MonthFebruary 2011

Bluetooth Dance

I received a Motorola S305 Bluetooth wireless headset for Christmas and I absolutely love it. The wireless freedom for commuting means no longer wrestling with cords. The wireless freedom at work means no longer dragging my iPhone off the desk when I spin around in my cube. The wireless freedom at home means I am free to wash dishes, walk around, and just generally not have to deal with a digital leash.

For all the greatness of Bluetooth, it has one major short fall, syncing to multiple devices. iPhone, iPad, Home Mac, and Work PC are all sources for syncing. The most common problem I have is the iPad/iPhone sync. I use the iPhone to listen to podcasts while intake the train to and from work very week. However, when I get home I am more likely to sync over to the iPad for video or Pandora to unwind.

As it is now, here is the process for changing from iPhone to iPad.

  1. iPhone: Settings, General, Bluetooth, Off.
  2. iPad: Settings, General, Bluetooth, On.
  3. Motorola S305: Hold power button, wait for power on sound. Watch iPad screen for connect confirmation.

Doesn’t sound like a lot of work but it is 8 taps (10 if you count starting with a Home button press for each device). Then I need to assure the Bluetooth is turned off on the iPhone/iPad depending what I’m not using. It’s by no means a deal breaker or killer procedure but it does get tedious when done three to four times a day.

Here is what I envision as a solution.

An audible system for Bluetooth detection. After the initial pairing with a device, upon powering up the headset, it would read the last device it was paired with for easy re-pairing. Then, when you click the power/sync button it would cycle through the other paired devices in range and speak the device name.

For instance, Hit sync. Headset says “iPhone” click “iPad” click “Mac” or read computer name. Once the desired source is found, click a button to confirm and enjoy.

This would serve to allow syncing between a hand full of devices at your disposal and due to the pairing requirement, would prohibit the Bluetooth headset from listing every nearby Bluetooth device.

I have no idea what the feasibility of this is and if Bluetooth will even support it. But it’s a thought.

Golden Kisses

The last few days have been beautiful. I’ve awoken to the sunlight kissing the bed sheets. Laying in bed, I can see the morning sky change from pink to blue. The golden rays creeping over the horizon illuminating the tips of the Mormon Temple in the distance. The North Tower next to us returning the sun’s kisses.

The morning is a magical time. The quiet of the world slowly giving way to the day’s commerce. Being seven floors up, the quiet of morning is amplified.

I am usually not a morning person but these past few days have been perfect.

Help Desk Satisfaction

Have you ever had a positive experience calling a help desk?

I am taking a job working at a help desk (with the goal being to use that as stepping stone to advance back to Desktop Support or something more). ((Author’s Note: I originally wrote this article before starting my very first Help Desk position. I have since completed that contract and moved back to Desktop Support full-time but the issues remain the same everywhere and it’s something I feel needs to be addressed.))

During the interview, one of the questions brought up how the Help Desk solves about 55% of the issues from calls and email. However, the satisfaction with the Help Desk is around 25-30%.

I was asked what I would to increase satisfaction with the help desk. I responded how I would bring my experience to the position so when people called in, they would get someone knowledgeable, helpful and able to bridge the gap between tech speak jargon and terms anyone could understand.

They were satisfied.

Then I got to thinking after the interview, have I, as an advanced user / support monkey EVER had a positive experience with a help desk? Have I ever called the help desk anywhere… Dell, Honeywell, Unisys, GE and been satisfied with my experience? I couldn’t think of a single time.

Now, let’s think about this. I know what’s what. Usually when I call the help desk it’s for something I cannot accomplish on my own. I need parts or I need something done which I lack the access to do (server access, password resets, issues which require escalation).

I get frustrated because the help desk is a barrier to accomplishment. In my eyes it’s mostly staffed by people who have little or no technical knowledge and need to be told exactly what you’re looking to do.

What is it like for the 60-year-old call center worker, or the English-as-a-second language city worker? What about your own mother or father (assuming they are not internet rock stars). How many time do they get frustrated with the computer not doing what it should do?

The problem with most help desks is there is zero focus on real customer service and support. The idea seems to be to filter people out as quickly as possible and if their situation cannot be resolved with the script given to read, then nothing can be done.

