I Asked My Wi-Fi Fairy Godmother for Tech Help and She Wound up Fixing All the Things
A year into the pandemic I finally found the help I didn’t know I needed
Unlike most of you, I was already working remotely prior to the pandemic. But after my children, my husband, and my entire neighborhood joined the work-from-home crew, my internet access got screwy.
I knew I needed professional help when Zoom stopped working exactly 30 seconds into a meeting I was supposed to attend with my company’s COO. With Zoom down, I got an immediate text from my eight-year-old’s teacher, asking me why he dropped out of his Google class and didn’t I understand that he must be seen on camera in order to be marked present? Seconds after that, my five-year-old started crying because Amazon Prime was buffering and Peep and Big Wide World (an amazing Canadian kids’ show) went dark. And then my husband called from his office where he was prepping his team to file paperwork from home for the long haul to say the Ring app informed him that the outdoor video cameras were offline, and did I turn them off? Was someone trying to invade the house?
And that was just the first Monday.
Ever since the Covid-19 situation started and my remote work setup was joined by two kids and a husband, everything techy in my house had gone wonky. My Wi-Fi slowed almost to a halt, I dropped connections constantly, I was resorting to using my phone as a hotspot for important meetings, and my kids had to learn to stop informing me when Google classroom shut off on them.
Add in more humans, plus the general drain on the speeds shuttled out to my neighborhood and everything went from sugar to shit.
I also bought a new HP laserjet printer so I could print out the stories that I edit here for Medium, and also so I could print out homework. (Yes, I use a printer. Yes, I like them.) But the printer stopped working unless I connected it directly to my laptop with a cord. (Who has a cord for THAT?) So I bought one off Amazon. It didn’t work. So I bought another. And even when I did that, the MacBook didn’t want to talk to the printer and HP kept telling me to install new drivers.
After months of trying to figure out what went wrong, I finally learned that I needed to upgrade my Wi-Fi. What Xfinity had given me — and told me was the highest available — was not actually the highest available. And then I learned that my one-hundred-year-old house and Wi-Fi didn’t play together nicely due to the materials in my walls. None of this was an issue, mind you, when it was just me alone working all day. But add in a few more humans, plus the general drain on the speeds shuttled out to my neighborhood, and everything went from sugar to shit.
Time is money. And my gift is writing and editing — not tech support. So, given the fact that everything electronic in my house was dying or not working or not connecting, and every other tweet of mine was about the horrors of online school and remembering passwords and logins for exactly 85,234 apps plus logins for every network that we now streamed on our Fire Sticks, I was drowning in data and passwords that I could not physically remember. I even resorted to writing every password down in a notebook and carrying it around my house with me so that whenever Kid A got booted from class or from Outschool, I could quickly log him back in — with the double verification — and get him back to French or Sonic the Hedgehog art class in record time.
The problem with double verification is that you need your cellphone, which my five-year-old started to pilfer once he realized my Samsung had a better internet connection than the television set.
At that point, I gave up. I tweeted that I needed a whole house IT department. Jesus fix it. Calgon take me away. I couldn’t spend three more hours on the phone trying to reset things or connect extenders (that didn’t work) when my time was better spent editing and writing.
Enter HelloTech, which offered to let me sign up to try out their personalized IT services, which dispatch IT pros directly to your home. They told me that whatever the problem, they can fix it.
I’ll be frank about the first visit: It went exceedingly well, even though it went exceedingly long. The tech showed up, wore a mask and plastic gloves, brought his own Clorox wipes, and put on new booties to cover his shoes. His name was Abraham. He started by going over the myriad issues I’d entered into my ticket and then he began speed testing my home. For every nook and cranny, he tried to find the best spot to place my Xfinity box. Turns out that where I had it was fine, but the problem was boosting the signal through horsehair plaster walls.
Thanks to a co-worker’s suggestion, I had already purchased an Eero system but it was still in the box, awaiting HelloTech’s arrival. Abraham unpackaged everything, told me to download the Eero app, and he then installed the devices, checked each one, and then speed-checked every room in my home. He also made sure every device that we use connected properly to the Eero. Hallelujah, I no longer needed to worry about selecting the 2.5 or the 5 GHz signal anymore because that always tripped me up with each device. (All Wi-Fi boxes, whether they tell you or not, have two signals. Most techs tell you, when you connect to your Wi-Fi, to put new devices on the higher signal and older devices on the slow signal.)
Though Eero says it is very friendly and easy to install, it’s easier still for someone else to do it — and for me to change the password later (or not). Meanwhile, I was able to fix lunch for my kids and get some work done while Abraham got the internet signal squared away.
