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Where do tech pros go for tech support? Here are their top 4 fix-it strategies

If friends and family call you first when they have a tech problem, you need to know where to find reliable answers. I asked some colleagues who do tech support for a living to share their secrets.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor on
A frustrated man looking at a computer
5m3photos/Getty

If you're good at figuring out how technology works, you're probably the person that friends and family call when they have a problem with their computer or mobile device.

Most of those tech support calls are easy. If they're having trouble with a task, you walk them through the steps, maybe even writing up a cheat sheet for them to print and keep handy. If they're having hardware problems, you do basic troubleshooting ("Have you tried turning it off and back on again?") and that usually works.

But every once in a while you get one of those calls, where the problems don't have an easy fix. You know you've stumbled on one of these brain-twisters when you find yourself saying out loud, "Huh. Never seen anything like that before."

Also: How to choose a computer for your child

I asked a bunch of friends and followers who are tech support specialists (amateur and pro) where they turn when they encounter a stubborn tech problem. It turns out there's a fairly universal collection of resources that this community goes to in a pinch. Here's a breakdown by category.

How tech pros tackle tech problems 

1. Google it

First stop, of course, is your preferred search engine: Google or Bing (DuckDuckGo uses results from Bing). Search is as much art as it is science, and the folks I talked to cautioned that it usually take several tries with different keywords to get proper results.

If the problem involves an error code or detailed message, use that exact text as part of your search terms. Use the "site:" filter to restrict search results to a particular domain. This search, for example, returns useful results for a blue-screen error on Windows 11 with code 0xC2: Bad_pool_caller.

site:support.microsoft.com "windows 11" error 0xC2

For hardware problems, include a model number or product ID if one is available. If you want to exclude results that include a specific word, put a minus sign in front of it. To filter the results so they don't include any links from a specific domain, put a minus sign in front of the site: operator, so that it's -site: [URL of the site you want to avoid searching]. 

Even if you consider yourself a search pro, there are probably a few tricks you can learn to make searches more useful. Here are some pages worth studying and bookmarking.

2. Check official documentation

For problems with specific products, it's sometimes good to go straight to the source. If it's a paid product or service, open a support ticket if possible and look for other resources.

For Microsoft products, start at https://support.microsoft.com. You'll find a wealth of technical documentation, organized by product, at https://learn.microsoft.com/docs/. (The old shortcut, https://docs.microsoft.com, now redirects to Microsoft Learn, which includes links to other resources as well as documentation.)

Apple, not surprisingly, is at https://support.apple.com. If you want to look for support articles by topic, use the search page https://support.apple.com/kb/index?page=search.  

For other hardware and software makers, you can usually get to the right page by searching for <company_name> support. Depending on the manufacturer, you might find a knowledge base, a contact form or chat app, or a user support forum that includes search tools.

Also: Know before you buy: The holiday return policies of every major retailer and brand

3. Search in official support forums

Community forums can be a tremendous resource. For some products, experienced users can deliver more accurate answers than first-tier support techs. 

Over the years, I've found that Microsoft's community forums (https://answers.microsoft.com) lead to a lot of dead ends, especially when overburdened moderators paste canned responses that often don't apply to the problem at hand. To pick out the good stuff, you also have to sift through long threads of people griping. Those forums are most useful when someone contributes a link to a support article that definitively addresses the issue.

Apple's support forums (https://discussions.apple.com) sometimes produce useful results and are easy to navigate.

Many third-party software developers and hardware manufacturers have support forums. I can attest from long experience that Dell's forums (https://www.dell.com/community) are useful, with excellent participation by experts from the company as well as helpful folks from the community. Likewise, I've had good luck with community forums for Quicken (https://community.quicken.com) and Adobe products (https://community.adobe.com).

4. Ask Reddit and other user-to-user forums

Asking other users for help is never a bad idea. You're probably not the first person to encounter a particular problem, and you might be able to search for a prior thread that involves the issue you're facing.

Several of my tech support friends singled out Reddit (https://reddit.com) as a prime source of reliable information, especially when there's a subreddit for a specific product or technology. That's been my experience, too. Even on long threads with dozens of answers, the useful information typically appears at the top, thanks to the ability of Reddit members to upvote good answers.

Other highly rated sites, especially for highly technical topics, are StackExchange (https://stackexchange.com) and SuperUser (https://superuser.com), which also allow members to rank the most useful posts so you see them first.

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