Someone calls in to the help desk already frustrated and looking for help. Instead of friendly, helpful service they’re asked to repeat their information two or three times. Asked to wait as the slower-than-molasses help desk person types in their information. Waits for the PC to load whatever it loads. Then, they can ask what the problem is. By this point you’re now made an already frustrated person wait longer. And become more frustrated.

Now is the part that matters. Does the problem get resolved? Does a password need to be reset? Is there some simple troubleshooting or setting modification to be tweaked to help this person out?

This is where most calls end in frustration. This is the part of the call where the help desk worker (I loathe to call them techs) can either provide a solution or not. It’s been my experience most of the time there is no solution to be had. Even for simple problems, like password resets or simple account changes.

The people at the help desk are not skilled and knowledgeable enough, nor are they willing to work outside their given script in some cases to get the issue resolved.

I have adopted a policy of continually calling a help desk until I can get what I want from them, usually on behalf of a flustered and irritated user who is fed up with the helpless desk.

It boggles my mind how little attention is seemingly paid to this first level of defense in technical support. Ideally, your help desk should be staffed by knowledgeable people who are able to troubleshoot and correct commonplace issues. These should never make it to “level 2” or a desktop support tech.

Now I’ve done a lot of complaining so far, here’s some ideas for improving the situation.

  • Hire skilled workers for your help desk.

No, it’s not glamorous. No, it’s not going to be the most fun job in the world. But if you offer some money for the position, you’ll find skilled workers such as myself. I am making the move from desktop support to a help desk position. The money is better and it’s with an organization where the room for change and advancement is a real possibility. If you make the position attractive and sell it as the first line of IT defense, you’ll find your techs. Get people into the system who knows computers and are excited and willing to help. This will get your customers and employees talking about how good their help desk support experiences have been and soon you’ll have a world-class help desk staffed by rock stars.

  • Train your help desk employees.

Make sure they understand computers. Make sure they’ve got a good grasp of Windows, Office and Internet Explorer basics. If not, train them. Make free classes available to them or mandatory. Make sure they’re up on the latest software versions your company uses. This goes hand in hand with finding good people from the start. Some of us love technology and keep up on the latest and greatest. However, if you offer classes on what your company uses specifically it will help everyone better serve that customer base.

  • Stop skimping on where it matters most.

Stop sending call centers to India. You’ve doubly exacerbated your issue. Now, you have unskilled, script-reading help desk employees who are now much harder to understand. There have been many, many times I’ve had to call the help desk on behalf of older users especially ones who are hard of hearing because they cannot understand the help desk. At all.

Skimping on this level of support does nothing but breed bad feeling towards your company. Your customers or employees have paid for your product or service. At least treat them like someone who helps you stay in business. Your customers will go elsewhere quicker than you can say “help desk” so start treating them like first class citizens, not an annoyance.

  • Create an easy-to-use, sharable documentation system.

Wikis. Word Docs. Message Boards. I don’t care how you do it but meet with your team and decide what works best for them. Once you have a good system in place, this may require some trial-and-error until you find the right one, encourage people to use it. Make documentation writing and updating fun. Offer incentives for those who add to the pile. Offer perks or little prizes to make it fun. You’ll soon find that you’ll have a nice compendium of commons problems, basic troubleshooting steps, simple installation, lists of software for certain tools and where to find them like spyware and anti-virus.

Don’t look now, but you’ve just built a knowledge base worthy of any world-class organization. This will only help you. Instead of sitting around thinking, “now I know I’ve seen this error before, but I can’t recall how to fix it” you can go to the knowledge base and look it up.

The end result of your knowledge base should serve two purposes. First, the moment a new hire comes aboard, they should be able to find a procedure to install any software your company uses in easy to understand, jargon-free English. The best test of this is to let someone completely nontechnical read over it. They don’t have to complete the process but they do need to understand the process. Second, when you have a central hub of information and have planted the idea on the heads of your support team, whenever a new, recurring issues arises you can bet one of them will document it. After that, everyone else will refer to it for guidance instead of emailing around or asking how to fix the problem.

