10 Technological Things You Aren’t Doing Right

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  1. You don’t have antivirus software on your phone. You’re getting smarter and locking down your accounts that you use on your desktop/laptop PC, and yet for some reason you’re not doing the same thing on your phone, which you use more often. Phones are just handheld computers with calling capabilities, so why are you being so lazy with securing it? Put Sophos on it. Now. Right now.
  2. You’re not paying attention to your saved credit card and login info and clearing it out. On your PC: Control Panel -> Credential Manager. In Chrome: 3 dots in the top-right corner, Settings -> Advanced, Manage Passwords. If you don’t want someone else to have it, clear it out.
  3. Speaking of – you’re not using Chrome to its fullest potential. 3 dots in the top-right corner, Settings -> Advanced, “Use hardware acceleration when available” damn well better be turned off, unless you enjoy your .gifs and videos not loading. You’re not using enough extensions: Adblock/Adblock for YouTube. Empty New Tab Page. Auto History Wipe.
  4. You don’t change your login information to your router/generally don’t have a damn clue what your router is and how to use/configure it. It’s literally the heart of your home internet capability and you think it’s just some magical box. Change your default logins. Lock down your WiFi. Disable remote administration. If you don’t know how to do any of this, you have succeeded in letting your ISP control your house.
  5. You don’t reboot your electronics when shit breaks. It’s insane to me how “Have you tried restarting?” is probably the most well-known joke people make to IT people and then don’t do it. If it runs on electricity and it stops working and it has the capability to be restarted, you need to do it.
  6. You don’t update your OS on your PC or phone. If you aren’t installing updates, you may as well just let everyone right on in to your shit. Yes, sometimes updates break things and make it look different and change is scary. But you know what’s even more scary? Someone encrypting all your files and demanding BitCoin to unlock them all because you didn’t patch a vulnerability. That’s your fault.
  7. You don’t maintain your PC. You don’t run disk cleanup or CCleaner regularly. You don’t defrag your HDDs. You don’t run anti-malware scans and clean out the remnants of the shady shit you look at. You don’t open up the case and blow the dust out. PCs are like cars, and if you don’t clean them up they’re going to bog down and you’re going to think it’s broken when it’s not. Or, it may actually be broken and require a wipe & reload because you let it get so bad. All of this is preventable, and should be done for something you spent 4-figures on.
  8. You don’t know enough about the technology you use. You have no idea how many times I have to console grown-ass adults because they don’t know how to use the technology they bought. You don’t buy a car you don’t know how to drive, so why are you buying tech you don’t have the first clue about? And don’t give me that “Geek Squad told me I needed it” bullshit, because you should know better in 2017. Read reviews. Research. Ask someone you know who does have a background in technology. Don’t just blindly spend a couple stacks on some new tech that is going to make you look like an idiot, because people like me are going to have to suffer explaining it to you.
  9. You don’t back your data up to somewhere else. If you have something you can’t afford to lose on a device with internet access, you damn well better have it in more than one place. You don’t even have to pay anything these days – use DropBox or Google Drive or something. There is no excuse to lose any of your data, because all of it is able to be replicated somewhere else. Your physical media should be digitized and backed up off-site. Your local data should also be remote. Set up 2-way synchronization so you never have to worry about it. If these words are intimidating, then find someone who can decipher this for you.
  10. You don’t invest in upgrades when you need to. Upgrade your router when it can’t handle the amount of concurrent connections you’re throwing at it. Get more bandwidth for your 4K streams of… Add more RAM, an SSD, or get a completely new machine if you need to. It’s not because the hardware magically decomposes; it’s because what you demand of the hardware can’t handle how fast technology is evolving. It’s the equivalent of standing there yelling at your old dog for not being able to play with you anymore because it’s old. You just look like a jerk – that thing served you well in its prime, but all good things must come to an end and you as an end-user either have the choice to accept your place behind the curve or to upgrade.

    How will you know when to upgrade? When an inanimate object ruins your day.
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Dell Customer Survey Feedback

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I don’t know if Dell reads their surveys at all, but I know my company really hones in on when people take the time to write in. Having gone to a Dell salesperson for assistance with purchasing the right laptop, I was asked to submit feedback. I’m not usually on the giving end of these things, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to interject. Here’s what I came up with:

1. The agent pre-loaded 3-year service plans, 36-month McAfee, and Adobe Acrobat DC on my quote. Customer service is determining what the client needs and giving them only what they do, not giving them what they don’t and making them double back to have you take it off. Dell has zero reason to be pushing this business practice to their salespeople. This breeds distrust towards your already outsourced staff and pushes people towards customizing their purchases themselves, rather than using agents. If I have to double-check what I’m being quoted to make sure I’m not getting shafted, then there’s not much point of having agents at all.

