I work as an IT helpdesk contractor in a large corporation. We basically have to help users with resetting their passwords, switching out broken stuff, so nothing fancy.

Sometimes I get into smalltalk with the employees there, which is okay because we might be in a similar position in the value chain, but I have a hard time reacting to statements from executives, like "I wish I knew how you guys did that".

They are obviously simply being nice, because they honestly couldn't care less about an obscure windows setting, and I am completely fine with it.

I know that if I did not do my job they also could not work, so they are depending on me, which would implicate that my work is really important.

On the other hand they are doing work that has higher impact, and therefore are much more important and valuable. I am also completely fine with this.

I can think of only one way to react to the previous statement, but it is simply wrong:

Ahh, it's nothing, you could do it yourself if you wanted to.

This is simply degrading my work, and saying that I shouldn't even be paid to be here.

What would be a nicer way to react than this? Actually I'm more interested in the mindset about how I can think about my job in the right way, and I can react better in every small talk situation.


  • 19
    "Thank you, I can teach you whenever you want" Open invitation and polite response. you will be surprised if one of them shows real interest and shows up for learning, they are people just like you.
    – user49901
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 19:19
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    It doesn't take too many 40-hour weeks of doing anything before you know more about what you do for 40+ hours a week than anyone who does anything else for 40 hours a week. It is hard to take this kind of off-hand compliment with grace, but it's an important part of the field. For some reason some people seem to think it takes a special kind of genius to fix a computer but not to fix a car or make a gourmet meal or create a P&L report. Commented May 2, 2016 at 19:29
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    Imagine your exec just came back having negotiated their way through a challenging press interview, and you were in an elevator with them. You may be inclined to say "That was a great job, I don't know how you guys do it!". For the executive, it may have been all in a day's work. A great skill is realising when what others are doing is beyond your immediate ability, and is needed to help you or your company to reach your goals (the negative counterbalance to that is "I could do THAT job"). To compliment someone skilled in something you can't do is natural :) Commented May 2, 2016 at 20:10
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    Obligatory xkcd (Note: Sending the executive a link to this is probably not the appropriate way to respond. :) )
    – reirab
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 20:43
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    Would a "Thank you. Glad to help!" suffice? Commented May 3, 2016 at 8:54

5 Answers 5


Don't pass up a legitimate opportunity for visibility. Being seen doing good work is important for your career.

My reaction to things like this is "It only takes a couple seconds to change the setting. The real trick is knowing which setting to change :)." or some variation on that. Mind set wise remember, a very small portion of your wage is flipping switches/pushing buttons; most of your wage comes from knowing what switches or buttons will accomplish the user's goals.

  • Thank you for your concise answer, this is exactly what I was looking for.
    – fpjxmqjtaw
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 4:14
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    This reminds me of an anecdote about a steamboat with a serious leak problem, several "experts" tried for months to fix it when they finally decide to hire an old engineer that charges $20,000 (imagine that's a lot) to fix the engine, and after hired goes down one shaft and tightens one bolt exactly one quarter of a turn. He then takes his leave, and the boat owner is about to complain when he comes: you paid me $20,000 just to borrow the knowledge of what bolt to tighten. Commented May 3, 2016 at 13:15
  • 1
    +1. In the abstract, (almost) any job can be made to sound simple. The reason we all have a job is that all of the tasks we all perform come together to form the cogs in the 'machine' that is a company.
    – Cronax
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 13:36
  • 4
    @Mindwin, Charles Proteus Steinmetz.
    – zzzzBov
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 15:41
  • 7
    @zzzzBov Making chalk mark on generator $1. -- Knowing where to make mark $9,999. Commented May 3, 2016 at 16:37

It's simple. Instead of deflecting the compliment, accept it with grace.

Executive: wow. I don't know how you guys do all this stuff. I wish I knew what you do about computers.

You: well, I'm here to help. Glad I could assist you.


You: Just doin' my job. Gotta take care of folks.


You: Yup, computers can drive ya crazy. But I've got your back.

(or simply)

You: No worries. I'm glad I could help.


An important fact to realize is that no matter how simple a process may appear to you this is not the case for those lacking that knowledge.

Sure, changing a Windows setting is easily done if you know it's even an option. A quick Google search might give the user insight, but even then they might not understand all the implications and rather rely on an expert to do it for them.

The fact is that you took the time to learn about these things, understand the implications, and are qualified to manage these systems. Even if it appears simple there's no reason not to feel a certain measure of pride in your knowledge and skills.

You have to keep in mind that most people are actually far more ignorant of the way a computer/OS works than you typically suspect. I've met developers who know how to use a computer quite well, but have no idea how to guard themselves against viruses, run a VM, or even perform windows recovery.

In the future answer more along these lines:

Well, like anything it just takes some study and practice, but being passionate about computer systems helps :)

  • 2
    Indeed, don't underestimate the knowledge required to do your job. Just look at all the poor stackoverflow questions which could solved by pasting the title into Google. The fact that it is easy for you doesn't mean that it is also easy for someone else. See also Dunning-Kruger effect. Commented May 3, 2016 at 9:19
  • Well, I guess I am also a dev who doesn't know how to "guard against viruses" or "even perform windows recovery". But I guess this is due to the fact I haven't touched a Windows system since nearly 10 years - Stuff is always complicated if you don't do it (regularly). I, for example, can't understand why some people find the command line complicated. So it's always a matter of perspective: A CEO-type person might not be able to do simple computer things, simply because he never does or needs to.
    – dirkk
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 14:40

What's important in your role is to provide solutions and encourage users to call you when there are problems. If they indicate they want to know how to take care of this themselves to save their time, you try and teach them.

There's nothing wrong with a little modesty. The CEO of your company doesn't want to hear about how many hours you've spent studying this type of stuff. Every virtuoso has had someone make a comment about how easy they make it look.

When in doubt about any complement, a simple thank you is a safe response.


It would take them a whole day to fix the issue that takes you a few seconds. Thats 8 hours of work wasted/saved.

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