You’ll be faster and correct more problems at step 1 instead of having to create a ticket for a desktop tech. You’ll educate your workforce at the same time you’re helping them. Remember, if you help your help desk, they’ll be able to better aid the rest of the organization.

I will be joining a help desk in a little under a week with my new job. It will be an interested change to go from single-handedly supporting 150-400 users to working on a team supporting 5,000 remotely.

I think a lot about how IT support is mostly customer service, with computers. That’s so often overlooked in the IT community. Yes, we’re a bunch of geeks who love our toys and machines. However, you still need to make your customer happy. You need to be able to translate geek speak into words your mother can understand.

I’m sure you have other ideas and solution. Or perhaps I’m totally off my rocker. Tell me in the comments!

Helpless Desk

When was the last time you called the help desk and got someone who was just as clueless as you were?

That’s most likely because they can’t. They are a contractor brought on for a short-term project like a large rollout or a merger. They may be an outsourced technician sitting in another state or another country. It may even be a local person who is technically savvy. However, they can’t help you for a number of reasons.

This is the reality of the IT Support industry. Technicians are a dime a dozen and passed around like pawns in a game of tech chess. In this day and age, it is considered cheaper and easier for a company to hire a bunch of contractors to help support their employees or their customers. ((This should give you an idea of how the company views your employment or patronage.))

The skills required for these positions are pretty basic. Can you ping a PC? How do you look up and IP address? These things are poor indicators of how a person speaks to customers, their problem solving skills or how the prospect prioritizes issues. Help Desks in particular have their challenges. Your knowledge is expected to be a mile wide and an inch deep. A good technician knows how to Google the answer or consult documentation, if it exists.

Technicians who are hired to support you, the customer, often have no idea how to use the applications they are supporting. In some cases, the technician doesn’t even have access to the application you’re using.

I am in such a situation. I was plucked from the ranks of unemployment to help support a software rollout to a company who got bought out prior to the financial free-for-all.

My contract was to support a software application being pushed out to the company being merged into the behemoth. This is internal, proprietary software I have known about for a little over a month. Despite being trained on this software I still have nowhere near the ability or knowledge to properly support this application.

My knowledge within the Windows and Office realm is wide and deep. This knowledge of hardware and software allows me to diagnose with a high degree of certainty the problem and in most cases to determine a solution.

I can troubleshoot with the best of them. Even in most cases when I am not familiar with the software I am supporting, I can use my existing knowledge and resources to support it to the satisfaction of my customers. In this situation, the software is so complex and has so many components there is no amount of reasonable deduction which will allow me to resolve issues with any degree of certainty.

I was hired with 17 others who share a variety of technical backgrounds and competencies. So when calling our help desk, as in many places, there is a good chance you’re reaching someone who knows less than you do about the software in question. And where does that leave the caller?

This is not the exception, but the rule for the industry. It is the framework which most businesses are built on and IT Support is a security blanket.

Think about all the places where computers are found in business today. Do you have a website? Do you keep records electronically? Is your cash register a computer? Technology is everywhere. With this technology proliferation, comes an army of technicians supporting the software and hardware you depend on to keep your business running.

IT Support is necessary in today’s age. However, with this necessity has not come an investment in quality. Every IT job I’ve ever held has been a contract. Every time I am hired the “temp to perm” carrot is dangled in front of me. But it never happens, and I doubt it ever will. Why invest money and time in your support technician when you can go out and find another one just as easily?

Why not make the investment in your tech workers? We’re cheaper as contractors. We can be easily replaced. We have all the loyalty you’d expect from a contractor. ((Loyal until something better comes along.)) There is no long-term investment made in the development or retention of your technicians so there is no investment of time and attention made by the technician to your company. You see us as pawns, we see you as kings. Kings who sign our pay check but the moment a rival kingdom comes calling we’ll leave for more money or a shorter commute.

Full time jobs are secure. Employees have good benefits for themselves and their families. The job won’t disappear at the drop of a hat. None of these are the case for contractors. These are the realities of being an IT contractor. You may do an excellent job and still get laid off. I was laid off in October 2008 in a round of budget cuts. I was the last person hired so I was the first person let go.

