What tools do you use to succeed in tech support? Do you rely on a particular commercial (or free) database, Web site, CD-ROM, DVD, e-mail service, or book? If so, I invite you to join me in creating The Big List of stuff you need to succeed in tech support.
I'll start things off with my favorite four resources. If you'd like to add to this list, please post a comment below or drop me a note.
1. Downloads for learning and troubleshooting
Let's get the plug for the home Web site out of the way first. If you haven't yet visited TechRepublic's Hot Downloads page, wait no more. Help desk analysts and network engineers alike will find something they can use. I get great feedback every time I recommend this page, because it contains so many documents that can help you in tech support. I keep and share copies of the entire top 10.
For example, suppose a desperate user calls about a failed five- or six-year-old hard drive? Download "200 ways to revive a hard drive" and search for the brand name. The title may sound funny, and some of the stories are, but it contains testimony from TechRepublic members about their hardware troubleshooting successes. Among the top 10 most popular downloads, at this writing, you'll also find Word tips, keyboard shortcuts, and primers on Windows 2000 and TCP/IP.
I also recommend and use ZDNet Downloads a lot. It's an Internet classic.
2. Access books
As this column goes to cyberpress, Office XP is looming on the horizon. That fact doesn't matter to the users and small businesses that are clinging for dear life to their Access 97 installations. If you support all the other Office applications but haven't tackled Access yet, get your feet wet with the Access 97 Bible.
I met the authors, Cary N. Prague and Michael R. Irwin, when they were presenters at dBASE conferences. (Some of you remember those days!) If you're tired of using Northwinds as the sample database for Access lessons, you'll find the authors' sample business, Mountain Animal Hospital, a refreshing change of pace.
The authors present their lessons in a light, friendly writing style that readers who have no background in database applications will appreciate. They show you how to design tables and then lead you through the process of creating queries, forms, and reports. The book also covers the basics of VBA, introducing macros and events in forms and reports, switchboards, menus, toolbars, and dialog boxes.
Recently, a new Access book came into my life: Microsoft Office 2000 Visual Basic Programmer's Guide, by David Shank, Mark Roberts, and Tamra Myers. This book is the resource for information about the Windows API and other dynamic-link libraries, shared Office components, error handling, and debugging.
I bought this book because I was hired to work on an Office 2000 project. However, the client is considering waiting for Office XP, which means I'll probably have to buy (and learn to love) another book.
3. The Microsoft URLs you really need
I know this one should be a no-brainer, but I've met a lot of IT people who swear they never realized Microsoft offered free information online. Although Microsoft is notorious for orphaning links when they restructure their sites, there's one Microsoft URL that's easy to remember: http://support.microsoft.com. When you enter it, you'll get redirected to the latest incarnation of the KnowledgeBase interface.
The other "big" Microsoft support site is TechNet. There's no shortage of useful, free information posted on the site. However, the subscription-only DVD or CD products are among the best resources you can get, if you can afford them.
4. Walkie-talkie mobile phones
This tip is for IT departments of two or more people. The walkie-talkie mobile phones save time and money.
If you need to reach a teammate right away, you don't have to go to a desk to make the call or page. Nor do you have to pick up your cell phone and use valuable minutes calling your teammate's cell phone or pager. Just grab the phone (walkie-talkie), click, and talk.
I know some of you don't want to be that accessible. I laughed when it was suggested in my shop, but now I've seen how much time you can save using walkie-talkies instead of pagers or dialing cell phones.
Put in your two cents
What technical resources do you use in your work? To add to The Big List, please post a note below or write to Jeff.