Troubleshooting 101

TL:DR – Our abilities to solve problems are what makes us good at technology jobs.  Apply basic common sense when dealing with situations and don’t be afraid to try things out.

So the handler went on extensively about how the help desk and site support people lack some of the basic skills to adequately do IT work.  Apparently they don’t know how to perform proper troubleshooting steps when dealing with technical situations.   This is troubling indeed, as part of what makes us good at our job is the ability to work through problems.  I would like to break this down to a non-IT related situation…

You walk into the room and go to turn on the light.  Nothing happens, what do you do next?

Now the thought process for this can go in many different directions, depending on your knowledge and experience.  Your brain should start building a flow chart of sorts.

  1. Check the bulb, if it is a classic bulb do you see any discoloration?  If it is a clear bulb, is the filament damaged?
    • Yes? Get a new bulb = Done!
    • No?  Move on to the next step.
  2. To double check the above, might as well try a new bulb anyway.
    • Still doesn’t work, no worries, move on!
  3. Check other lights in the room.  Do they work?
    • Yes, OK then the problem is limited to the one light.
    • No, OK, you might be looking at the circuit breaker.
  4. Check the circuit breaker.
    • Any breakers in the off position?
      • Yes?  Flip the back and check the light.
      • No?  Probably not a breaker.
    •  If the breaker was flipped, that could solve the problem and you’re done.
    • If not, and you are comfortable with electrical work, you may need to dive in and check the fixture for shorts and such.

So hopefully you figured out the issue early on and don’t need professional help.  The process illustrates how we figure out problems.  We use it with puzzle solving and making decisions in every day life.  In this day and age, we don’t need to be terribly knowledgeable about the topic to find out answers.  The Internet helps a good deal.  But it isn’t always there and sometimes you have to use the gray material.  Having previous experience helps a great deal and usually eliminates a majority of the steps.  An electrician will go about this problem slightly different than say a first time home owner who’s experience doesn’t go beyond screwing in a light bulb.

Now what does this have to do with my handler?  Well apparently the support staff demonstrate the lack of the above abilities.  They quickly escalate the issue to the next level, in some cases skipping right to the top tier engineers to solve it.  They might jump to conclusions when the answer is usually much simpler and easier to figure out, provided they know the basic methods of troubleshooting things like networks or software.  This frustrates the top tier support teams because in most cases, they are working on big projects or addressing more critical incidents.  Meanwhile tier 1 teams are sending incidents that simply require “nslookup” and “ipconfig /flushdns”.  The effort to try those types of commands in the troubleshooting process is very minimal and could potentially prevent the tech from having to escalate.   Most importantly, document what you have done so far, so when you do escalate, the engineer will have a better idea of where to go from there.

Now maybe the handler is just an old curmudgeon yelling at the kids to “Git off my lawn!!” or he has a valid concern that if you are taking on a role in the technology field, you need to have strong analytical skills.  Otherwise, why bother getting into the field at all?

And one more note, if one is not familiar with the the common tools available for the situation, one has not tried the best tool that modern techies have… Google!

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