I have been on both sides of this equation. Right out of college I worked for a government agency for a year. The contract and money ran out after the year so I was let go. The same situation exists where I worked previously. I was hired on a 6 month contract and when it ends, it ends. And afterwards, I would be unemployed again regardless of the quality of my work. I have also been on the flip side.

When I began work for a Honeywell manufacturing plant, it was for no other reason than Honeywell’s support contract was bought out by another corporation. As a result, the people who were on site, supporting Honeywell’s employees and applications everyday were suddenly without a job through no fault of their own.. Instead of keeping the current techs, they were kicked to the curb and replaced by myself and one other person who had no working knowledge of the site and its particular setup and challenges.

Instead of keeping the people who had been doing the job for many months, if not years before us, they were fired and I was hired. All the accumulated knowledge and familiarity was lost. The same thing happened nine months later when I caught wind of dissatisfaction between Honeywell and my company who had hired me I looked for a speedy exit before I was shown the door.

The high rate of turnover because companies won’t invest in their techs is one of the biggest problems in the industry. You can get someone else to support your customers or employees for less money. However, in doing so the quality of that support diminishes. There is nothing more frustrating when someone calls for help and the person they called to help cannot help.

The Start of Something Good

Art Versus Industry. They made me excited about music again.

After being turned on to them by an online friend, and all around good person, Alex Morse who incidentally does their video and photo work, I’m hooked. They make me remember a time of Stabbing Westward and Nine Inch Nails, from The Fragile era. The darkness and melodic noise make me smile. They put me into that happy place where the warm synth washes around me and makes me happy all over. There’s something about the “darker” music that makes me happier than any bubble gum pop song.

I love the melodies and harmonies woven into the drum beats, guitar riffs and droning oceans of noise. It’s like Nine Inch Nails’ A Warm Place which is one of my favorite songs of all time. The safety and happiness in those notes are the security blanket for the 21st Century. The warm hum of sound and emotion cradles me and tell me everything will be all right. And most of all, it makes me feel just a little less alone and alien.

I remember listening to Nine Inch Nails growing up and really feeling like someone understood me and the pain I was feeling. I was going through the divorce of my parents. I was an artist in a world of farmers and hunters. I was a huge guy towering well over six feet tall which makes me stand out no matter where I went. I was a huge dude who had his own ideas about art and style and comfort and expression. I was a freak and I let that flag fly freely.

But I also hurt. I had a lot of nights of depression and anger and sadness and loneliness. I’d talk for hours to friends online or the phone. We’d talk about a lot of things. Sometimes it was my metaphorically talking them off a ledge sometimes the other way around. It was always two worlds growing up. The world of insiders, the Berryville natives. The families who had seemingly been there since the founding by Benjamin Berry centuries ago. Then there were us outsiders. Anyone who had moved to the area for one reason or another. To escape the poor school systems, violence, and congestion of Washington DC in the case of my parents.

I never felt like I fit in. I’ve always felt very alien wherever I was. I never felt like I saw the world like other people did. I never felt like what worked for others worked for me. How did they get through life so effortlessly? How did things seem to be so easy for them and work out so well? How did they show that cool exterior? Weren’t they a bubbling inferno just beneath the skin? I sure was.

I don’t know how “normal” people got through life. Did they have the same crippling, self-doubt and question their own intelligence and abilities? Was that a trait of an artist?

I’ve always been very empathetic. I feel what other people feel. I read people. I get inside their heads to the pain there. Growing up I had a lot of friends that shared a lot of the pain I did and in some cases had things must worse. I wanted to be there for them. I wanted to help them the best I could. I often wonder how things turned out for them…

I was always the guy my friends would turn to for help. I was a little older, a little wiser and had my head on pretty straight. I was also much to good to do anything truly wrong. Sure I bent a few rules growing up and I paid for it. But I’ve never done anything illegal or been arrested. I didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or attend the wild parties I knew went on in and around school on farms on the weekends. That just wasn’t me.

I was, and still am a devout introvert.

I keep to myself. I prefer the company of computers to people. I prefer the quiet, pre-dawn hours where the world sleeps to be awake and productive.

“It’s not Introversion. Just really good spam filtering.”