Talking Shop: Techs share advice and sound off on support issues

Find out what issues were foremost in the minds of participants in a chat sponsored by TechProGuild

Yeah, you're an Admin, and sure, you love tweaking that network. But there's a darker side to your job, too. That's right. End-user support. On Dec. 14, 1999, Jeff Davis led a discussion on tips and tricks that make end-user support easier. Here are the highlights of the Guild Meeting. If you couldn’t join us then, we hope to see you on our next weekly live Guild Meeting .

Yeah, you're an Admin, and sure, you love tweaking that network. But there's a darker side to your job, too. That's right. End-user support. On Dec. 14, 1999, Jeff Davis led a discussion on tips and tricks that make end-user support easier. Here are the highlights of the Guild Meeting. If you couldn’t join us then, check this issue’s Bookmarks page for future meeting dates and topics. We hope to see you soon on our weekly live chat.

Moderator: Welcome to this week's Guild Meeting. Tonight, Jeff Davis, our very own expert-in-residence, joins us for an evening of end-user support tips and tricks.

JD: Greetings, everyone. I want to thank you all for checking out our Guild Meeting. I'm Jeff Davis, the community editor for the SupportRepublic section of TechRepublic, and I'll be your host and emcee for this evening. But enough about me. We're here to talk about end user support—tips, tricks, little tidbits of software trickery to help you and your users get work done quickly. Please feel free to say a little bit about yourself (job title, location, whatever) on your first post. TechRepublic has offices in San Francisco and Louisville, and I'm working from home this evening, courtesy of team TPG.

Q: Support Manager from a suburb of Philadelphia, PA.

Q: I manage over 400 end-user stations. My biggest headache is everyone wanting a customized desktop. Argh!

Do you need to lock down those desktops?
Q: Ditto. I manage about 2,000 desktops in a school system. Locking them down is a problem.

JD: Customized desktops? You know what I like to teach 'em? Here's how you do your own background. Here's how you set your screensaver. Other than that, I try to teach them hands off without authorization.

Q: Sound advice. There is a limit to Support. If you do it for them, you will be committed to them for life. Teaching them allows you to get back to the real issues.

JD: I teach a class once a month at a school way out in the country (so if the kids freak out, they have nowhere to go but cornfields!), a school where kids go when they get kicked out of their regular schools. Anyway, my friend (their counselor/teacher, has the same problem with a school of about 300. She uses a cheap desktop locker that works, though. (Padlock? GuardDog?)

Q: What about the use of policy editor? I have found it useful.

Q: Policies are nice, if you have an NT server. Not enough reason, in my opinion. I've found that IEAK gives me most of the lock downs that I need.

Q: Yes, I use policy editor, but we have Win95 on an NT network. System policy is weak. I supplement it with Fortres.

Q: I'm lucky that I have a good set of users, for the most part. I can handle the few problems on an individual basis.

Q: But all will be fixed soon. I just brought up my 2000 server and do all from there, including lockout of everything that needs to be taken out.

JD: Ah, 2000, the new system—where he or she who masters it the fastest rules!

White fonts on white backgrounds and other dumb user stories
Q: How about when they put a white font on a white background and then complain that their keyboard isn't working?

JD: (Shameless plug) We have a hilarious download on the site—the best dumb user stories of 1999 . I hated being the only person who saw them, so we published them in a collection. (Shameless plug)

Q: I chuckled through that collection the other evening!

JD: White font—haven't seen that in a while. I did witness a co-worker complain to our IT guy that there were spots all over his screen. The show/hide paragraph was enabled in Word. The spots were paragraph markers.

Q: My first week on help desk, I had a woman who complained about the cheesy coffee cup holder on her computer.

JD: Thanks for mentioning that! LOL at the cheesy coffee cup!

Q: The hardware requirements (and $$) become a barrier for schools to move to 2000. Yes, kids have done the white on white bit!

Q: I wanted to add my own: An elementary school principal brought her personal computer to be tested for y2k. She only brought the Monitor!!!

JD: I love working with these kids. When I did an Internet class, they wanted to search for pit bulls and Chevys. Of course, this is Kentucky, after all! : D.

Q: We get low riders in TX.

JD: LOL again at only the monitor! Send it to me via e-mail and I'll put it in the Q1 2000 collection. support@techrepublic.com .

Q: Cool! Will do.

