If you’re reading my blog you’re probably the designated IT person for your family or immediate friend group. Just like doctors that get called for every little scrape or plumbers that get the nod when something isn’t draining over the holidays, you are the one that gets an email or a text message when something pops up that isn’t “right” or has a weird error message. These kinds of engagements are hard because you can’t just walk away from them and you’re likely not getting paid. So how can you be the Designated Computer Friend and still keep your sanity this holiday season?
The answer, dear reader, is gifts. If you’re struggling to find something to give your friends that says “I like you but I also want to reduce the number of times that you call me about your computer problems” then you should definitely read on for more info! Note that I’m not going to fill this post will affiliate links or plug products that have sponsored anything. Instead, I’m going to just share the classes or types of devices that I think are the best way to get control of things.
Step 1: Infrastructure Upgrades
When you go visit your parents for Thanksgiving or some other holiday check in, are they still running the same wireless network they got when they got their high-speed Internet? Is their Wi-Fi SSID still the default with the password printed on the side of the router/modem combo? Then you’re going to want to upgrade their experience to keep your sanity for the next few holidays.
The first thing you need to do it get control of their wireless setup. You need to get some form of wireless access point that wasn’t manufactured in the early part of the century. Most of the models on the market have Wi-Fi 6 support now. You don’t need to go crazy with a Wi-Fi 6E model for your loved ones right now because none of their devices will support it. You just need something more modern with a user interface that wasn’t written to look like Windows 3.1.
You also need to see about an access point that is controlled via a cloud console. If you’re the IT person in the group you probably already use some form control for your home equipment. You don’t need a full Meraki or Juniper Mist setup to lighten your load. That is, unless you already have one of those dashboards set up and you have spare capacity. Otherwise you could look at something like Ubiquiti as a middle ground.
Why a cloud controller AP? Because then you can log in and fix things or diagnose issues without needing to spend time talking to less technical users. You can find out if they have an unstable Internet connection or change SSID passwords at the drop of a hat. You can even set up notifications for those remote devices to let you know when a problem happens so you can be ready and waiting for the call. And you can keep tabs on necessary upgrades and such so you aren’t fielding calls when the next major exploit comes out and your parents call you asking if they’re going to get infected by this virus. You can just tell them they’re up-to-date and good to go. The other advantage of this method is that when you upgrade your own equipment at home you can just waterfall the old functional gear down to them and give them a “new to you” upgrade that they’ll appreciate.
Step 2: Device Upgrades
My dad was notorious for using everything long past the point of needing to be retired. It’s the way he was raised. If there’s a hole you patch it. If it breaks you fix it. If that fix doesn’t work you wrap it in duct tape and use it until it crumbles to dust. While that works for the majority of things out there it does cause issues with technology far too often.
He had a iPad that he loved. He didn’t use it all day, every day but he did use it frequently enough to say that it was his primary computing device. It was a fourth-generation device, so it fell out of fashion a few years ago. When he would call me and ask me questions about why it was behaving a certain way or why he couldn’t download some new app from the App Store I would always remind him that he had an older device that wasn’t fast enough or new enough to run the latest programs or even operating software. This would usually elicit a grumble or two and then we would move on.
If you’re the Designated IT Person and you spend half your time trying to figure out what versions of OS and software are running on a device, do yourself a favor and invest in a new device for your users just to ease the headaches. If they use a tablet as their primary computing device, which many people today do, then just buy a new one and help them migrate all the data across to the new one while you’re eating turkey or opening presents.
Being on later hardware ensures that the operating system is the latest version with all the patches for security that are needed to keep your users safe. It also means you’re not trying to figure out what the last supported version of the software was that works with the rest of the things. I’ve played this game trying to get an Apple Watch to connect to an older phone with mismatched software as well as trying to get support for newer wireless security on older laptops with very little capability to do much more than WPA1. The amount of hours I burned trying to make the old junk work with the new stuff would have been better served just buying a new version of the same old thing and getting all their software moved over. Problems seem to just disappear when you are running on something that was manufactured within the last five years.
Step 3: Help Them Remember
This is probably my biggest request: Forgotten passwords. Either it’s the forgotten Apple ID or maybe the wireless network password. My parents and in-laws forget the passwords they need to log into things all the time. I finally broke down and taught them how to use a password management tool a few years ago and it made all the difference in the world. Now, instead of them having to remember what their password was for a shopping site they can just set it to automatically fill everything in. And since they only need to remember the master password for their app they don’t have to change it.
Better yet, most of these apps have a secure section for notes. So all those other important non-password things that seem to come up all the time are great to put in here. Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, and so much more can be put in one central location and made easy to access. The best part? If you make it a shared vault you can request access to help them out when they forget how to get in. Or you can be designated as a trusted party that can access the account in the event of a tragedy. Getting your loved ones used to using password vaults now makes it much easier to have them storing important info there in case something happens down the road that requires you to jump in without their interaction. Trust me on this.
Your loved ones don’t need knick knacks and useless junk. If you want to show them you love them, give them the gift of not having to call you every couple of days because they can’t remember the wireless password or because they keep getting this error that says their app isn’t support on this device. Invest in your sanity and their happiness by giving them something that works and that has the ability for you to help manage it from the background. If you can make it stable and useful and magically work before they call you with a problem you’re going to find yourself a happier person in the years to come.