MonthMarch 2013

IMAC

Working in the IT world, there is a common acronym that often causes confusion.

IMAC

Do you know what IMAC stands for?

I am not talking about the Apple computer of the same name.

The acronym IMAC stands for Install Move Add Change.

This is a generic category in help desk ticketing systems that covers a wide variety of request.

It covers scheduling and installation of hardware and changes to configuration or removal of software and connectivity testing, data transfer and customer training.

IMAC is a catch-all term for making changes to computers or other technical assets.

On the Google Reader shutdown July 1

Google is an advertising company. They make their money in advertising.
If they can’t sell ads against a product, then it’s not important to them. If the product doesn’t collect data to better target their ads, then it’s not important to them.

Google+ is important.
Gmail is important.
Android is important.
Maps is important.

These all tell Google who you communicate with, what you talk about, what you’re interested in, where you go and how you get there.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is about what other people have to say. The feeds you read are not you. They are what you like but not targeted enough to sell ads against.

RSS is not important. Especially when Google Reader became the default backbone for RSS syncing among applications. Google can’t serve ads to those applications syncing to Google Reader. Google can only serve ads on its own pages. And if no one is looking at those pages, no one is seeing those ads.

Look for more emphasis on Google+. That’s an area like Gmail where Google can serve ads and collect data to serve better ads. That is how they make their money.

Job Hunting Tips for Techs

Job hunting is hard. There’s no way to sugar coat it. I’ve worked at some great places and I’ve worked at some where I knew I had made a big mistake my first week there.

There are a lot of factors to consider when looking for a job. The obvious ones are money, commute time, insurance and paid time off. However, there are many other intangibles that can make or break a job.

DOE

This stands for Depending On Experience. This is how much you will be paid. It’s very hard to consider a position that pays DOE because if the position doesn’t pay anywhere near my current rate, I am not going to consider it.

I don’t expect every ad to have an exact figure posted. But at least put up a range. It can even be a large range. Give me a $10,000-15,000 range of payment. Are you looking to pick someone up cheap for $25,000 or are you looking for a seasoned professional at $50,000?

Company Culture

The fluff on web sites doesn’t offer any real insight to how a company operates. Are they innovating or standing still? Do they care about customer service or just provide technical support? Is the company a post-collegiate experience with games and rides and endless activities? Or does the company understand that people have families, children and lives outside of the working hours and digital tethers?

Sometimes a company will represent itself well on its website and in the want ad. Sometimes you realize too late what they actually meant by the optimistic sounding words on their website. There’s no way to tell what a company’s culture is until you’re in that culture. And by then it’s too late if you’re not a good fit for it.

Where do I go from here?

When I got out of college, I followed the siren’s song of “Temp-To-Hire” every time it was sang to me. I wanted my contract gig to become something more. I wanted to be a full-time employee. Not a necessary IT worker but exempt from the company’s benefits, perks and insurance.

I wanted to move up. I still want to move up. I can’t work the same job in the same place for more than a two years without needing a change. I want to learn. I want to advance. I don’t want to keep doing the same thing I was doing eight years ago, only for a different group of people.

The problem with IT contracts and even IT companies is there is very little room for advancement. Even a lateral move to another group or division would give a much-needed break in the monotony of running tickets daily.

Seeing the same problems over and over. Fixing the same bugs over and over again. Explaining the same procedures over and over again. It gets old. It gets maddening.

Investment

When I go to work for a place, I give it my all. I become as vital to the company as I can because I am passionate about my work. I help people win their battles against technology. I am their ally in the digital age.

I commit to a company and I commit hard. I am loyal. But what does the company give back to me? Yes, I get a paycheck. That’s a requirement. But is there anything else?

Are there training opportunities? Will they reimburse certifications or other educational classes? Do they require or even encourage it? The truly good companies realize how valuable hard work and dedication is and will show the same in return. The companies who lose their best people don’t give back as much so their talent moves on.

Call Me Reznor

Recently, pomDeter put together a mashup of Call Me Maybe and Head Like a Hole. He put Nine Inch Nails’ lyrics with Carly Rae Jepsen’s music and it works surprisingly well. In response, AmishWarfare has released a mix with Carly Rae Jepsen’s lyrics over the music of Nine Inch Nails’ Head like a Hole. I’ve embedded both versions below. They’re both well done and I can’t stop listening to them.

