At 5 p.m. on a weekday, while most of his colleagues leave the office and go home, Do Linh drives 10 kilometers on his motorbike to provide software assistance to a computer user who’s not very tech savvy.
Although this job is not as popular as it used to be, Linh gets enough work to augment his monthly income by several million dong (VND1 million = $43.14).
His customers are typically women who neither have the knowhow nor the time to fix their computer’s operating system when a problem crops up. Taking the computer to a big IT company for repairs would be too time-consuming.
Many big companies do not provide installation services, anyway, and installing unlicensed operating systems are out of the question. So low-tech people prefer to pay “Windows assistants” like Linh VND200,000 ($8.62) per visit to get the job done quick.
For Linh, an IT assistant at a tech company in Hanoi’s Cau Giay District, the part-time job is easy.
“Although the installation process of recent versions of the Windows operating system has been simplified, many people are still willing to pay to get the job done by a professional,” Linh said.
He is among a dwindling number of the “Windows assistants” in Vietnam, a job particularly popular among tech students looking to earn some extra money in the early 2000s, when most computers in the country were installed with unlicensed Windows XP versions.
Tran Kien, who heads a tech company now, was one of those assistants 15 years ago. He started out by helping family members and friends with their computer problems and moved on to do it commercially for strangers.
“I still know by heart the 25-digit key to install a Windows operating system,” he said, referring to an unlicensed series of numbers used to trick the computer into thinking that the installed version was rightfully purchased.
The job is not difficult, Kien said, as it only requires a person to insert the installation CD, select the hard drive, click a few “Next” buttons, and wait.
However, for someone with nearly zero software knowledge, the process could end up erasing important data or result in more severe issues.
A technician, therefore, needs to teach himself how to install the operating system on different brands of computers and must always have with him installation CDs, flash drives and even screw drivers for simple hardware issues. Typically, these things can be learnt from the internet.
“Once the installation is complete, customers often ask me to crack some software or clean the hardware, which could take the whole day,” Kien said.
There are risks
The job might be simple for tech-smart people, but it comes with its own risks.
Vu Anh, who was a Windows assistant years ago, once wiped out all the data of a customer because she had stored it on the installation drive without telling him.
Anh had to work very hard to recover the data, but received no extra pay for it.
In recent years, the number of Windows assistants has reduced due to falling demand, industry insiders say.
Nguyen Tien, a tech expert with 20 years in the IT industry, explained that many Vietnamese have started using licensed operating systems and most people now prefer services from big companies rather than calling strangers to their homes.
The rising popularity of Apple computers has also contributed to the declining demand for Windows services, he added.
However, Tien also believes that as long as Vietnamese people still use the Windows operating system, there will be a demand for Windows assistants.