2. I received conflicting information regarding the form factor/protocol of the SSDs in the XPS 15 line of laptops. If you look at the product line, the $999 version comes with a 500GB HDD paired with a 32GB SSD. Subsequent higher-priced models come with 256GB and up PCIe SSDs. My question to the agent was is the SSD in the lower model the same thing as the higher, just smaller capacity, and if the higher models still had a slot for the 2.5″ form factor. I assumed it was all the same chassis but I wanted to make sure.

The agent responded with a blurb about the higher SSDs being NVMe, and that they were the best and that clients didn’t have any issues – not my question, I wanted to know about form factor and if for whatever reason the design choice in the pricier models was to leave a blank space in the 2.5″ slot (which doesn’t make any sense considering the price of HDDs these days. No reason to not put SOMETHING in there). Either way, if agents are going to effectively push the XPS line, they’re going to need to be better versed in its hardware and be ready to field the more technical questions, because that could cost them a sale.

3. Speaking of choosing the right product, I had communicated that I was intending to use this PC for my work in IT, virtual machines, remote desktop connections, and the like. I had to specify a version of Win10 Pro with my quote. It’s little things like that (i.e. the ability to domain-join a PC) that I believe the tech should have suggested as part of fitting the right hardware/software to me as a prospective client, as opposed to pre-loading my quote with hundreds and hundreds of dollars of stuff that I don’t need. This is less on him and more on the way he was trained. Either way, I was overall pleased with the outcome. Could have been a lot faster, but I understand that I was asking questions that he probably doesn’t get often. I would ask questions of his leadership, however.

This is why domestically-based IT complete with its quality control, training programs, and supervision will always be needed. I really feel for those whose jobs are to follow a flowchart or a script. People are not machines and you should treat them like they are just because they work with them. I dwell very heavily on the human side of IT, with all its soft skills that go along with it, because I believe that one of my main responsibilities as an IT professional is to de-mystify technology and then make it better for everyone I come in contact with. That is how you make a difference.

Your First Year in Small Business: Survival Guide

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My current position is my 3rd in a small business (<50 employees), and there are always unique challenges that come with the environment. I feel like I have enough experience at this point to share a couple tips that have helped me to at least survive three times over:

Soft skills


Skills such as communication and diplomacy are absolutely required in a small business. Your co-workers depend very heavily on you, because you’re not just a number and chances are your position isn’t a redundant one, even at the lower levels. As such, people need to know if you are having issues or where you’re at or whatever it might be. A chain of command in such a small setting is very important to pay attention to and follow, otherwise the whole system can deteriorate. Think of it as a circuit set up in series, because there aren’t enough paths to make it parallel.

You also need to go out of your way to get along with as many people as you can. They may not vote for who you vote for or believe what you believe, but if you are diplomatic enough, no one will have a clue what you truly think and what they don’t know can’t hurt you. Don’t air out your dirty laundry, because there isn’t enough breathing room as it is. Don’t be “that guy” or a perpetual “one-upper” because you’re trying to make a name for yourself or whatever. Listen more than you speak, and learn more than you try to teach. Distinguish yourself because you’re pleasant to be around. Everything else will follow later.

Work Ethic


Working in a small business is brutal, and everyone knows it. Hours are not as flexible. You probably won’t get as much vacation time. You probably aren’t getting paid what you would be getting in a corporation as well. You really have to lean heavily on the gratification of the job itself to carry you through, and you can tell when someone hires on at a small business for money and not for the work because they will always be complaining.

At the same time, getting burned out in an environment like this is so easy, and even still I run myself into the ground and have to take a random day off every few months just to unwind because the weekends aren’t enough. Working in a small business is a marathon, not a race. Everything isn’t running as smoothly as it should be, there aren’t enough resources, and the pressure on the individual to perform is astronomical.

Where there is adversity there is a chance to shine, however, and if you can prove to your leadership and those around you that you have what it takes to make it where so many rely on you singularly, there is very little that can stop you from being a real stand-out employee. You have to love what you do though. Find the reason and purpose behind your daily grind and lean on that to get you through. Negativity in such a small environment tends to spread like wildfire and brings the whole company down.

