TagTech Support

Text Travels

Exepundit write a short post today that really struck me. In Some Helpful Cautions he writes,

“Would the person who sent you that e-mail be completely comfortable if you forwarded it to another person?”

I never assume my email is private. I never assume the recipient of my email is the only person who will see it. Let me tell you a story about working in tech support. There are no secrets.

When you’re supporting customers, you generate a lot of text. You send email. You type instant messages. You update tickets. Your words are everywhere. Those words end up in the most unlikely of places.

Text Travels

When you update a ticket, that ticket could be seen my management, either yours or the customer’s management. Is this how you want to come across to management?

Ticket notes can be sent to customers. Did you write anything in the notes you wouldn’t want the customer to see? I’ve had help desk reps or other technicians send the entire ticket, with all notes and history to a customer or to another team without my knowledge. I have never been burned by this because I never make notes that disparage the customer or lie.

Truth

Never lie in ticket. Don’t say you did something when you didn’t. Don’t say you updated the customer if you did not. Don’t say you installed a program if you didn’t. Don’t say you called someone and left a voicemail if you never dialed their number.

Your lies will come back to haunt you. You’re doing a disservice to your customer and yourself. So don’t lie. Tell the truth about what you did, what you didn’t do and most importantly, what worked to resolve the issue.

Help Future You

Future you needs the help of Past You to be successful. I’ve fixed thousands of problems over the years. I’ve assisted other people with fixes and workarounds for their problems. Some took minutes and others took hours, days or weeks.

Always write what you did! Future You will thank you. I’ve gone back to old tickets many times to find “issue was resolved. Closing ticket.”

“Update fixed problem.”

Worked with _____ team to resolve issue.

WHAT DID YOU DO?

How does that help you or anyone? You’ll see this issue again. I guarantee when you fix an obscure issue you’ve never seen before, it will come up again!

Help yourself. Help your team. Help you 6 months from now when you remember fixing the issue, but have no idea what you did. Leave yourself a trail to follow.

List what you did. Specifically. Leave ticket notes behind that anyone could follow. Because in 6 months, or a year, or even 6 weeks later you are that person.

There’s nothing worse than solving the same problem over and over and starting from scratch each time. Give yourself and your team a head start.

Teaching basic computer skills

Learning to code will not solve all problems. Teaching everyone to code will not solve all problems. Working in Tech, I see people scream the battle cry Learn To Code! It’s not a magic phrase. Sure, if someone has an interest in coding, encourage them. But for most people, that seems like an insurmountable task.

Start Smaller.

1. Teach basic computer skills.

In the course of my jobs, I run into people who lack even the most basic understand in how computers work. Where did that file go? What does this term mean? These people often work on habit. They have one procedure for doing something. And if that one thing does not work or if they have to alter it for any reason, they’re stuck. They cannot continue.

They don’t understand what they’re doing, only what their teacher told them. And they’ve followed the process ever since without variation. Teaching basic computer skills is enabling. It enables the person to know what they’re doing in front of the keyboard and mouse. It takes the power from the computer and restores it to the person. The computer should not hold the power a relationship. The computer is a tool, not a manager.

2. Teach basic troubleshooting skills.

Teach basic troubleshooting skills. Computers are less scary when they’re reduced to their working parts. What are those parts? Where are they? What do they do? We all know the basic jobs and location of our heart, lungs, legs and eyes. Why should hard drives, network adapters, motherboard and optical drives be a vast mystery?

Changing the computer from a black box run by fairies and hope to a machine with parts it’s less scary.

After hardware, move on to software. We don’t need to dive straight into boot records or how a BIOS works. But start with what the BIOS is. At a basic level. It’s a chip on the motherboard that has instructions to start and test the hardware in the system. Once you press the power button the BIOS turns on and tests the hardware. Then the BIOS hands the work off to the operating system software on the hard drive. That’s where you’ll see Windows, Mac OS, or Linux appear. This is where you start doing your work. You can think of it as the BIOS is the computer giving instructions to the computer. The Operating System is when the operator, that’s you, tells the computer what to do.

Was that a lot of information? Sure, especially if it’s foreign to you. But it’s not difficult. The BIOS wakes up the computer then tells the Windows to start. Start with a basic, technical overview of how computers work.

We’re not looking to teach a master class in computer repair. These are the basics.

  • What is it?
  • What does it do?
  • If it’s not doing it, what can happen?
  • How do I fix it?

3. Teach how to find information

No one knows everything. No one can know everything. I don’t know everything. I’ve never worked with anyone who did. We all look up information. We all reference documentation. Teaching someone the answer is great for that one time.

Teaching someone how to find the information is valuable forever. Technical work is all about information gathering. In the course of a day, I live in Google and dive through search results. Crafting a good search query and knowing how to sort through the results is how I fix problems.

