We have all been there, new to the job, pretty green with nothing but classroom experience to back us up. We were badly in need of real life experience and the only way to get that is to experience real life. When you’re providing IT support to live customers you have to gain that experience without costing those customers. It’s tough.
As this is holiday week, I thought I would put together the ten most common mistakes I have seen made by the newbie IT tech. It is meant to be lighthearted but with a more serious message.
1. Running before you can walk
Performing a tape backup on a live system is quite different than when doing it in a classroom. That is one of the many tasks IT support are asked to do and where the newbie will want to show their mettle. Jumping in with both feet on such an important task is a mistake that can cost the customer. Walk through it with someone, then you can do it yourself.
2. Working on your own
Overtime is never to be sniffed at but you will come across things you haven’t seen before if you’re staying late or working the weekend without backup. Don’t do it. Partner with another tech, make sure you have second line on call and make sure there is always an escalation point should you need one.
3. Relying on Google
Yes the search engine is excellent, but it depends on the quality of content on the internet which isn’t always reliable. People mean well but don’t always get things right. Blindly following the top result when troubleshooting an issue is a mistake. Use it as guidance, but don’t accept any solution at face value. Especially if it flies in the face of what you already know.
4. Changing live systems in working hours
Most companies or customers have strict rules about making big changes in working hours. That’s why IT support has unsocial hours. We have to work when others are not in order to do our thing without disrupting productivity. Unless you’re just adding a user or modifying their permissions, save the big changes until OOH.
5. Making changes you cannot reverse
One of the key tenets of IT support is always having a Plan B. One element of that is to always have an escape plan. Don’t make changes you cannot reverse. So make a backup, screenshot, clone the drive or whatever but always ensure you can reverse what you did in case something goes wrong.
6. Panicking when the customer shouts
Panicky, stressed customers are part of IT support. We try to minimize their stress wherever possible, but sometimes it is inevitable. The key is to take them seriously but not let their rage affect your work. We need to be calm and methodical and it is difficult to do that with a customer shouting at you. That’s why we have team leaders or service managers. To talk to the customer and keep them away from us while we do our work.
7. Not documenting everything we do
Nobody likes paperwork but it can be a lifesaver. Documenting every step, every change, every request and every comment is laborious but it provides a timeline that proves exceptionally useful in troubleshooting issues or defending your actions if something goes wrong.
Nobody likes extra administration but keeping logs and records of everything you do is as much part of the job as ripping a server to pieces and putting it back together again.
8. Thinking three steps ahead
IT support techs are problem solvers by nature. It is why we gravitate to these kinds of roles. However, we also have to be systems thinkers which means thinking three steps ahead of every possibility. It takes time, which is why we plan but the more you do it the easier it gets.
If you’re troubleshooting a router, taking it down will have an obvious impact on traffic. What about other routers in the network? Can they handle the extra? Are there any backups or downloads due? Is the customer planning to upload anything large in the next couple hours? Do they have IP routing set up correctly to keep traffic flowing? Do they have load balancers? Are they set up right? The list goes on.
9. Not considering the obvious
Sometimes it really is the obvious cause or solution that works best in IT support. We have a tendency to think complexity but often it can be something simple. Server keeps crashing? Have you checked the fans? Checked for dust? Checked the power cable? It isn’t always processor failure or a configuration issue, sometimes it can be poor housekeeping or a loose cable.
I once worked on a server that went down at the same time every day. We spent days looking at the logs, checking hardware, software, heat, load, network traffic and so on. In the end, I went to site to swap out the entire server. I was astounded to find the cleaner using the wall outlet for the vacuum. He had unplugged the server to do his work. There were not enough outlets on the UPS for that particular server so the customer plugged it into a standard wall outlet without labeling it. Sometimes, the problem is analog and not digital!
10. Not having a review after the fact
After a major outage or failure, it is always useful to have a post mortem. It is essential for both you in IT support and the client to find out what went wrong and whether it can be prevented. Can you do anything to avoid it? Did everything go right? What went wrong? What lessons can be learned? There is a lot that even 30 minutes discussion after an outage can achieve.
Taking part in fault reviews is part of the job and while it is an extra time sink, it is well worth doing.
Providing IT support is an interesting and varied job. It is also full of pitfalls and prank calls. Navigating all this takes time and experience but follow these tips and you should be able to avoid the worst of them. Hope it helps!