Of Windows 2000
Q: The requirements aren’t much more than an overall system, and it makes the ability of terminal much easier with the Windows interface.

JD: What about upgrading end-user machines? Will 2000 clients need memory/hard drive boosts? Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Q: Only for the server.

Q: I heard 128mb for Win2K. No?

Q: No, a terminal can be a mid-range Pentium with 32 meg and able to use as much as PII.

Q: Has anyone tested it with a pure Novell network? 4.11 or 4.2?

JD: TechProGuild's own John Sheesley is doing those daily tests at TechRepublic in Louisville. Of course, he's only had pre-releases to play with, but he's making it rock from what I can tell.

Q: I thought much of the software would have to upped. Or is that just hype?

Q: My biggest complaint with NT WS 4 is that, on a pure Novell network, there are a lot of little things that make you want to scream.

Q: I tested Novell with Windows 2k.

JD: Are you moving everyone up to Office 2000, too?

Q: Actually yes, as I can get clients to get the funding up.

JD: Ah, the funding. The thing that always gets in the way of doing it right the first time.

Q: Lol.

Q: CFO's!!!

Q: Did you run into problems such as the computers taking 30 seconds to reconnect to the network if they're idle for 15 minutes or more?

Q: I haven’t seen the reconnect problems have more problems with my Novell 4.11 server.

Q: Really, mine are great. I only reboot them every 2 months because I want to.

In Office 2000, each document is a new nuisance—uh, instance—of Word
JD: Well, here's my take on Office 2000. I heard the VP of the Office group from MS say this in March in New Orleans: "Users don't use the Window feature [in Word], so that's why we made all new documents new Windows [instances of Word] in Word 2k." [Alt][Tab] is more commonly used than [Ctrl][F6], apparently.

Q: Now, if it is my Novell 3.12 server, I have no problems.

JD: I hate it. I don't like my stinking taskbar filled up with Word documents—just because I happen to open many documents at once on a regular basis.

Q: I only have one of those left.

Q: [Control][F6] is a long reach.

Q: Oldie, but a goodie.

To certify or not to certify
JD: So, by show of hands, how many of you have or don't have a current certification of some kind?

Q: Never bothered.

Q: That would be me.

Q: Does a teaching certificate count?

JD: Not really. Thank goodness for those "emergency teaching certs" I used to get in Ohio! : D.

Q: LOL! No certificates here then.

Q: No cert.

Q: Do not.

Q: Read a lot of books; then build another machine.

Q: I've taken the NT cores, but no tests. I already have the job, and they don't care.

JD: Me neither. Okay, there was the Wang VS 100 system administrator thing, but hey—put that on a resume and you get laughed out of the room.

Q: I agree. I'd rather spend the limited budget on classes, not tests.

JD: I am a firm believer in the OTJ certification. With all due respect to the paper MCSEs, experience rules.

Q: Yeah, but the tests show you know what you are doing.

JD: Or what you've memorized. (Whoa, did that come out?)

Q: Besides, after 2001, MCSE on NT 4.0 is no good. Can you say “money maker”?

Q: My junior help desk guy is the only one with an MCSE in our office, and yet I'm the one that does all of the computer configurations and hard troubleshooting. He's getting better, but no real world experience.

Q: A paper tech, but willing to learn.

Q: I have teaching certs in science, school administration, computer education. I gave it up to play network admin. Who needs more certs?

Q: MS makes you memorize what they believe is the best way. Then, you go to work and do it the right way.

Q: Novell does the same thing, though.

JD: I would submit that at least Novell doesn't discontinue support for its older products. They wait you out, hoping you'll eventually pop for that next X.y release.

Support: Greasy is a way of life
JD: So what does a young MCSE put in his "how I spent my day" diary? I think some of them think it's like being the manager at the burger doodle, and you don't have to get all greasy. Greasy is a way of life in computer support. Am I right, or am I right? 'r 'm I right? (Apologies to Groundhog Day.)

Q: Greasy and sweaty!

Q: Agreed!

Q: How do you deal with the corp users who stand over your shoulder when you're trying to make changes to their system and who think they know more than you!

JD: I wait until they leave to make the changes.

Q: I ask them why they called me to fix their system.

Q: Baffle them with BS and dazzle with quick strokes!

Q: If they get pushy, just let them fix it. Then take a long, long time really fixing it. They usually let you be the 2d time.

JD: Greasy and sweaty. Dazzle with quick strokes. You gotta love this crowd!

