Gremlins and Trolls: A brief look at the world of IT support

I’m going to be honest with you straight up: I’m not an IT expert. In fact, I’m pretty much the opposite – I’m a humanities graduate. I write poetry. My day job is washing dishes in a sandwich deli. So the experiences I’m writing about here are from a few years ago, when I somehow ended up working on an email helpline for students struggling with online graduation wizards, university accounts and any other computer issue related to my university.

I did this work for two years, but I was only actually needed during enrolment and registration time so it maybe added up to 4 months altogether. In this time, the main things I learned were:

People can be incredibly rude when they’re stressed.

This is the case in pretty much any customer-facing role: if the person you’re trying to help is already stressed out, they’re going to be a jerk. It doesn’t matter how helpful or cheerful you are. You could put your job at risk to try and make them happy, and they’ll still act like you’re the worst person in the world.

Working in tech support of any kind, you come up with a very specific branch of this. The person you’re trying to help will be hyperaware that the source of all of their problems is something that’s actually been designed to make someone’s life easier, and this creates a sense of outrage. It’s something I get too, when my phone is being uncooperative, but I somehow always forgot that when someone I was helping was being unreasonable.

This isn’t your fault (unless it is your fault, in which case you’d better pray you can fix this before your supervisor finds out). Just try to turn the other cheek, and remember that there are actually nice people out there. You just probably won’t get to meet them.

There’s also a second source of unpleasantness going on here, because there’s a pretty good chance whoever you’re helping has tried to solve this problem themselves and failed. They’re quite possibly contacting you while feeling slightly insecure or embarrassed, possibly concerned you’ll laugh at their errors or tell them they’re stupid for not figuring this out. (If you are actually the person contacting IT support, try not to fret because…)

Most of the issues students face when attempting to enrol are a result of their schools messing up timetables.

The student and the system are very rarely at fault.

This one is particular to support provided to students enrolling at university. Maybe even particular to students enrolling at my university. I don’t know much about online support outside of that field, but it sounds a lot like people are very often at fault there.

Anyway, if you’re completing the registration wizard for QUB and happen to come across a major stumbling block – especially if it happens while you’re signing up for classes – chances are you’ve done nothing wrong. Try again, read the instructions carefully and check you’re taking the right number of modules for the right semesters, then email Reghelp or email your school.

If it’s an enrolment issue, there’s a strong chance we’ll just end up forwarding your email to your school with the message “Please refer to student email below” because many of the issues people have happen because their school has put the wrong module information in, or hasn’t term activated the student, or something like that. Remember that the people in charge of timetabling are just that – people – and people mess up, especially at one of the busiest times in the academic year.

That said, it’s still generally best to email Reghelp or your university’s equivalent before or at-the-same-time-as your school, because there might be another issue that we can deal with rather than heaping an unnecessary load of work onto someone else.

If in doubt, forward everything to the finance department.

The finance department pretty much hated my team. But people care about money, so a lot of the questions we got really were more relevant to the finance team. Honest!

A lot of people really aren’t any good at keeping private things private.

Waaaaaaay too many people emailing the helpline had clearly just had enough of the online wizard etc and wanted someone else to just fix it for them. And that’s perfectly understandable! Enrolling at university for the first time feels like a really, really big deal, and having part of that not go smoothly can feel like the end of the world. I felt that way when I was enrolling too.

But no matter how stressed out you are, you must never, ever email your login details to a complete stranger. So many people emailed reghelp in a complete panic and included their student number and password. I totally understand the reasoning here, but it’s not a good idea. We can’t log into your account for you. The minute your password pops up in an email, we need to make sure we can’t see it. If we forward your email, we block it out for you so nobody else can see it.

Realistically, nobody who would use that login information to get up to mischief would be working for Reghelp. But you can’t be 100% certain of that, and you don’t want to end up in that tiny teeny percentage that end up in difficulty because someone else got their login details.

Anything we need to do in order to help, we can do from our staff accounts – we just need your student number to find your account. If it’s something we can’t do with our accounts, it means we don’t have clearance. But that just means we forward it to someone higher up who does have access.

So what would I like you to take away from this ramble?

It’s okay to get stressed out by your computer. Everyone gets stressed out by technology. Just try to be polite when you ask for help, because the responses you get to your emails come from people, not robots.

Never send your password or other sensitive information to someone you don’t know. If they’re willing to use it to log in to your account, they shouldn’t have access in the first place.

And please, stay calm. Grab a cup of tea. Listen to your favourite song. I promise, your issue will be resolved. Use your waiting time to do a bit of self-care!

