When a trip to an end user's machine is necessary, there's no time for fumbling for the right tool. But many times, you arrive at the user's desk and find yourself unprepared to fix the problem. In an ideal world, you'd have everything needed at your fingertips—a sort of ultimate toolkit.
The search for what would comprise the ultimate toolkit started late last year when member Hunter French stopped by the Technical Q&A and asked for opinions of what tools he should buy for his support toolkit. We passed his question to the Support Republic at large in the articles "What do you carry in your toolkit?" and "Software for every support pro's toolkit." More than 300 members responded.
So what do most members seem to think is critical for the ultimate support tech toolkit? Let's take a look.
But what about…?
If you think our kit is missing something, tell us about it in the discussion below.
The right tool for the job
We couldn't possibly list every hardware and software tool that TechRepublic members said were critical to their jobs. However, some of the same tools seemed to be part of a common theme in the discussions. For example, there are apparently a number of techs who walk around with little more than a Gerber or Leatherman multitool.
For those of us who need a little more than that, here's the complete ultimate toolkit list.
Some of the following tools may require some creative shopping, but you can find most of them in your local hardware store. The prices I've listed are approximate.
- Multibit screwdriver with nut drivers—Get a ratcheting grip if you use these a lot or find yourself in tight places with limited movement. A nut driver is handy when someone buggers up the case screws before you get there. (These can cost anywhere from $6 to $25.)
- Needlenose pliers/cutters (straight and curved)—Even if you don't have fat fingers like mine, you can use these multipurpose tools to manipulate little wires and straighten tiny prongs. (These can cost from $6 to $30.)
- Hemostats—These function like needlenose pliers but have a locking mechanism, which is great for hanging on to jumpers or other small parts. (You can find these for $3 to $8 a piece at places like Widget Supply.)
- Parts claw/retriever—Never leave a dropped screw rattling around in a computer case. Get it out with magnet-end retrievers. (These cost $7.50 as part of a toolkit at RadioShack or check your local hardware store.)
- Small flashlight (optional accessories include headband holder, optic fiber extension)—One of these can put a little light on the subject, or use it to read those small part numbers. (You can find these for $10 or less at most electronics or hardware stores.)
- Small mirror on telescoping handle—This helps you to look around corners in tight spaces. (These are available for $6 at Autopart.com.)
- Tin or bottle with assortment of cable and PC screws along with motherboard jumpers—Support techs usually need plenty of screws and jumpers. Either they're missing from the user's PC when you arrived on the scene, or they just got away while you were working. (You can usually just scrounge some screws and jumpers off old equipment to save money. Reuse film cases or other small containers to hold them.)
- Multimeter—There are times when using one of these is the only way to find out if a part is working as it should. (These can cost $20 for a basic analog style and up to $400 for a digital Fluke.)
- Electrostatic discharge strap or pad—Save yourself the embarrassment of frying a chip with your electric personality: Use one of these. (They can cost between $6 and $70, depending on whether you buy a strap or a pad.)
- Paper clip—This is a multiuse tool for ejecting CDs and disks or prying key caps off stubborn keyboards (Check the office supply cupboard for a box of these.)
- Pen and paper—For recording preference and other settings, drawing jumper diagrams, or doodling while waiting for Windows 98 to restart again, a trusty pen and pad are indispensable. (This is another handy tool you can usually find in the office supply cupboard.)
- Phone and AC line testers—These are particularly useful in areas where utilities are questionable. (These can cost from $5 up to $99.)
Unlike the hardware tools in the kit above, software tools are more likely to be influenced by your specific hardware/software environment. While many of these tools are similar in function, some have distinct features and are worth mentioning. I've provided links to Download.com, Microsoft Q articles, or the manufacturer so you can find them.
Hard drive utilities
- WS_FTP or other FTP client
- WinZip or PKZIP
- Drivers for NICs, printers, etc.
- Antivirus definitions and scanner
- Browsers (Internet Explorer or Netscape)
- Acrobat or other PDF reader
Operating system specifics
- Disk image of OS
- OS CDs
- Windows service packs
- Windows CAB files
Testimonials from the fans
The list of potential hardware and software tools is endless, and many members wrote, lauding their particular choices. Here's what a few of them had to say:
- "One of the essential tools in my kit is a flashlight, so I use a Mini Maglite. I've also found a company that makes excellent accessories for this particular model. The company is called Nite Ize, and they make a host of different accessories for the Maglite and Mini Maglite. Two of their accessories I find very useful. One is an adjustable headband that fits the flashlight and allows hands-free use. The other is a fiber-optic adapter wand that fits the front of the light and is excellent for working in very restricted spaces, such as inside a computer case," wrote ScvikingB.
- "I have a very handy volt-ohmmeter. I let the office buy a Fluke, while I personally use the Japan-made Sanwa, which is cheaper but also reliable like the Fluke. This might be for non-U.S. techs because I think most U.S. electrical lines are relatively 'cleaner' than here in Asia. I use it to test voltage, continuity, etc., for many things. The ohmmeter is for the power supply components and for when changing UPS batteries, etc.," wrote Erliquigan.
- "I've found that the best way to carry [tools] is a CD player case that has a pocket for the CD player and headphones on the front half (put the multitool, screwdriver, flashlight, and other hardware there), and sleeves for CDs in the back half (for your software tools). Each half has a separate zipper to close it, so you've got both hardware and software in one nice package," wrote dlw6.
Different strokes for different folks
While our list will serve well the support generalist, you will probably want to customize it for your particular job.
John Knickerbocker writes that he carries a special screwdriver he uses for repunching wires. "Since I [work on] PCs, phones, and video conferencing, I need ISDN, RJ11, and RJ45 connectors," he wrote.
As a network engineer, Packet-geek totes around a different set of tools focusing on TCP/IP stack Layers 1 through 5. He carries both a Linux and Windows forensic CD. "These allow me to boot from a clean OS and examine all of the files on a drive for integrity and consistency and replace corrupted DLLs and executables, if needed," he wrote.
Another good example of specialization comes from Harleysbk, who wrote that he makes a lot of patch leads in his job. He carries a lead tester, crimp tool, wire cutter, and box cutter, along with spare RJ45 ends.
Harleysbk also has some of the best advice for anyone who carries around a tool bag, whether it's the ultimate support tech toolkit or not.
"The key for me is quality. If you are doing this stuff more than once a day, you want to make it worth your time," he wrote. "Don't skimp. The tools will last you forever, and you will feel like you are doing a good job."
Did we leave something off the list?
Take a look at our ultimate support tech toolkit and tell us what you think. Did we leave your favorite tool—which you think any support tech should have—off our list? Tell us about it in the discussion below.