Friday, January 23, 2009

Drive-Thru and The Tech Support Call

I had a pretty busy Saturday running errands, and as anyone who knows me, I love to have a coffee with me while I am driving. Well, on this particular Saturday, I had visited two different coffee shop drive-thru’s and a fast food drive-thru. At all three of them, the service was atrocious! I was rushed to place my order at the speaker, the person at the window didn’t talk to me and when I did get my order, in all three cases, the cups were wet!

I couldn’t help but think of how the level of service today has deteriorated…and then it dawned on me. As an IT Professional, how many times have I provided poor service below the level I know I am capable of giving. So, once I got home, I sat and thought about it. Well, much to my disappointment, I was able to think of not just one…but a couple of them, ouch!

One of the first things that jumped out at me was the time I met one of my co-workers in the hall one day. Bob, not his real name, was slightly frantic. The exchange went something like this.

“Hey Peter, I was just coming to see you. I can’t print.”

“OK Bob, I have a meeting in a few minutes. I have to go…I’ll see you after my meeting.”

“But, but…”

Well, I made my meeting, unfortunately, Bob was late and was chastised by the boss, and when asked for an explanation it turned out that Bob had a report that was to be presented during the meeting. Well, when the boss asked for an explanation, Bob informed everyone in the meeting, which included the entire executive team, that he was unable to print his report and I hadn’t solved the problem yet. Well, as you can imagine, I sunk into my chair as everyone looked in my direction. After the meeting, I rushed to Bob’s office to fix his problem. Bob’s problem was not that he couldn’t print, but somehow his default printer was changed to a different printer.

This exchange between me and Bob taught me a couple of things. Firstly, Bob was coming to my office to report a problem. We should avoid being “HALLJACKED” at all costs. Had I trained people to email their problems to me, I would have started a paper trail for the problem. An email allows me to properly schedule tech support issues, and when a situation comes up where I was being blamed, rightly or wrongly, I will have some documentation to help my boss understand my side. In Bob’s case, due to the nature of his problem, he likely would have still rushed to my office to find me. This would have provided an excellent opportunity to explain the process of submitting tech support problems. Having this process would have taken the responsibility of Bob not being able to print off my shoulders and placed it on his…after all, he did wait until the last minute to print his report. An email from Bob at 10:55 saying he couldn’t print when he had an 11 o’clock meeting would allow me the luxury of explaining why Bob couldn’t print out his reports. The second thing that I should have done, after explaining to Bob what the process is to request tech support, was to spend a few seconds getting to the bottom of the problem. A couple of simple questions to clarify the problem would have clearly shown that it was likely a small problem with a simple fix. One or two minutes and instead of being a goat, I could have been seen as a life saver. So, now, lets look at this whole situation if I had followed these two principles.

“Hey Peter, I was just coming to see you. I can’t print.”

“OK Bob, I have a meeting in a few minutes. I have to go…remember, all requests for tech support should be done via email.”

“But, but…I  have this report and I need to print it for the same meeting you have”

“Well, I shouldn’t do this, but, tell me more about your problem. Are you getting any error messages?”

“No, I just can’t print.”

“Hmmmm, well, I will take a look at it, but if it is more than a few minutes, I will have to fix it after the meeting.”

After fixing Bob’s problem, I head to the meeting. Bob still arrives late and is chastised.

“I couldn’t print, Peter had to look at my computer”

“Bob, you shouldn’t leave these things to the last minute”, says the boss.


The second thing that jumped out at me was the time I made a small problem much bigger than it needed to be. I was working on my bosses laptop, which, much to my chagrin, he lets his wife use so she can do her MBA homework. The story goes like this, one Monday, Chuck, not his real name, sends me an email quickly followed up by a phone call to ensure I got the email. This is how the exchange went:

“Peter, I can’t open my shared folder on the network.”

“OK Chuck, can you get onto the network?”


“Are you getting email?”

“Yep, and I know what you are going to say next, and yes…I did reboot.”

“Hmmmm…OK, I will be right over.”

Now, my office was in a different location from my boss so I had time to think about the problem. When I had arrived at Chuck’s office, I already had a dozen things I was going to check. I spent a couple of hours checking everything from network connections to his profile on the server, I had exhausted Chuck’s patience…and his goodwill. I was now officially in his way and could feel his cold stare on the back of my neck as I burnt up his valuable Monday morning. At this point I was at a loss…Finally, Chuck had a lunch meeting to go to so I had time alone with his PC, and he echoed these fateful words. “Peter, you need to have this fixed by the time I get back”, we’ve all heard those words haven’t we.