Q: We are popping—going to Novell 5 over Christmas break.

Q: OOOH right before the big Y2K.

Q: Novell is better than MS, for sure. But you have to upgrade to a NetWare 5 certification by next August.

What do you do for a living?
JD: Show of hands opportunity: Let's do job titles this time, if you don't mind. I’m a community editor (technical writer).

Q: Yeah, I'm just in the middle, between a paper pusher and a tech support who is fancier than I can deliver. I just smile and nod.

Q: Network Administrator.

Q: Support Manager (1st and 2nd level).

Q: Network Admin/Net Manager/ ITS (info tech spec)—they can't decide on a title.

Q: Programmer: Access 97.

Q: Network administrator.

Q: I think Network Admin, especially in smaller companies, is used to cover a very wide range of duties.

Q: Amen to the title thing. Communications Specialist????? Dude, we fix computers.

JD: "Dude, we fix computers." Sounds like the first line of a great book or movie!

Q: Amen!


Q: My official title is "technology technician," but I’m basically end-user support with some troubleshooting and a bit of network admin.

Q: Put out whichever fire is burning the hottest.

Q: I am just a laborer. When they need a PC fixed or the network is down, they drag me in from the field.

JD: We're about halfway through our Guild Meeting, and I want to thank you all again for stopping by. What a great crowd! Thank you for participating in my cyber shows o' hands.

I need your support
Q: Any words of wisdom, pearls of points, etc?

JD: Does anybody have any questions for the speaker? Support stuff? Training stuff?

Q: What's the best way to get users to read important emails?

Q: And follow instructions contained within?

Q: Exactly!

Q: So, it’s not just me or a lack of interesting e-mails?

Q: I don't think so. Most users can't get past the first line.

Q: Have you ever been in a situation where users ask you something and you don't know?

Q: Constantly.

Q: Every day.

Q: Sure! It's not knowing the answer but where to start looking for it.

JD: I think you have to say immediately, "You know, I don't know. I'd love to be able to turn this thing off and back on and it work, but that isn't going to work this time.”

Q: How do you get users to clean out their e-mail on the server?

Q: In Outlook, it can be set up to do that automatically.

How do I restrict access to the c: drive?
Q: I don't know if this interests anyone else, but after you lock the desktop, how do you keep the lovelies from opening IE and putting C:\ in the URL line and "reopening the computer" with their little fingers.

Q: Can't you put C: in a restricted site?

Q: Restricted site? Restricted by IE?

Q: Yes. Try IEAK.

Q: What's IEAK? I'm familiar with TWEAK, not IEAK.

Q: The Internet Explorer Resource Kit comes with IEAK. It allows you to build a custom IE5 and put it out on the desktop.

Q: Thanks, I'll look into it.

Q: It’s the best $55 or so I ever spent at work.

JD: The problem is that often you need the CD to install the IEAK because some goober has run off with the CD, leaving you with a "custom/short-shrift" install.

Q: I’m using a flat file up on the network in the public directory, not a CD, except to my remote sites. There, we send a CD and hide a copy on one machine.

Q: Do you have any tips on prioritizing large logs of support issues?

Q: In our NT network, we’ve been experiencing computers that are sharing printers on other computers, and they are losing the port. We have to go in and recapture the port so that they can continue to print. Any suggestions?

JD: Inconvenience versus paralysis. Quick example off the top of my head: can't print to the color printer but can print to the mono printer? Can't print invoices? Mission-critical right now. Which version of NT, which brand of printers?

Q: NT 4 and IBM printers.

How to keep students interested in training classes
JD: One of my favorite training techniques: Teach users to think of using software as if they're talking to a person. "Tell your electronic secretary to open that file? Which file, one of these? Oh, the one you're double-clicking on?" Make using software a dialogue instead of a process. This fall, I tried my hand at doing computer workshops. I advertised "learn to type faster, be a power user." You know what I got? People who couldn't TYPE!! I took their money and put on a good show, but we're lucky to get the users we DO get.

Q: We have a terrible time getting people to show up for training classes of any kind.

JD: You know what you've got to do? Feed 'em. Do a brown bag lunch and provide the lunch. Or bring in a pizza or something. "Lunch and Learn." And don't forget to give everyone who attends a little certificate. Did I mention that you could download a ready-to-use Word document (training certificate)?

