Locate your potential computer expert (or idiot) and ask, "How much do you know about computers?" You can subsitiute any computer related field, and most answers will still be appropriate. It's not entirely reliable, but a pretty good guide.

You can judge their level of expertise by comparing their response to the following responses:

"I don't know anything about computers." They are telling the truth. They don't know anything.

"I know everything about computers." or "A lot." They think they are telling the truth but in truth don't know much. Chances are they recently learned about 1000 times more than they previously knew, but aren't yet aware there's 1000 times more they still need to learn. They probably know what Moore's Law is and how to save a Microsoft Word document (and find it 10 minutes later) and can probably even write some simple formulas in a spreadsheet. They understand files and directories.

"A little bit." They are probably a computer genius in some respect (a few specific things) and have a broad general knowledge. Occasionally, not an expert in anyting, but a quick study because they recognize how much there is to learn about computers. They also probably know how to research.

"That depends..." Like above but a professional of some sort, most likely posseses a degree in some computer-related field. "It depends" because if it's stupid, they are likely to feign ignorance. Not as helpful as the less-educated response above.

"Hardware or software?" They probably know a whole lot about one but nothing about the other. May be combined with one of the above two.

"What do you need to know?" or some variation thereof. Similar to above but they are probably are pretty well versed in a few specific areas that may span hardware or software. Probably more helpful than above too. If you're looking for help from someone in the know, this is generally a good response.

"I'm still learning." No way to tell with this one. They could know a lot and are learning more, or might be learning how to use a mouse. Get more specific or ask again in a month or so.

"Enough..." Short for "Enough to get paid", "Enough to graduate" or "Enough to keep my job." Similar expertise to "A lot" but either a veteran and/or has a degree. Probably enjoyed computers and followed technology at one time, but now the magic is gone.

"What's a computer?" A black-hat hacker capable of cracking Echelon, not to mention draining your bank account if you ask too many questions. Or upper level management.
If you are still unclear after getting a one word response, ask your aquaintance 'what kind of system' they have. Geeks love spouting off knowledge, so be prepared to hear anything from:

"Uhm... Gateway? You know, the one with the cows..." to

"Well, I bootmanage between Redhat, openBSD, 98, NT4 (patched) and OS/2 Warp - it all runs on my dual celery 400 pushed to 480 with peltier coolers, 512 ram at 120mhz on a BP6 Board, two 60 gig RAIDs and a 16x CD-r... Uhmm... Voodoo4, SB Live! Gamer, Boomslang Mouse on USB and 5.1 surround Altec Lansings with an external subwoofer. Uhmm... JVC? You know, the one with 200 watts. That's my main system, anyway."

One of the alternate methods for deducing someone's computer knowledge is to ask them what they do with their computer. The responses may vary as follows, even stereotyped as they are:

"I generally just use it at work." They probably know office applications and enough about the operating system to navigate around, but internet knowledge varies. Many workplaces are now requiring courses that prepare people to utilize a Windows desktop as well as relevant applications for their position in the company.

"I work with them." Not to be confused with the previous listing, this can imply either someone with a Computer Science/Information Science/Management Information Systems/etc. major or someone who has an IT-related job.

"I'm a gamer." They have a fair amount of versing in both hardware and software, and due to the nature of what they do, the knowledge is usually quite current. This varies widely between how long they've been gaming and whether or not they put more emphasis on the performance of the game or the gameplay itself, however.

"I usually just talk to my friends and such." This answer usually implies at least a minor understanding of the internet, and enough operating system know-how to open a browser and communication applications.

"Which computer?" Usually implies a geek, but, be careful, as this can also indicate someone with a machine at work and home.

"I don't use the things." Oh. Well, then. They're telling the truth, but don't scorn them. Using a computer for most people is an acquired taste.

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