After panicking for a couple of minutes, I took a deep breath to clear my head, took a walk to the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. As I watched to cup fill with coffee, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. In my haste to solve the problem and get out of Chuck’s way, I started to work on solutions without gathering all the information I needed to properly solve the problem. I sat at my bosses desk, re-read his original email, took out a pen and started to write down everything I knew about the problem. I took nothing for granted, checked everything again, starting from the simplest to the most complex. Allowing every answer to bring up more things to check. I started with the cable, even though I knew he could still receive email and surf the web. It checked out, I checked that he could ping the server. Yep, no problem, I checked the TCP/IP settings in his computer…oops…forgot that one the first time I tried to solve his problem. Would you believe, the “Client for Microsoft Networks” was unchecked?!?! A feeling of relief came over me! I restored the setting just as Chuck walked back into his office.

“How is it.”, Chuck asked.

“I just need to reboot and have you log back on and everything should be fine.”, I said. Hoping like crazy this was the problem.

Well, as you can imagine, I rebooted, he logged on and was able to access his shared folder. He followed up with the obvious question, “What caused the problem?” I proceeded to tell him about what I had done to try and solve his problem to make it seem as if I hadn’t wasted his time. Thankfully, he was just happy to have his computer back so he didn’t ask me why it had taken so long.

These are two examples from my past that illustrate the only two times I had not provided the level of service I could have. I am writing them here so as to help you learn from them as I have. Poor service is rampant all around us, as IT professionals, we need to try and live up to a higher standard.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The UAC and An Uninstall Experience

Today, I was uninstalling a piece of software I was evaluating for purchase when I got a strange UAC prompt…a request to allow an “Unknown Application” access to my computer. Well…as someone who ACTUALLY reads the UAC prompts, I was alarmed at this. I was surfing the web and doing a couple of other things so I was unsure where this prompt was coming from. I refused the request and the uninstall failed. I pulled my network plug and proceeded to uninstall the application. GRRRRRRRR….this type of over site really bugs me…Come on guys…you had to have tested your uninstall program at least once or twice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Newly Awarded…Microsoft MVP: Windows Desktop Experience

Just wanted to share with my readers, I have been received the coveted Microsoft MVP award for my work with the community. I would like to personally thank my good friend Mitch Garvis for his help in receiving this award. I have always loved working with the IT community and feel humbled to be included in the same company as some of the brightest stars in the Microsoft community. I have spent a considerable amount of time reading books and articles, and attending classes and seminars with many of the other recipients of the award in the past and am looking forward to meeting them in person.

I take the honour of winning this award very serious and will be working hard to live up to the standards that the current award holders have set. I have always shared what I know and will endeavor to continue to do this in the future. I know it was my work with the community that made it possible to win this award and as such, I will continue to provide quality information and to bring the questions and concerns of the community to Microsoft and its employees!

Thank you for your support and the support of my blog. I am looking forward to 2009 and sharing my knowledge and experiences…all within the confines of Non-Disclosure Agreement(NDA) of course!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Is Your DNS Patched

In case you have been living under a rock for the past month you have most likely heard about the DNS cache exploit recently discovered by Dan Kaminsky.  This might be one of the most severe flaws discovered as it was cross platform affecting everything from Windows to Linux, UNIX, Cisco IOS etc....  It was so big in fact that all the major vendors worked together to get the patch issued on the same day.  The flaw would allow an attacker to insert a malicious DNS record into the cache.  As an end user you type in and rather than get the proper IP address the cache delivers the malicious IP address sending you to ????  You can find out more on the details of the flaw at Dan's blog.

You should also make sure that you are patched.  Make sure that your upstream ISP DNS servers are patched by calling them or using Dan's DNS Checker at the top of his website.

So why all of a sudden a rush to ensure you are patched?  Well the patches issued by the vendors have been reverse engineered and exploit code has been published!  Dan has said many times that this is an extremely easy to launch exploit that could be implemented in seconds.

MS08-037 - Vulnerabilities in DNS Could Allow Spoofing (953230)

KB953230 - Vulnerabilities in DNS could allow spoofing

Go. Read. Patch. Now.

And when you are done, copy and paste this blog post to your blog, email it to your IT Pro buddies, get the word out!

If you have links to the patches from other vendors, please leave a comment with the URL!

Friday, May 9, 2008

It Feels Like Déjà-XP All Over Again

I have been using Vista since launch and love it! I am MCTS: Windows Vista Client Configuration certified and have presented on Vista for WWITPRO. Before this, I have used every Windows OS since Windows 2.0, yes that includes Windows ME but I don't want to talk about that one! Vista and ME were the only versions of Windows I used since launch, in fact, I waited in line for a midnight release of ME...I am still in therapy over that one! Why is this important, simply this. I have used all of the excuses on upgrading to XP that I have heard others speak about Vista.