Some of this is experience. I know to avoid anything that’s a sponsored listing. I know how to avoid results that look spammy or things I know to be useless. I try different sets of keywords. I always use product names and exact error messages. Official documentation and well-written posts always use the exact of the error message. The exact wording, capitalization and punctuation are important.

When hunting for why something doesn’t work, attention to detail makes or breaks finding a solution. Don’t ignore that period. Make sure the semi-colon is in the right place.

Finding information is not a technical skill. This is a skill that applies to every job in every walk of life. Sorting through piles of information to find exactly what you’re looking for separates you. It can be a way to stand out. Another trick I learned long ago was to make good notes in a place you can find them again.

I’ve kept paper notes and maintained wikis. I kept email folders and lists of links any way I could. Then, when I have time, I document them somewhere. Because I know I will need to find that information again and I will not remember what it was, nor where I found it.

When I’ve spent all day looking for a solution and finally find it, I think I’ll remember it forever. But I won’t. I never do. And in six months, when I see the same problem, or a co-worker asks me to help, I can reference my notes and provide the answer.

It doesn’t matter where you keep your notes. I’ve know people to write them down on paper. Others save them as bookmarks. I have a hybrid system of Evernote, Pinboard and email. The important thing is keeping notes where you can find them. Use what works for you. Armed with these skills, you can not only find technical support work, but keep that work and get better at it. The only difference between someone just starting out and me is a decade of time.

I haven’t worked particularly hard at it. I don’t hold piles of certifications. I don’t even have an advanced degree. I have a Bachelors’ of Science in Mass Communications. I majored in Creative Advertising, not technology.

I’ve gotten good at what I do by doing it over and over and learning ways to get better at it each time. Technology is always changing, but troubleshooting and research skills never go out of style. They’ll serve you well no matter what you do.

I Am Mac

Working in tech support for about a decade, I’ve supported Windows-only shops and Mac/Windows shops alike. I’ve worked with techs and in organizations that viewed Macs and their users as pariahs. Something to be dealt with. A necessary evil within their organization.

I’ve seen it in old and young techs alike. I can almost understand it from the older guys. They worked in support when Macs were a pain to support. They worked at a time when supporting a chatty Apple-talk connected Mac caused problems.

They worked in the foreign world of Apple. But those times have changed. Those times are over. Support Macs today is much different than it used to be. I am reminded of this after reading You’re Mac by David “Macsparky” Sparks.

“You’re Mac”

It was interesting because this time his inflection implied my situation was hopeless. It was like a Microsoft-approved version of “I am Groot.” One phrase. Infinite inflections. Clearly, he’d had a lot of practice at saying it.

Macs can play nice with Exchange servers and Active Directory. Macs can speak Samba to access file shares. They can run corporate anti-virus software. Macs are good citizens.

It’s most interesting that David has encountered issues when presenting with Macs. They’ve so easy to work with! I’ve never had a problem with a Mac when presenting. It beats the guessing game of which magical button combination I need to press to get the Dell/Lenovo/IBM/Sony computer to acknowledge the VGA cable plugged into the side of it.

David closes with:

Many (but hardly all) of the IT professionals serving these industries have been far too busy earning Microsoft certifications to pay any attention to Apple and they are not only unhelpful, they can actively lob hand grenades at your attempts to get any work done with your Mac.

I’ve always prided myself on being as fluent with Macs as I am with Windows. It helps me when I work with every customer. It makes me a better technician because I can speak Mac or Windows. I’ve said it before but this is a great time to reiterate. Technical Support Is Customer Service!

The first job of a technician is to help the customer. It doesn’t matter if the customer is someone you see everyday, or someone who has come to your organization from the outside. Especially if that customer is someone from the outside.

That’s the other secret role of tech support no one talks about. People remember their support experiences long after they leave. Just as David recounts these two experiences with poor support, don’t be the reason for someone’s post about poor support.

Support your customers. All your customers. And be that shining example of support for your company. It’s not hard. Just try to help and care about what you’re doing.

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.

15 Minutes to Critical

Critical ticket comes in 15 minutes before I’m scheduled leave work. Computer won’t boot. I cringe. I debate. I call the customer. He is there. I act nice even though I’m secretly disappointed. I agree to see him. I race upstairs.

Windows 7 greets me. Looking cranky as ever. “Inaccessible Boot Device” flashed across the screen.

I cringe again. This could be fast or this could be days. I say a silent prayer as I calmly reboot and talk to the customer. Reassuring him everything will be OK.

Inside I pray louder. It shuts down.

A pause.

It starts up again. Black screen. Blank. No beep. No messages. Yet.

I wait. Milliseconds seem like eternity as the machine decides my fate.

It sings to us. I see blue. Not a sickly error blue but a soothing corporate blue.

Windows Starts Up.

Press Ctrl + Alt + Del to Logon.

Success.
Inside I cheer.
Outside I’m calm and smiling confidently.

My customer thanks me for my quick response. I thank him for his patience.

He logs in.
I leave.

Victorious.