Relationships


Remember when I said to not air out your dirty laundry? Everyone in a small business does anyway. You get comfortable (read: complacent), and then next thing you know everyone is talking about you behind your back. When I said to be pleasant, I didn’t mean add a bunch of people from your company to your Facebook. I meant help them out. Be there to assist. Volunteer to shoulder some of the load. When things get too personal too soon, that’s when it gets dangerous.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be friends outside of work with people, but I am saying your focus your first year should not be on making drinking buddies. People will gravitate to you by proxy of you being a good co-worker, not because you buy them shots during happy hour. Look, just assume that anything you tell one co-worker will be told to everyone. Leadership is watching you like a hawk, and your colleagues all gossip. There are no secrets in a small business, and you will never get away with anything you shouldn’t be doing.

So yeah, hopefully this helps someone. Remember: Show up ready to work (and excel at it), love what you do, and don’t get caught up in what is said at the water cooler. Easy peasy. Have more tips? Leave a comment below!

How To: Avoid IT Burnout

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I’ve been meaning to make this post for a long time – so I apologize for the length. Actually, not really. You probably need this as much as I did. Anyway, I want to preface this post by saying that I served an enlistment in the military, so I’m all too familiar with stress, fatigue, and burning out. But one thing I’ve come to terms with is that the stress, fatigue, and burnout in the IT world is not only something that comes with the job, but it’s also completely different from what I’ve ever dealt with. I had to adapt very quickly.

I’m one of those lucky few who have found their calling and passion in life. For me, it’s technology and the people who use it. I’m as equally fascinated by the latest 802.11 standard as I am by the latest social engineering methods. I can’t say I ever expected to be quite where I am (mainly interacting with the amount of people I interact with), but it has had the unintended side effect of amplifying my drive to improve and advance in my field even more.

But with great drive comes great responsibility, and that responsibility is ultimately to you to not drive yourself into the ground. One of my most relentless instructors in college always told us that we were best labelled as “network doctors”, and it wasn’t until my most recent position at an MSP that I came to fully understand this adage. When I get a call, it’s because something’s broken. Someone is not able to work efficiently, or at all. They are falling behind the moment they put a ticket in, and they turn to me for assistance.

You have to understand the psychology of this – asking for help. It’s 2016, and our society is as introverted as it’s ever been. To ask for help for anything is something people just don’t want to do. My clients pay for my services, and they still want to try to fix it themselves before they ever admit that they can’t do what I can do, or don’t know what I know. That should tell you something about the level of expectation, performance, and aptitude that every person I come in contact with puts on me. Oftentimes it’s smothering, and you have to know how to deal with it.

When I first started, I poured everything I had into my career to my own detriment. You can still be the best, you can still advance, and you can still excel without beating yourself up over it. After so long, the ramifications of operating at such a high tempo will degrade your performance, and you will fizzle out and lose your grip on the ladder you’ve tried so hard to work up.

This is all preventable though, so now I present to you my Top 5 Ways to Avoid IT Burnout:


  1. Work to live, don’t live to work.
    This list can probably apply to every job, but I feel compelled to start it with a blanket statement. There is a whole world outside your cubicle – go and see it. Make the time. Save money and vacation days. IT never sleeps, but you’re not a machine. I joke about being a “walking time sheet”, but it is so easy to get caught up in that mentality if you’re not careful. Enjoy life while you’re younger and age and health are not that much of a factor. Life is not a race – it’s a marathon. Cultivate friendships and hobbies. Check off the bucket list. Study for your next certification. Moreso than anything, realize that the Earth continues to spin no matter how much time you spend in the office – don’t let it pass you by.


  2. Don’t set yourself up to fail.
    Again with the blanket statements, but this is a little different for IT people. You need to know your limits and learn to delegate. If you’re stuck on an issue, pass it to someone who knows and move on, after you’ve given it your best. Call the vendor. Escalate the ticket. Ultimately the client needs to be fixed and if there is someone better suited to the job then it is in the business’ best interest for you to provide the best resource. What separates a solid IT professional from the shithead egomanics is knowing which solution is the best one, even when you’re not the one providing it.

    You never want to pigeonhole yourself and make yourself a single point of failure for anything, I don’t care how badly you want job security. If you work for a company where you feel like you need to hoard information in order to keep your job, then you’re with the wrong company. Go somewhere where teamwork and collaboration is used for the betterment of the company as a whole, and IT professionals are not pitted against each other like some sort of arena to see who can wave their tech-savvy peens around in the air for others to envy.

    Good businesses provide excellent customer service for their valued clients and will devote as many resources as are required for the task. Good IT professionals avoid situations where they can be singularly at fault for something with no one to back them up. Technology has a penchant for breaking, and if you have leveraged your connections appropriately, you won’t have to deal with the incredible stress of fixing your own screw-ups by yourself.