I did a Live search on XP comments and found a few choice quotations for you. "It feels ridiculously slow.", "You want to avoid installing Windows XP on a system more than a year old.", "Memory may be cheap, but for an OS to have to use that much RAM to work well, that's just terrible,". These are just a few of the comments that columnists of the day were writing. At the time, Windows XP represented an revolution rather than the minimal changes that occurred between Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE. And as mentioned, I have a gaping hole in my memory about Windows ME so I can't remember if it was similar to 98 of XP!

Computing power is increasing by leaps and bounds on a daily basis, the operating system is no different. If you have a computer that can't run Vista, then don't! Simple. Microsoft Vista was not designed to run on every computer ever manufactured. And frankly, neither was Apple's OS X. I have an old iMac with OS 8.6 to testify to that fact. I don't hear a big cry from the Apple community! The Apple community understands this, and continually exploits this as a weakness within the Windows community. The truth is, as with Windows XP, Vista should install on most computers that are less than a year old...sound familiar...if you were paying attention, you would have read that same thing was being said about Windows XP.

I was having a conversation with an IT professional after my Windows Vista presentation and he was upset over the lack of a driver for both his five year old scanner and his one year old Ink-Jet printer. I mentioned the fact that Microsoft does not write device drivers, which caused the professional to accuse me of coping out on the answer. Fine, I said, we'll tackle the Ink-Jet printer driver problem first. When Microsoft starts working on a new operating system, they provide education, SDKs and most importantly, time for the hardware vendors to make sure that their products will have drivers when a new operating system is released. If the printer company does not have a driver, It is not Microsoft's fault! As for the scanner, you again have to speak with your hardware vendor. They may or may not feel obligated to support the hardware but the same principles as with the Ink-Jet printer apply here. Windows Vista currently supports over 54000 pieces of hardware so it is obvious that there are some vendors out there that do support their customers.

You may or may not have legitimate reasons about upgrading to Windows Vista, that's fine but the secret if to find the fine line between what is best for your clients and users and the comments that first jump to mind with out much thought or research. There are plenty of exceptional changes to Windows Vista, most notable the improved Search capabilities and the User Account Control, both of which I will be posting about in the next week or so.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008


Sorry for the delay guys, here is a copy of my slide deck...

The Real Secret To IT Success

I recently sent an email where I listed the real secret to succeeding in IT. Since this is not the first time I have revealed this method to someone, I have decided to reveal it to everyone.

I have learned the real secret to success in IT, and if you promise to share it with others, I’ll tell it to you. Firstly, be aware that you don’t have to know everything. In fact, I give you permission to not have all the answers. This is a mistake many IT people make. They think that if they admit they don’t know something, somehow they will be looked down upon, by their peers, bosses and clients. My personal experiences are quite the opposite. In fact, once you get into the habit of telling the truth about your skills, not only will your skills increase as you research the questions you are being asked, but people will have more confidence in your abilities because you will be known as someone who tells it like it is. 

Secondly, when you are trying to learn a new skill, there are two things to do. Get a “Dummies” book and read it. Don’t buy a thick book which looks good but you can't understand. Get the simplest book on a topic you can find. If you look at my bookshelf, you will see quite a few “Dummies” books and many other simple books on a wide variety of topics. The next thing to keep in mind here is to surround yourself with people you can discuss your IT difficulties with. This is why being involved with a User Group is so important. If your not plugged into the community, you are missing your greatest opportunity to increase your knowledge!

The last thing to keep in mind is this, be positive about your skills. If you are not positive, think about the problems you have solved in the past. I am sure you have solved many problems! This will reinforce the fact that you can do it! Sounds corny but it works. For those days where this is a challenge or you are faced with a problem that seems overwhelming, do this. Celebrate your small successes. Most problems in IT can be broken into chunks. For example, if the network crashes, don’t panic and focus on the final end result of the network coming back up. Instead, celebrate the fact that the server rebooted and came back up,  then celebrate that fact that Internet access has been restored, then celebrate the fact that the users can now print. Now when it comes to the users not receiving email, you have already had some success in solving problems so you can relax and work on the Exchange Server knowing you have fixed some issues already.  If there are areas you are not feeling confident in go back to rule number two, but this time you might not have time to read a book. The second part of this is the key. If you are talking to other IT professionals on a regular basis, you should have a list of contacts you can call on when you have problems you can’t immediately solve, then go back and read up on the problem. If you keep good notes about your problems, this will be easy. Now, you have effectively done two things, firstly you have something you can read up on and secondly, you now have a story to tell other IT professionals about!

The simple truth is IT is all about attitude. If you are arrogant and portray the image that you know everything, you will be humbled quickly. If you approach IT humbly, sharing what you know with others, you will be respected and trusted. The problem with IT is there are far more of the first type of IT people than the second, my promise to you is to be the second type!