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.
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.
Inside I cheer.
Outside I’m calm and smiling confidently.
My customer thanks me for my quick response. I thank him for his patience.
I am starting an ambitious plan this month. I am going to get the book that’s been in my head out and into a form for people to read and enjoy.
Technical Support is Customer Service
I’ve been working a series of customer service and technical support jobs for nearly a decade. I’ve come to realize they are the same. I am passionate about customer service and treating people right.
Technical Support has long been about supporting technology first and people second. I want to turn that idea on its ear. Technical Support is more about supporting the people using technology than the technology itself. Technology is merely a tool to accomplish a task.
I’ve planned and thought and read. Trying to give form to this idea inside my brain. And all of a sudden, it became November. And with November, comes NanoWriMo.
I am going to write my book this month. I am going to take the collection of thoughts and experienced inside my head and put them into words. Then turn those words into a book after the month ends.
It has begun and I have written the first 2,000 words towards explaining why I care so much about customer service in technical support and how other people can learn from my near decade of experience in support companies and government agencies big and small.
As the month started and I signed up for NanoWriMo I had no idea how I was going to write 50,000 words on customer service. I care about it a lot and I have some good ideas around making people better at it. But I had no idea how I would fill those virtual pages.
Until it hit me.
Becoming a Well-Rounded Technician
The idea was bigger than simple tech support or customer service. The idea I had in my head all along was about becoming a better technician and all the parts that go into the job.
So the book was born. Becoming a Well-Rounded Technician is my working title and terrible name but it’s what I’ve titled this adventure.
I’ve got 2,000 words down and another 48,000 to go to complete NanoWriMo successfully and by that time, have enough of my ideas fleshed out I can organize them and put them into a book.
I am excited. I am scared. This is going to be great fun and a huge challenge.
The longest thing I ever recall writing was a 20 page story in a creative writing class in 8th grade.
Wish me luck. The adventure has begun and I’ve leapt in with both feet. If you want to follow along, this is my NanoWriMo page and if you’re writing too, let me know, I could use some buddies.
All week long I am bombarded. I am bombarded with people needing me. They need my attention. They need my help. They need my time. They need me.
All day my attention is pulled in a million different directions. Just this morning, I was working on a critical ticket. The computer was failing to boot into Windows.
It wasn’t a blue screen, but there was a single line of text across the screen before the Windows logo appeared. When I arrived at the computer I saw it had the letters DDR in it so I figured it was either the video card or memory.
I removed the external video card and tried booting again. No dice. I then removed each piece of memory one at a time. Same error.
Then I looked up the error message and it seemed to indicate the video card was at fault. Since I couldn’t get it to boot, nor could I access the BIOS or any diagnostic settings, I decided to unhook it and take it with me to my desk.
As I was crawling under the desk to unplug the various cables, I received a call on my work phone. It is never a good sign when someone calls instead of emailing.
It was another critical ticket. In another building I support. Someone’s account had been compromised, and as a security measure, the account had been disabled.
I had a real life interview question on my hands. When you have a dead computer and a compromised account at the same time, what do you do?
This is how my Friday started.
When I got the computer back to my desk, I opened it up and tried some other memory to no avail. A co-worker then noticed the light on the motherboard was amber instead of its normal green hue. This meant the motherboard was bad.
Easy enough I thought. I will go to Dell’s website, verify the warranty and get a new board ordered.
So I did.
Only, the machine was over a year out of warranty. This meant no new part. This meant I had a computer I could no longer repair. I went to see the user and give him the bad news only to find out he had left for the day. So I get to have that conversation Monday. Happy Monday!
On I went to my other building to go see my user with the disabled account.
When I arrived, his account had not yet been disabled, so I thought there was a false positive or a misdirected ticket. As I verified the ticket information and as I sat at his computer I started to run an antivirus scan just to be safe.
Sure enough, the scan turned up three infections. Great, this is going to be the beginning of a long process. As the scan completed, there were only three infections, none of which appeared to be serious. I ran a rootkit scan and thankfully none were found. I then set about patching the multiple vulnerabilities with the computer using my Tech Support Triumvirate.
So I sent the logs of my scans to the security team to analyze and advise me how to proceed. I then called and had the user’s account reactivated and logged into webmail and investigated his Outlook account.
I found an email rule to send incoming messages to a suspicious looking email address. Similarly, I found a signature added to webmail with the same suspicious information.
I removed the email rule and deleted the suspicious signature and sent a couple of test messages through the system to assure nothing further suspicious was happening.
This is just a day in the life of a desktop support technician. Did I get anything else done the rest of the day? Not really. I sent a couple emails to schedule meetings with people for next week. I called and emailed the network and security teams to coordinate my restore and recovery efforts with the compromised account.
Before I knew it, the day had come to an end and it was time to head home. When I got to work this morning, my day was looking very different. I was hoping to followup with a half-dozen people and verify their issues were resolved.
Then I was planning to go see another dozen people and work to resolve the issues they were having. All until 10:30 when my day got hijacked by more important things.
I never know what each day has in store for me. I can plan and scheme and make lists of what I will accomplish. And it can all evaporate in the blink of an eye. All the planning is for naught.
