A Day in the Life of a Technician

(Part 1 of 3)

Sometime last year, the number of personal computers in the world passed the two billion mark. That’s about one for every three people. Each of those computers has several thousand individual components, which come in various brands, models, and types. In addition to that, depending on your operating system (and there are hundreds), there are millions of applications available for download and installation. This means that, at any given time, when someone calls me with a computer problem, there are more than one trillion possible variables in play, possibly contributing to the issue.

And I know how to fix every single one of them.

Sort of.

You see, my job as a technician is not actually to know what the problem is, or even how to fix it. Most often, my job is simply to figure it out. With this many variables, it’s impossible for a technician to know about every conceivable issue. But it is possible to hone a set of troubleshooting skills that will allow us to find the solution as quickly as possible. Thus, the technician’s job is not to excel at knowing how to fix something, but to excel at finding out how. We do it daily.

A day in the life of a tech begins like any other legendary day of human accomplishment: with caffeine. Proven by the European Food Safety Authority to increase alertness, attention, and memory performance, coffee is the most important tool in a technician’s toolkit.

Second to java is the technician’s computer. Usually a laptop, often a PC – and never without a few dings and scratches – the laptop is the battle-hardened weapon that enables us to fight spam, slay malware, and emerge victorious from the server room time after time.

First order of business: review our assignment. We might be onsite at a client, rolling out new equipment or troubleshooting a critical workstation issue. Or we could be at the home office, attacking issues remotely. Regardless of the scenario, the same formula will apply: Gather, Troubleshoot, Diagnose, and Remediate.

If a user reports, for instance, he cannot get online, my first step is to gather as much information as possible. In fact, that’s always my first step. Some especially helpful users provide screenshots or error messages. Others, less so, telling us “computer is broken” or “nothing is working.” We’re going to fish for more information here.

Once the issue is pinpointed, we begin troubleshooting – or testing – that theory. So if a user’s homepage isn’t loading, my first test is to try a different website. If that loads, it’s the homepage, not the internet. If it doesn’t, we might try to ping the website from their workstation. If that works, it’s the browser. If not, it might be the service that matches the website name to its IP: DNS. We’ll test DNS, and so on down the list.

Eventually, something will not work, and that will be our culprit, a/k/a/ diagnosis. Let’s say it was DNS. We’d then check what server they were using for DNS, and remote into that server. Often we’d find the DNS service not running, or missing records, or something similar.

From time to time, all known troubleshooting steps are exhausted and there’s still no diagnosis. This is where a technician’s primary skillset kicks in: finding the solution when it’s not obvious. Most people know how to use Google to find the local Whole Foods, but a technician needs to know how to use the ancient art of Google-Fu to lead them to a precise answer for the precise problem they’re having. A needle in a trillion-strand haystack. Yet, Google-Fu perseveres until victorious.

Once we’ve identified that problem, we’ll address it. In the above case, we might restart the DNS service, add the missing record, or purge the DNS cache. This final step is remediation – what you, the user, were waiting for!

All day long, we’re careful to take notes on everything we did, so that if it needs to be reviewed or repeated, it easily can be. And, of course, we verify that everything is working before closing the ticket.

On any given day, we’ll address issues on workstations, servers, firewalls, phone systems, switches and even mobile phones. Ticket by ticket, call by call, we may come into contact with any number of scenarios, but the trick to navigating the sea of problems is following the formula above and utilizing the toolkit, in order to dwindle those trillion possible causes down to one. And then … we figure it out.

(Next in the series: A critical part of a technician’s job is to deliver exceptional customer service – especially when the issue at hand is potentially serious. In a future blog, Nathanael will address techniques for keeping customers smiling, even in the face of challenges and difficulties.)

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