Carly Rae Jepsen singing Call Me Maybe over the music to Nine Inch Nails’ Head Like a Hole

Nine Inch Nails singing Head Like a Hole over the music to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe

The Long Road

Working in customer support means relying on a variety of skills. But at the root of it all, my job is to solve problems. Sometimes a problem has a simple solution and other times the solution is far more complex. Then there are those times where the journey to get to a solution is far longer than the solution itself. This week was a good example of that. Twice, I took a long road to a simple fix.

No Network. No problem.

The first time was a customer had a problem accessing anything on the network from his laptop. The customer called in to the help desk and saying this is a critical issue because he had meetings to attend later in the morning and couldn’t access anything on the network.

This meant no internet. No email. No shared network drives. The customer could log-in only due to the laptop caching his credentials.

I opened up the network connections and saw the laptop had a valid IP address for our wired network. And I also saw an active VPN connection. This was strange since I had just booted the computer and had not connected to the VPN yet.

I attempted to close the connection. Access is Denied. I attempted to disable the connection. Access is Denied. I tried to launch the VPN client and got an error stating it was already open and running. It was not.

I could not access either my network account nor my administrative network account due to the computer not being able to access network servers to authenticate me.

I could not access the local administrator account because the password is scrambled for security and the laptop is encrypted so none of the password reset tools work without decrypting the laptop. Decryption takes 6+ hours and encryption takes the same. Not an option for my customer.

I did have access to a program called Privilege Manager which enables my customer to run most applications with administrator rights. This was my way in.

I had the customer enter their password and opened a command prompt. From there, I typed explorer /separate to open a new Windows Explorer window.

I then opened network connections and disabled the VPN connection. As soon as I did that, network connectivity was restored. I opened Outlook and new mail flowed in. I opened Firefox and the start page loaded.

My customer was thrilled. I had fixed his problem in time for his meeting.

But I didn’t stop there. I noticed the VPN client was out of date so I took a few moments to download and install an updated VPN client. I ran an automated tool called PatchMyPC and updated Java, Flash and other common applications automatically.

I resolved my customer’s problem in the time he needed it done and I proactively upgraded Java and Flash to close security holes. The tool also upgraded Acrobat Reader which was a couple of versions old.

A bit of prevention goes a long way and prevents possible calls in the future which means my customer can keep working and not have to call me in the future for something I could have prevented.

Part of my job is to limit the number of times my customers need to call me for help.

Virtual Private Networking.

The second time was a customer needed to use the company’s VPN connection from home. This story has a great moral to it and is a clear case of making a Rookie Mistake and an example of thinking outside the box to find a creative solution.

I installed the VPN client for the customer and tested its interaction with the ID cards we’re required to use for accessing the VPN off-site and everything worked beautifully. The two-factor authentication was authenticating. The PIN card was being read and authenticated with the VPN servers.

The customer took the computer home to test and was still experiencing problems. The computer in question is a 1st Generation MacBook Air. This computer has one USB port.

This would not be a problem in most cases. However, in our environment the wireless on site does not work with the offsite VPN because it’s redundant. In order to test the offsite connection from on site, I needed to plug into our network. Again, not a problem most of the time but the MacBook Air has no network port.

In order to test this computer with the customer I would need to connect the USB ID card reader and a USB network dongle to plug into the network. I needed to plug these two devices into a computer with only one USB port.

I did not have a USB hub to connect to the computer. Nor does it have any other ports to plug into. The computer has only 1 USB, 1 Micro-DVI and 1 headphone port on it.

I tried a variety of keyboards with USB ports on them but they didn’t have enough power for either the network dongle or the card reader so while one would work, the other would fail.

As a last resort, I tried an aluminum Apple keyboard. I didn’t hold much hope as I had tried older Apple keyboards and been unsuccessful each time.

However, this time it worked. I plugged the keyboard into the MacBook Air with a network dongle plugged into one USB port and an ID reader on the other USB port. It all worked.

I wired into the network and got a connection. Then I inserted the customer’s ID card and it read the card and requested the PIN which the customer entered and the VPN client connected.

Then I explained to the customer to connect at home she would only need to connect to her wireless network and open the VPN client then insert her card into the reader.

And this is where my Rookie Mistake occurred. After we had done all of this, she mentioned she was trying to get access to the Remote Desktop environment from the laptop.

This requires a network connection and then launching the Mac version of Remote Desktop to a virtual Window environment with her username and password. She had no need for the VPN client, the ID card to log-in or anything of the elaborate testing setup.

I thought I understood what she wanted. But as it turns out, I did not. Just because a customer asks for something such as “I can’t access the VPN from home.” Be sure to clarify and make sure you’re fixing the problem the customer is actually having instead of fixing a separate problem that the customer wasn’t even aware existed.