I work as a computer technician and half of my battle is keeping computers running happily. The other half is keeping them updated and secure against potential threats. There is a triumvirate of software I’ve found and employed throughout the years to make keeping Windows installations up to date painless.
The first is Ninite. This fantastic little site is perfect for fresh computer builds. It saves time having to download and install the latest versions of browsers, media players and plugins.
The idea could not be easier. Go to the web site on your Windows or Linux computer and select the applications you want to install. Download the single, small installer.
The installer is small because when it runs, it goes out to the web sites of the application’s you’ve selected and downloads the newest versions. This assure you always get the newest version of the software every time.
Ninite will install software that’s not already present or update existing software to the newest version. If it detects the software is already updated, it will skip the application and move to the next one on the list.
The installer is small and perfect for thumb drives or network shares if you’re using a standard computer build. It saves me from having to remember exactly which applications I need to install and which I haven’t. I run Ninite and when it finishes, I know I am up to date and ready to move on.
If you have a large organization, then Ninite Pro is your go-to tool. It offers the same trouble-free updates along with silent installs, no nag screens, centralized management and a pile of other great features.
I was introduced to FileHippo by a friend and my life has never been the same. FileHippo is a repository of nearly any free application you could ever need.
I used it recently to retrieve an older version of Safari when I encountered a bug in Windows XP with the Safari 5.1.x versions. It’s been an invaluable resource for rolling back software updates to combat bugs, incompatibilities or if a customer simply upgraded and didn’t mean or want to.
In addition to hosting older versions of thousands of applications, they have a free Update Checker that can be installed or run standalone from a USB key. The Update Checker will scan the computer and present a list of all the software out of date that FileHippo support and provides links to the latest versions.
FileHippo will not automatically download the applications like Ninite will, but it supports a larger number of applications.
PatchMyPC is a new tool in my kit I recently found via the excellent Technibble. This application can be installed or run off a USB key and will scan the computer for the updates to the most vulnerable and often updated applications and install their updates silently in the background with a single click. This means keeping Flash, Acrobat Reader, Skype, Java and around 50 other applications up to date with little effort.
Along with keeping vulnerable software up to date, it can also install other applications and keep them up to date in the future. It is possible to always ignore a certain application and it will never be checked nor updated. This is particularly useful if an important application uses a specific version of Java or another application that can’t be updated or changed.
PatchMyPC combines the auto-checking of FileHippo with Ninite’s auto-installation for the best of both worlds. It will even check Windows Updates for available updates and include those in the update making it nearly perfect. The trade-off being a smaller list of applications supported but the developers are adding applications as they go so it will get even better as time goes on.
I spend a lot of my time updating software, patching vulnerabilities and making sure my customers are running the most up to date software and this can be very tedious and time-consuming. These three applications make my job easier and allow me to dig through error logs or perform other research or maintenance while the applications are updating.
Anything I can do to save time is a benefit to myself and my customers because it’s my job to get them up and running again as quickly as possible so they can get the work done they need to do.
I am constantly in the pursuit of better tools to get my job done faster, and correctly every time so I can offer better service to my customers. These three applications allow me to do that and they are indispensable parts of my toolkit.
There is an expectation that your IT guy at work is your one stop shop for any technical question you have.
I want to buy a new computer. What should I get?
Mac or PC? Which is better?
Can you look at my personal laptop if I bring it in for you?
I bought my new computer and I’m having this problem…
No, I cannot and will not work on your personal computer. I do not care how much you use it for work. I do not care how many hours you spend working on it at home. I don’t care if another tech did it for someone else you know. I am not doing it for you. I do not work on personal equipment. I especially don’t work on personal equipment outside of my normal work hours. If you’re working so many hours on your personal equipment then you need to talk to your manager about getting you a laptop.
No Means No
I am not trying to be mean. I am not singling you out. The simple truth is I could lose my job and you’re not going to pay my salary after I get fired so do not expect me to make you an exception. Rules are in place for a reason. Computers are complicated enough when they start with a standard setup. To work on a personal computer introduces thousands of variables to the equation.
Mac or PC?
What operating system?
32-bit or 64-bit?
Is it up to date?
Is there antivirus installed and updated?
Is there malware?
Is there a strange configuration to account for a certain home environment?
This is only the surface of the potential problems which can arise from working on a personal computer. The computer could be incapable of performing the desired function. Insufficient memory, hard drive space or incorrect version of an operating system can all be responsible for an application not working properly. There are thousand of applications in the world and some of them don’t work properly together and never will but those incompatibilities are not always known and are stumbled across by accident.
Lack of Responsibility
One of the biggest issues with working on personal equipment is the seemingly limitless amount of he worked on it and now it’s acting up issue. It could be days, weeks or even months since I worked on a computer. It could be something as simple as installing new memory, adding a printer, or installing a new application. It could also be something as invasive as malware removal, upgrading to a new version of Windows or data backup and migration. It doesn’t matter the scope of the work done or the time frame. There is no statute of limitations on “The IT guy worked on it and now it’s doing…” No matter what I did or how long ago, all future problems will somehow be my fault. All future issues will stem from whatever I did last time I touched that computer.
Next time you ask your IT guy at work to work on your personal computer, don’t pressure him. Don’t keep asking and expect to break him down. He won’t give in. In most cases, he can’t and will tell you so.