You simply can't depend on computers

Take it from someone with 15 years of experience in Information Technology — me. You cannot depend on computers.

Every single time in my life when I’ve had to depend on a computer to help me do something under a tight deadline, some glitch intervened. Something inevitably went wrong. Something didn’t work. I wasn’t able to get things done.

Generally speaking, it’s Windows computers that are more problematic, particularly when it comes to peripherals like printers or drives or USB sticks or webcams or whatever. Apple computers are slightly less unreliable, but I’d still say the same rule applies: you cannot depend on any computer for anything critical.

Need to print something in a hurry? The printer will inevitably not work, or the computer will slow up all of a sudden, or it won’t recognize the printer, or it’ll clam up, or the editing software will start acting up. Need to get to a document on a USB stick? Somehow, the stick will become unreadable. Or maybe it’ll work, but all of the apps on your machine will become so slow that you won’t be able to make the changes in time for the deadline. Need to edit something online? Your Internet connection will go down; if you’re on WiFi, that’ll go down or start cutting out. Or the remote servers will become unavailable even though other websites work just fine. Need to install an app in a hurry? Something will go wrong. Either you won’t have the right version for your OS, or the installer will freeze mid-install, or the site where you need to get the installer will stop working. Have to do a video chat? Guess what, if it’s an emergency, your webcam won’t work, or the chat will cut out mid-speech, or the sound will become garbled. Something will go wrong. It’s a given.

I don’t care if your computer is squeaky clean. I keep my machines that way, and yet I still have problems. There are no viruses, no spyware, no bloatware on my machines, and yet something always goes wrong when there’s a tight deadline involved.

The only way you can circumvent this rule is to have entire server rooms with IT staff standing by at your disposal. Even then, you can be sure that the weakest link in that chain will give, and right at crunch time, something will go wrong.

Take my word for it. I’ve worked in all levels of IT, from help desk up to the director position, and have put together computers and servers and server rooms. It pains me to say this, but after so many years in IT, I have to face the facts. You cannot depend on computers when you’re in an emergency. Don’t count on it. Computers are for entertainment purposes. They’re nice and they wow you when you’re playing around or doing normal stuff. But when it comes time for them to deliver under pressure, somehow they fail. It’s just the way things are. When they fail, and they will fail, deal with it. Try not to get a headache like the one I have right now. Go outside. Take a walk. Breathe deeply. Remember, it will pass.


3 thoughts on “You simply can't depend on computers

  1. You forgot about running out of ink at 2:00 in the morning! 😉

    A couple of years ago the HD on my PC died. A client said, “get a Mac.” A few months after that, the client told me the HD on his Mac had died. I had to bite my tongue. Hard.

    The thing is that ANYTHING with a moving part (HD, power supply, video card fan) can wear out. Switches are “wear” parts, too. So are hinges. And there’s probably a corollary to Murphy’s Law somewhere that says that moving part will wear out at the most inconvenient time possible.

    If all else fails, I have my manual Remington typewriter.

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    1. How right you are! Well-written piece! I had GOOGLED “You Can’t Depend on Computers” and your piece came up. I even had a former Elvis Presley pilot tell me that the incident where the pilot was able to put the plane down in the river near New York City was caused by the computer, that the computer put the plane down and that the pilot was just able to make it land safely atop the river’s waters, thus saving all aboard. Computers will shine your shoes if they are working well and you know how to do it, but if you do not have a Ph.D. in computer science, get ready to be left in the lurch.

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