Developers sometimes dread meeting new people. We suspect that when people find out what we do, they're probably going to ask us to fix a problem they're having with their computer.
The same dread occurs at major holidays when we get together with extended family. While everyone else is enjoying their time together, we're off by ourselves fixing their computers, or getting rid of a virus, or uninstalling the dozens of toolbars that suddenly appeared in their browsers, or figuring out why iTunes won't sync anymore.
It's not that we don't want to help. It's just that we spend all day (and sometimes all night) in front of our computers, so it'd be nice to forget all about tech at social events.
But this situation is unlikely to change soon. Despite our attempts to make software easier to use, it's still too unfriendly, too breakable, and just too damn geeky. People rely on their computers so heavily that we're going to be asked for free tech support for many years.
So here's what I propose: offer to trade your time doing tech support for their time talking about how they use their computers.
Yeah, I know that sounds silly, but hear me out.
A big reason software is still so unfriendly is that most developers spend very little time understanding how non-geeks experience the tech we build. We surround ourselves with fellow techies and start thinking everyone uses software the same way we do, so we keep building stuff for ourselves.
The only way we're going to stop spending so much time giving free tech support is by making stuff that's easier to use and less breakable. It's when we step into the world of non-geeks, where people type URLs into Google's search box instead of the address bar, that we start to understand what we're doing wrong.
So the trade seems like a fair one to me.