  3. There will always be more tickets.
    Unless you’ve created the perfect network that runs autonomously without issue (in which case you should probably make sure you have a backup job lined up when corporate leadership comes to the well-informed conclusion that they don’t need you anymore), your job is one that essentially never ends. As such, it’s important to prioritize what’s been assigned to you and know what has to be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow.

    This skill set is important everywhere, but critical in the IT field. So much stress is created in the IT world when tasks are not prioritized, assigned resources, and scheduled correctly. Some of this falls on your supervision, but the rest of it falls on you to know when to delegate, block off time, or multitask. If you suck at time management, I recommend this book.


  4. Tend to your health.
    Probably the most important one on here, honestly. Humans were not meant to sit in a cubicle all day under florescent lights – that’s a fact. You absolutely have to make up for your sedentary lifestyle, and you really can’t half-ass it either. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, so it falls on you to not let your body devolve into that state. I’ll give you a couple tips that have worked for me:

    – Spend as much time on the weekends outside as you can.

    – Get a workout in before you eat dinner when you get home. Waking up early sucks, and you won’t sleep well if you work out right before bed.Working out right at around 6PM means that you’ll continue to burn calories when most everyone else is sacked out on the couch for the night… because who doesn’t like to sit after a long day of sitting?

    – Bring your lunch, and pack it full of foods that aren’t terrible for you. You know what is terrible and what isn’t, just do it.

    – Take a random day off in the middle of the week, and go do something fun while everyone else is working. It feels a thousand times more satisfying knowing you, by all accounts, should be working, but you’re out dicking around instead. I usually take a random Wednesday off every few months.

    – Install f.lux on your computer and make your monitors have warmer light tones.

    – Find your preferred decompression method to get restful sleep every night. Watch ASMR videos on YouTube. Take an Olly Restful Sleep gummy from Target. Get Spotify Premium and put on one of their bajillion sleep playlists.


  5. Find purpose in every day.
    I have this horrible habit of quitting everything I really don’t want to be doing, because my time is money, friend. I had jobs when I was a young’un where I’d come in late, because I didn’t want to be there. I had parties I’d ninja my way out of, because I would rather be at home chasing the cat around the house. The list goes on, but the common theme is that I never really felt like my time was being used wisely. I didn’t care to be there – I wanted to be somewhere else. It felt ultimately meaningless. I wasn’t passionate about the situation.This is where finding your purpose really becomes important.

    Let’s face it – there are a lot of people who are “good with computers”, and the lower tiers of the IT-skilled individuals are just saturated with them. So many of these people are there because they know how to Google okay, not because they want to help you or particularly give a shit at all. These are the ones who transfer you all over the place (Verizon), or really have no idea what the hell is going on at all (Charter). They’re there because they need money, which, by the way, is absolutely abysmal at that level.

    Anyway, what I mean to say is you have to realize the difference that you make to the people you serve. To go back to the idea of being a “network doctor”, you have someone who needs you. The router doesn’t need you, nor does the switch, the NAS, or the server. There is a living, breathing person or people who are coming to you because you have knowledge and skills that they don’t. Maybe not all of them are grateful for it and maybe not all of them even know you exist, but it’s those times where you take pride in the fact that they’d be in a world of trouble if it weren’t for you.

    Know that you have value, and you are valued. Know that you make an impact and touch the lives of the people in every organization you service, in ways often intangible, but omnipresent nonetheless. Be proud that you serve in a career field as ever-evolving and demanding as this one, knowing full well that so many others would never make it a second in your shoes. Find that reason to get out of bed, get yourself ready, and face the day with real intent.


    That’s how you make it in the world of IT.

Soft Skills – The Unsung Heroes of IT Support

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Disclaimer: No idea who this guy is, but he looks happy to assist. Fake it ’til you make it.

When many people think “IT Guy”, an image of khakis, a button-up, and the occasional pocket protector is going to pop into their minds. In my world, image is usually inconsequential – the only people who typically see me are the ones I work with and none of them really have time to judge my outfit. But moreso than wardrobe, many customers are going to think: Introvert. Awkward. Shy. A complete inability to translate technical terms to the layman on the fly. And this really bothers me.

This is the state of things: these days all I really have to do to impress a client is to speak clearly and sound like I know what I’m doing. But to meet a well-spoken, charismatic, friendly IT professional who is as socially sound as he is technical is almost a unicorn in this field and I don’t see why this should be like it is. Personally, I love talking to people. If I’m going to spend the bulk of my time in front of an inanimate object, I’d love to have some company. There are some people who can’t stand it (i.e. programmers), but then again programmers also have the 8th highest suicide rate on the CDC’s occupational suicide list so there’s something to be said about that (source here).