I have so many QUB t-shirts that say “WELCOME” or “Here to Help” or “Ask Me Anything!” by now. This is the uniform from my first year on enrolment. The uniform for the second year was bright yellow, and I loved it.

This post was written as a response to the Daily Prompt on 23/11/17: Gremlins



NaPoWriMo: When Minjung Slayed the Dragon

There was a town upon a hill
Where the trees were green and the lakes were still
And the people lived in peace until
There came a mighty dragon.

Then every night it came to burn –
The sight would make your stomach turn –
Every man who’d tried to learn
How to slay a dragon.

The villagers, tired of its claws,
Tried oh so hard to make it pause
But soon learned just how cruel it was:
It was a brutal dragon.

But in this village, thankfully,
There lived a girl named Minjung Lee
Who wanted to live peacefully
Without a fearsome dragon.

The elders, they began to laugh
When she offered to slay on their behalf
The beast that shrank their village by half
And went by the name of dragon.

So up she stood without a word
And chose a sharp and deadly sword
And her footsteps were never heard
By the smug old dragon.

So, at the dragon, Minjung rushed
And soon its treacly green blood gushed
For, at last, someone had hushed
The deadliest of dragons.

So now they sing in voices gay,
Though centuries pass, they always say
It was quite the most joyous day
When Minjung slayed the dragon.

This post was written as part of NaPoWriMo, but also for The Daily Post’s “Time for Poetry” writing challenge. Check them out!

> I’m very touched that this post was selected for Freshly Pressed – Thank you very much!


Fifty Words: Escape

For this week’s challenge, you must write a fifty-word story. Not five thousand, not five hundred, but precisely fifty words.


Johnny could hear them coming. The beasts resembled dogs but were something more, something darker. He had to get away. A ladder stretched up a few metres from him, reaching up to the top of the nearest building. All he had to do was climb.

Shame he had no arms. 


More Fifties:

  1. 50-Word Stories #138 | boy with a hat
  2. Two of a Kind | Round The World
  3. Climb | katy warner
  4. American Pie | A View From My Summerhouse
  5. Take me with you | Capacity: Build it or Destroy it
  6. Around the Garden | Corned Beef Hashtag
  7. Weekly Writing Challenge – Fifty Words | At the corner of 14th & Oak
  8. Notice | christineespeer
  9. Goodbye | adventuresofaneverydaywoman
  10. Foiled Getaway | Bleached Bone Valley

Urban Living in the Year 3000

Today’s post comes from The Daily Post’s Writing Challenge. Why not check it out?

Lights flash, wheels spin and levers click back into place. For fear of stepping on a bug and accidentally killing the human race, I chose to test-drive my beautiful new time machine by travelling to the future. The year? 3000. Hey, if Busted could do it, why can’t I? I want to find out once and for all whether their report on the year 3000 is accurate. For science.

First of all, I feel that I must elaborate on the news that everyone lives underwater in the future. This conjures up images of everyone swimming around, happy as Larry, in some sort of New Atlantis. The water level is, in fact, only about a metre off the ground in most areas (of course, it’s deeper in valleys and shallower on hills). This can easily be explained by the fact that the sun is blazing down all day, every day. The ice-caps stood no chance.

With Scandinavia’s decline as a result of global warming (RIP Scandinavian Metal) and advancements in music technology, true musical talent is no longer needed in the year 3000. In fact, people aren’t needed at all. The task of providing music now lies on the new “ABBs”, or “Artificial Boy Bands” to you and I. These impressive inventions are mass-produced by ICBC and distributed globally. The “music” they produce could only really be described as Bieber-meets-Nyan-Cat. It’s really something… Though what that “something” is is unclear.

As well as the destruction of music, ABBs have had one other effect on the culture of the period. With no actual human musicians, the idolization of musicians is no longer a concept. As a result, pressure on women to be perfectly toned and dangerously skinny has been greatly reduced. Men and women are now welcome to be any size they wish, providing (of course) that it is healthy. The world still loves breasts, though. In fact, artificial third breasts are not uncommon in cities, with the most wealthy women having real third breasts transplanted onto their bodies. Women who can afford this luxury tend to walk around naked as a way of displaying their wealth. 

The changes made to society in the year 3000 are plentiful, and more-or-less true to the lyrics of the international anthem “Year 3000”.

One final point about the future needs to be made clear, though:

Your great-great-great-granddaughter is, indeed, pretty fine.


Why not check out these other time-travelling tales?