Then he tackled the printer. It took him a solid 1.5 hours of finagling to first undo all the things I’d already done to get it to connect. (I didn’t need the drivers that HP Help claimed I needed.) And then, because of the improved whole-house Wi-Fi/mesh network, the printer was finally able to talk to my laptop. But it didn’t want to talk to my phone. Enter Abraham again. I’m not sure what he did, to be honest, but I could finally print from my phone to the printer.
We tested each laptop and iPad in the house. All of them printed. Hallelujah. Homework was finally saved. Also, lunch (hamburgers and fries for my boys) was served. I offered Abraham a water; he declined. We were now at hour three of the tech visit.
We moved on to the Ring doorbell. It didn’t ring. It didn’t record. It worked sometimes. I reset it five times already. I didn’t think about mentioning any of this to HelloTech. But Abraham asked me several times to think of anything in the world that still bothered me that was electronic. So I said oh yeah, that damn expensive doorbell is trash. Doesn’t work.
I’d talked to the electrician who hardwired and installed my cameras already and he had come back a few times to try and fix it. Still, it hated me. I was for sure thinking it was a waste of money. Abraham asked me to reset the Ring. That didn’t work. Reinstall the app. That didn’t work. Finally, he went outside and got to work on the actual doorbell. That’s when he discovered that it had only been partially installed.
He did suggest turning off the password for the Fire Stick, but my kids are young and I can’t afford to have them mistakenly purchasing eleventy hundred movies while I’m cooking dinner.
He completed the Ring reinstall, informed me that the security screw which prevents folks from turning off my cameras was missing, gave me a secret number to call at Ring to get a new security screw, and then he reset the thing and added it to the Eero mesh network. Hot damn. It worked! And it looked totally different on my phone. I’d had Ring for several months and was unaware that half of the app functions were unavailable to me because of the slow-to-no Wi-Fi connection.
He then tackled the problem of several computers, several iPads, several Amazon Fire TV Sticks, several gaming systems, and several passwords and logins for everybody. He did suggest turning off the password for the Fire Stick, but my kids are young and I can’t afford to have them mistakenly purchasing eleventy hundred movies while I’m cooking dinner, so that was a no-go. We moved on. He suggested I use LastPass to collect passwords for everything, and then spring for the family plan so my husband and I could both use it.
Now, while we use a password manager at work, I honestly had never thought about employing it for household use. The hubbs and I were texting passwords back and forth. All day. All the time. And always a pain when I had to reset a password and then had to update my password notebooks and update each device with the new password.
With the family program on LastPass, the app lives on all of our devices and is accessible for each of us with the password of our choosing. So finally my eight-year-old can log in and get all his passwords and logins for school — and when he has to change them, the changes are recorded. This helps me save time because usually, I’m on the phone with the main office for 45 minutes orchestrating a password update per kid, per month, because no one (read: me) wrote down the new password for each program. (Keep in mind Kid A has to log in to Google Classroom, IXL, and various math and science apps during the day. Kid B, who is five, has to log into Google Classroom, PBS Kids, Starfall, and other sites.)
Ultimately I think I lost track of passwords and logins because I never took a moment to pause and assess the issues before forging ahead to hurry up and join the class because son A or B was already late. Talking with Abraham made me see how I needed to stop and take four hours to figure it all out. It also showed me that the hours I’d already spent on this — asking help on Facebook, hiring local IT people, spending hours waiting on hold on the phone — could have been avoided if I had gotten a pro to help in the first place.
Abraham took a picture of each device that he worked on — something that I’m not sure I liked — but they claim this is necessary as proof of the device they worked on. While he was working he noticed we had a surge protector from 1985 behind the main TV. (Sometimes in old houses you just… use what’s already there!) He kindly inquired as to its age and gently suggested we upgrade to something more modern. The last time I thought about that surge protector was… never. Apparently, my surge protectors were older than my children. I was happy to upgrade via a quick order from Amazon.
Before he left, he asked about all the children’s devices, as he wanted to be sure we had help with everything. My son piped up that he forgot his XBox password and needed to reset that. Something also was wonky with accessing a particular Minecraft world. So Abraham helped with all that too.
When we wrapped, Abraham asked for my credit card for payment and was genuinely surprised when he called his boss and found I had the bill already covered. This means he had treated me like any other customer and didn’t know that I would be writing about the service.
It only took a year, but finally, my wireless electronics actually work. The HelloTech program is solid, the pricing is fair, and since time is money, I’d recommend it to anyone who makes more cash working than they do trying to tech.