People in their mid 40's often tell me "Wow I wish I could do that". (Happens to me mostly at office)

Even during interviews they say stuff like "You guys are so lucky that you get to learn so and so technology, wish we could do that."

I never really have a good response to give to them.

I know its really specific, but its happens to me so often (not that I am really good at it.)

I once said that "You should try it out you know its pretty easy" - they just pretty much brushed me off.

  • To add to this, I've tried the 'you could do it to' a few times, trying to encourage them, pointing to great resources. All it does is make them feel committed to something they don't want to do, and appears to belittle my colleagues skills as well, so that's not an option in most cases. – Dom Oct 21 '17 at 15:25
  • Out of curiosity, what are you doing with computers? I'm a software engineer and approaching mid-40s in a few years, but have not seen anyone do something with computers (related to software engineering) so that I have to admit that I'm an illiterate. – Farhan Oct 24 '17 at 17:07
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this sounds like a phrasing request which is off-topic here – Ael Dec 23 '18 at 16:23

I have a similar reaction when I help people with their computer problems and I get complimented as if I had just performed a magic trick, when in reality I'm usually just doing this:

enter image description here


Like it really isn't magic, most of the time it's not even difficult, it's just a problem solving technique that I've learned over the last few decades. Sometimes when I actually get to do something more interesting and hammer out some code it is a little more complex, but there again it's usually a matter of some googling to see how people usually do this thing and reading the documentation for the related language.

That said, if you are being paid to do this, be humble, but let them believe that it's magic.

Often times the easiest way to do that is to just say "Thanks" and then take a second or two to explain what you did. If the person really doesn't know anything about the tech you fixed for them, or the code you wrote, your explanation doesn't really mean anything to them, beyond "I worked my magic and now the problem is solved."

Realistically they're grateful that their problem is solved and they're happy to pay you for it, they don't really care how the trick is performed most of the time.

If you're not being paid to do it, or not being paid well. Teach them to fish, rather than giving them a fish. As in, don't take the wheel. Stand behind them, so you can see the screen, and walk them through the steps to solve their own problem. Point to the button that they might need to click rather than doing it for them.

Be careful with this though, being free tech support puts someone out of work, perhaps even yourself if they actually have an interest and learn quickly.

Also... Please don't write code for free. If you have to invest any significant time or effort to solve their problem, and it isn't something you would do for fun, you deserve to be compensated for your time.

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  • 2
    I fix 100% (yes) of support requests using this technique. – Vylix Oct 21 '17 at 18:35

This is a compliment. It's just like "I wish my hair was curly like yours" or "I wish I could cook as well as you." Sometimes people say this when they could do what you're doing, if they chose, and other times they say it when it's clearly not an option for them. In neither case are they genuinely wishing to have or do something. It's just a way of phrasing a compliment.

You respond as you do to all compliments, with a simple


If you wish, you can add either a minimizer

it's not actually as hard as it seems, I learned how to do this in just a few weeks

or a reinforcement of your effort instead of your natural talent/gift/privilege

It's always a joy to see my [hard work / 4 years of training / 20 years of experience] serve its purpose. I'm glad I could help.

or a balancer

It's easy for me because I know how, and it makes sense to me. I could never [thing they do] though! Guess that makes us a good combination.

For the more generic "you are so lucky to be able to [modern thing], again start with Thanks, then something like:

I do feel lucky to be working right now with all this cool tech. We're standing on the shoulders of giants, of course.

Here you could add that "your generation laid the foundations" or whatever if you thought it wouldn't be seen as utter flattery. I'd be more likely to do this with a family member than in a business situation.

Do not under any circumstances reverse the compliment into what could be seen as a complaint or criticism about the person. Imagine you lost a lot of weight and an overweight friend or colleague congratulated you, then "wished" they had time to do that. If you reply with "oh, you could make the time if you really wanted to, after all I did" the colleague would (rightly) be offended. It's not that different when you say "You should try it out you know its pretty easy" - some people would actually be hurt by you saying that, and the rest would be puzzled that you had misunderstood their compliment.

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I've gotten this before. When this comes up, I usually say something along the lines of "It's something one can learn, given training and really wanting to do it. What's really hard is ... [something I don't know how to do ;D ]"

The idea here is to acknowledge the compliment -- for that's what it is -- without underselling your profession. I add in the last part as a reminder that we all have our specialties, and other peoples' are as exotic and impenetrable to me as mine may be to them.

And it's true. I read a "how to be a better salesman" book just to see how the other half lives, and let me tell you ... if there was ever a job I'm not suited for! My sales pitches would go like this:

"... and that's why our product is good.  You want some?"


"Okay.  Call me if you change your mind."
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