But I get it – some people just don’t like people. Some people get into IT specifically because they don’t like people and think that they will never have to talk to anyone or anything but a server rack. However, IT in 2016 demands that you have more corporate-friendly skills, and the soft skills that revolve around customer service are not only highly desired and sorely lacking, but also a necessity for so many areas.

This is the part where I speak directly to my fellow technicians. CEOs, COOs, CFOs, and HR Managers can skip this part. Listen people – if you can’t communicate the necessity of your position to someone who employs it, you’re never going to defeat the image that IT is just one big expenditure and all we are are a bunch of overworked hamsters whose sole purposes in life are to make sure nothing breaks. In my daily mountain-high workload of tickets, I always try to not only resolve the original issue my client has, but also try to break down that preconception they have of tech support/help desk/whatever along the way.

You don’t need to talk about your family, but while you’re waiting for a process to complete you can take 10 seconds and ask them about their day. Crack a joke about other, inferior tech support services (looking at you, Verizon). Make a comment on their desktop background, if you’re cool like that. Anything that will leave the person on the other end of the phone saying “well, that wasn’t as painful as I thought” when they hang up the phone will literally help IT professionals the world over. The higher you set the bar, the less tolerant clients will become of substandard service (looking at you, Time Warner).

I took two public speaking courses, and one of them was online. Now before you question my academic credentials, I offer that this online public speaking course was insanely more effective than the one I took in-person. The reason for this is that all of our speeches had to be recorded via webcam and submitted. Believe me, I thought it was stupid at first as well, until the first time I played a speech back and watched myself. I fidgeted a lot. I said “uhm” a lot. I got too wordy and nonsensical. If you really want to get good at talking to people, pull one of the calls you took part in that was “recorded for quality assurance” and listen to it yourself. Sometimes it can be very cringe-worthy, but I guarantee you it will help.

I get it – really, I do. I am in the trenches with the rest of you. I know that end users are insane most of the time, but they’re also the reason our job exists. No matter how infuriated or old or impatient they get, they -need- us. And it’s hard for anyone these days to admit that they need help, but they come to us anyway. One of my instructors always said that IT would be like playing “network doctor”, and I can’t help but to think how far adopting their nurturing, patient, and understanding natures could do for all of us. If you’re going to be in the trenches, you might as well not make it any less pleasant than it already is.

The Human Side of IT

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I suppose it was inevitable that I’d get a call like this. I wish it wasn’t raining, so at least I could look out the window from the confines of my 2nd story office, with its unforgiving gray walls and harsh florescent lighting and find some sort of comfort. But there isn’t any – not today.

I don’t know why I’m upset. I only worked a couple issues for this client, but all the same I feel very protective of all those who come to me for aid. They call me because I know something they don’t. They entrust me with their information and productivity and their ability to perform their job and provide for their families. So when I answered the phone this morning and heard that someone in this person’s office had passed away last night and they needed assistance with passwords and PCs and such, I was gutted.

Immediately I wanted to do something. Flowers. A card signed by everyone in the office. I went over to the cubicle floor and solemnly gave the news to my supervisor, who simply let me know that we were stretched thin and that someone would be sent on-site to assist with the merging of user profiles and computers after this afternoon’s meeting.

I sent out an internal e-mail asking everyone to keep this person in their thoughts and received a sparse smattering of nods in my direction. It was then that I realize how callous the IT field can make people. They call us “network doctors”, and I imagine that medical doctors become this way after a while as well – every patient is just another patient, not a person. No time for people to be people.

It’s funny, really, that just last night I was lamenting that my personal stake in my client’s issues was causing me more stress than is probably healthy, and that if I just stop caring so much that my productivity would go up and my frustrations would go down.

So it begins. One of us, one of us.

It’s hard to work in this field and be empathetic. We’re lambasted all day by clients whose emergencies aren’t really emergencies. They “just want it to work”, as if we don’t. They “don’t understand why this keeps happening” as if we wrote the very programming that keeps failing on them. Over time, this turns the friendly neighborhood IT guy into a “tech”, and it’s then that you know his personal stake in his work is just enough to not get a poor survey back from the automated correspondence requests that get sent out by the COO in order to populate a performance metric.

It’s no secret that the IT field is plagued by people with horrible soft skills, but I think it’s also woefully deficient of soft hearts as well. I’ve been told that it is part of my company’s mission to “wow” every customer, but I never did subscribe to what some business major thinks is a trendy way to get people to work harder – I just want to be happy. I can’t be happy knowing that someone who comes to me for help isn’t.

Maybe I haven’t worked in this industry long enough to become a “tech”, but I hope I will never stop being human along the way.