: See! I’ll have to show this to Rob so he understands where I get it from.

    Wordly: I wonder what it is that makes someone able to do a complicated repair but unable to operate a telephone?

    strugglingwriter: They definitely sounded busy. The person that I should really be annoyed with is this guy’s boss who a) let’s him answer the phone and b) doesn’t figure vacation schedules into their repair estimate times.

    Sara: So…where does your husband work? ’cause I may have a computer to send him.