  1. Weekly Writing Challenge: Time Machine | pollyannaeast
  2. Thoughts Tuning Time | A Nerdy Geek’s blog
  3. Nature’s Second Chance | Wired With Words
  4. If I could turn back time | Theoriesinthought
  5. Time Travel | Watching for the sun
  6. Turn Back the Time #fiction #addiction | Moondustwriter
  7. Coherence Insults My Intelligence | Bumblepuppies
  8. Time Machine | The Colours of Life
  9. Time traveling to my younger self | MindBodyBreath Malaysia – Yoga in Shah Alam
  10. cycle lost | Just Thinking

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life


This (somewhat blurred) photo was my attempt at capturing Belfast’s City Centre in the run up to Christmas. It was dark out, but people were still bustling about, trying to secure those last few Christmas presents before heading home. 

Until September, I had only ever spent any real amount of time in the countryside in Donegal and Somerset. There’s such a massive difference between living in a city like Belfast and living in the countryside. That may seem like a fairly obvious observation, but I simply could not believe just how different it was. 

It’s not just the size of the place, although that did take some getting used to. It’s not just the vast amount of people, even though that still does cause some problems. The biggest difference is the way the people are. In Donegal, if you walk past someone, you say “Hi” or “How are you?” even if you don’t know the person. Even in Monksilver, people might not say hello to you when you walk past, but they at least smile or nod in recognition of your presence. Here, it seems that everyone makes it their responsibility to pretend that there is nobody else on the street. It’s bizarre. At first, this made me feel incredibly lonely. It felt like nobody knew or cared that I was here. Now that I’m used to it, I find it almost comforting. I know that nobody knows or cares that I’m here, but there’s a sort of safety in that invisibility. 

So here is a photo of Belfast, and the people in it. And we can see all of the people in the photo, but it seems that the people in the photo can only see themselves. It’s very odd, but I guess that’s just city life.


Writerly Reflections

Today’s post comes from The Daily Post’s Writing Challenge. Why not check it out?

I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. Like most people my age, I grew up with Harry Potter. The first few books were read to me as bedtime stories but after a while, I was the reader. I eagerly awaited the release of each new book, devouring it as soon as it was in my possession. Other books I enjoyed at this time included Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series. 

Needless to say, through this love of reading came a love of writing. Throughout primary school, my friend Phillip and I came up with countless characters – superheroes, mutants, villains, detectives, wizards, etc. We thought that we were creating absolute works of art, but looking back at the drawings, they’re not exactly professional standard! These characters were then written into short stories, comics, everything. This went on for years. 



Oh, so Fyreball shot fireballs? Shocking!

Eventually, in fifth class (I would have been 9 or 10 years old), my teacher stopped me after class and told me to stop writing stories about these “silly superheroes”. I was outraged. In my totally sensible 9-or-10-year-old brain, I decided that the best way to deal with criticism was to send my teacher a message, and the best way to send this message was to write a story that featured a murder and had a *scary* cliffhanger ending. My teacher responded to my super threatening message by writing a comment along the lines of What happens next? Where’s the rest of the story?”

Uncultured swine.

When I turned 13-or-so, the only writing anyone got to look at was work that had to be handed in to a teacher anyway, while my personal writing turned from gripping tales of daring do to angst-filled poems about someone in class not giving me my pencil back, or whatever was bothering me that day. The only poem I remember from my short spell as the next Sylvia Plath was a distinctly worrying ode to a dead badger I saw on the side of the road once. Poetic beauty? Perhaps not. The cringey poetry died off fairly quickly, thank heavens, but I still didn’t really let anyone look at anything I wrote until this summer, when I did a brief stint with my local newspaper (2 published articles, I’m SO VERY FAMOUS).


Still, even if a short summer job with a small town newspaper turned out not to be my big break, it certainly showed me what I wanted to do with my life, writing-wise. I realised that rather than writing stories about murders on trains, or even supercool superheroes, I prefer writing about things that actually happened (whether in my life or in my local area), or my real-life-actual opinions on things that matter (to me). In short, I like being a blogger, and when I finish at university I’m going to do my level best to be a journalist or a columnist or a jourcolumnalist or a mermaid (still not letting “the man” tell me what I can and can’t be).

And even if I don’t get to work as any of those things, and I end up working in a shop until the day I die, I’m still going to write. Yes, it would be pretty great to write for money. But mostly, I write for myself and that is something I can do whether people read it or not. I will keep writing because it is the one thing that interests me above anything else, and because English (reading and writing) is the one thing I’ve ever been good at. And that’s fine with me, because it’s all I need.

Keep reading and writing, I know I will.