How to survive as the family tech support on Thanksgiving

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For most folks Thanksgiving is a time of reconnecting. It's a time to sit around the fire and finally relax. But for many of us IT pros, Turkey Day also comes with a darker side: Serving as the dreaded family tech support.

It's not that we don't want to help or that we don't want to see our families succeed with their gadgets. It's just that this is what we do professionally, and if there's ever a time to leave work at work, it's the holidays. So, let's take a look at the typical holiday tech support scenario and what you can do to (hopefully) prevent it from happening again.

The problem

You know the drill. You're sitting in the kitchen, watching mom whip up mashed potatoes when Uncle Don walks in. Under his arm you spy his decade-old laptop, the hand-me-down you gave him long ago (the one you always feel obligated to help fix). “Hey Greg,” he says. “You're the computer guy. I've got this problem with my Netscape mail…”

And just like that, your lazy afternoon is over.

I know this tune all too well, and I'm sure you can relate. I've served as tech support for my family since the days of the Apple ][e. Heck, I've handled everything from accidentally deleted amortization schedules to “No, that isn't a coaster for your coffee, it's a CD-ROM drive.” But lately, my number of “Hey, by the way…” family requests has nearly diminished to zero. If you're in fear for your own sanity this Thanksgiving, take heed of this one simple tip to shutting down your role as the free family tech support.

The fix

This is, perhaps, the easiest way out. It's a not-quite-lying, but not-quite-truthful conversational cheat I dreamed up when I needed a break from the holiday demands. Several years ago, when yet another distant relative called up for tech support, I said, “You know, Aunt Esther, I don't really know. These days I only work with the big computers. Try asking Cousin Jim.”

The memory still makes me laugh – after all, it was harmless (and it worked!). Surprisingly, my Aunt Esther seemed to know exactly what I meant – little white lie notwithstanding – and never called again with a computer question. Word got around and suddenly I became known as “the big computer” nephew, meanwhile, Cousin Jim got all the calls.

So, if you're worried about the upcoming holidays and how much time you might spend solving everyone's tech woes, remember this little secret. It's all about the "big computers;" they're the ones you work with.


Helping out our families with their tech-related problems isn't a bad thing – but it can become an issue when we let it cut into the little free time (and important family time) we have. If you feel weird about telling a little white lie to get everyone off your case, try explaining your swamped schedule instead. Is there an affordable service you can recommend or a website that can possibly help them resolve the issue on their own? Offer advice when possible, and know when to say no and have your cake (or pie)—and eat it, too. 

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Greg Shields

is an author/evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at