The mystical “Computer Person”

I get it all the time:

“Joe, you’re so good with computers! I’m so glad you’re here to fix this because I’m just not a computer person.”

– Joe’s entire extended family, and now, Joey

Which always gets me thinking, what makes me a “computer person”?  Some people would say that computers just come naturally to me.  I say that’s ridiculous.  How can a completely man-made machine largely invented only 20 years before I was born somehow just “come naturally” to me?  No, what makes someone a computer person is the same thing that makes someone good at machining or playing music: knowing how their machinery works and what can be done with it.

“Computer People” know the right program for the right job.

Just like a mechanic has a half dozen slightly different wrenches for fixing a car, a computer person has a whole collection of programs, utilities, and benchmarks that each do a different job.  I’ll make a habit of posting about some of the programs that make my life easier, and where to legally get free software that also doesn’t sell your information to the highest bidder.

Collecting a bunch of awesome programs half the story.  The other half is a working understanding of what’s going on under the hood.  When we click a link to watch a video about a dog helping a kitten up some stairs, we let our modern operating system (Windows, MacOS, Ubuntu, etc.) and our web browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc.) handle all the stuff that made early computers notoriously difficult to use.  Behind the scenes our systems are configuring extended memory; loading the appropriate mouse, display, and networking drivers; getting an IP address from our router via DHCP; and downloading data from a remote server.  Even if we don’t learn how to do all that manually, knowing what each of those steps do is how you figure out why thIS STUPID COMPUTER WON’T LOAD MY VIDEO.  We’ll cover what an operating system is and some of the things it does in the context of problem diagnosis.

“Computer People” know how to maintain their equipment.

Just like a car, you can probably use your computer for a few years without proper maintenance.  But just like a car, it’ll continue to run worse and worse until it’s totally unusable and you have to buy a new one.  Simple tips like using ad blockers on sites you don’t trust and never browsing the Internet from an administrator account can save you loads of trouble.  A regular backup will provide you with a reliable way out of trouble every time.  And don’t forget, keeping your computer’s vents physically clean will keep the hardware from cooking itself.  Lucky for us, computers differ from cars in one key way: even if you’ve never maintained your computer’s software, it’s almost always possible to get it running like new again.

I’ll go into security tips, ways to keep your computer running smoothly, how to squeeze as much life out of your old computer as possible, and things that I look for when buying a new machine when the time comes.  And who knows!  If someone actually reads this blog and asks a question, I might try to diagnose it here!

“Computer People” know this is the future.

Like it or not, computers play a huge part of our jobs and lives.  More importantly, they’re not going away, and your ability to do your job effectively will depend entirely on how well you can interface with these tools.  Some people will refuse to step outside their comfort zone and learn new skills.  They’ll insist that we need to limit the progression of technology to save jobs.  But technology will continue to progress, with or without them. The hard truth is that history has shown that those who resist the changes brought by advancing technology are left behind and forgotten.

I’m not saying that all this change is good, nor am I saying it’s evil either.  Honestly, we as a society need to start thinking about the the future repercussions and have an educated discussion about solutions.  One thing is painfully clear though, no one can afford to not be a “computer person” if they want to succeed in the upcoming years.

Oy, that got dark fast. Well, since we’ve let that omnipresent existential dread resurface…

I don’t claim to have all the answers.

Anyone who says they do is either lying or selling something.  Probably both.  Heck, for being a so-called “computer person,” I only know just enough to be terrified about just how much I don’t know.  But just like every skill, the only way to keep learning is to keep practicing.  So for me, this blog is both a reference and an experiment.  I’ll share what I know, post some problems and their solutions that I’ve found, and talk about mistakes I’ve made so you don’t make them too.

If that sounds good to you, then welcome aboard!

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