Q: I tried that with the phones. (Did I mention that somehow Network Admin means Phone Admin as well?). But I didn't do a good job of selling it, I guess.

Q: I didn't provide lunch! That's what it was!

Q: The phone tech part is correct. They think you should be able to fix anything around the office.

Q: I have used many items from the download site. They’re very nice.

JD: For people who don't know how to double-click, three quick suggestions: 1) in Win98, enable single click; 2) slow down the mouse under control panel; 3) do finger calisthenics with the user—practice in the air, then attack the mouse.

Q: Talking a user through using the mouse (even when they take the dust cover off) is much harder than the keyboard was in DOS.

Q: They hand out drivers' licenses. I am going to suggest computer licenses.

Q: Put the computer back in the box and step away slowly. Nobody will get hurt!

Q: When I started, my boss told me never, ever to fix a fax or copier!

Q: At work, we use a Toshiba PBX system. Users think that it has to do with computers, when in fact we hired a guy to do that, but they bother me with the calls.

JD: The Toshiba PBX—do you do software adds and changes or what?

Q: I do on our Nortel system. But that is a confusing, archaic mess.

Q: I don't, but the tech who is in charge of that uses software provided by Toshiba to back up the PBX system and make changes.

JD: Ah, yes. I remember it well. I used to go to ROLM User Meetings—complain/whine sessions about ROLM, an excuse for a lunch out of the office.

Q: That is why I am here—so I can learn and learn and learn and get away from new users.

JD: So, ladies and germs (I wrote that), we're down to 10 minutes or so to go. Any specific questions? If not, I can pontificate some more about tech support and [Ctrl]S.

Q: Here's a good one. We place scotch tape on the bottoms of the mouse at work on new users and sometimes switch the 'm' and the 'n' keys.

Q: So, is it best to learn hands-on or school.

JD: Assume that they're scared. Play to their fear. Say, "You know what, I remember being scared of the thing because I hated it when it beeped at me. Boom! Instant relationship. Then, explain: “Now when I say, press [Ctrl] whatever, I mean hold down control like this.” Don't condescend, but be sincerely interested in helping them overcome the fear. FUD. It stymies many an otherwise adequate end-user.

Q: Learn to walk them through operations with the keyboard commands, even in Windows.

Q: Speak in plain English to them. Techie talk turns them away and they envision you with taped glasses and a whirly beanie on your head.

Q: Have you come up with a way to get users to read e-mails?

JD: Way to make 'em read e-mails—go through their managers. Make the managers paste in your text and send it under their names. People always read the stuff from their managers, for fear of missing something.

Q: Hmmm. I like that idea.

JD: Teach them [Ctrl][Enter]. You don't need no stinkin' www. or .com—not for common URLs.

Q: I do, but some days dealing with Internet users is not fun. Thank goodness for the mute button.

Q: Amen to that. I hope they never put in video conferencing!

JD: That's why I like the "you're talking to it" approach. I say, "To talk to a computer in the early days, you had to learn this insane DOS prompt language. Now, if you can READ and you can CLICK, you can follow the pictures.

Q: Let’s not go to the "if they can read" part.

JD: Search TPG for "Johnny" and you'll find an article I wrote about a user I was sure (like I'm qualified to be sure) couldn't read. There’s no doubt in my mind, the poor thing.

Q: I remember a lady who cussed me out because her new computer had a broken floppy drive. It turned out that she had folded a 5.25 and stuck the disk into a 3.5. The moral is that some days you can't win, but you can see the humor of the situation.

Q: Sorry, I am being nice. I have not started on the boss. That is a story in itself.

Office politics 101—why didn't I get a new computer?
Q: Do you get any users mad at you because someone next to them got a new computer and they didn't?

Q: Constantly! It’s office politics at its worst.

Q: Yeah! We had people drop their laptops on the pavement because they wanted a new one!

JD: Been there. We've literally resorted to using seniority in some cases to sidestep petty feelings.

Q: We had one lady who got a hand-me-down from the engineering department and would not use the keyboard because it was dirty. She was afraid of getting some kind of disease.

JD: Get out the Lysol!

JD: Folks, I want to thank my TPG colleagues for inviting me to host this chat. I've had a blast, and I hope you have too. We're going to wrap it up now, but I want to invite you to write to me at support@techrepublic.com . Send me any follow-up comments that you have about the chat or any suggestions for making future chats better. And let me know whether you'd like to chat with me again.

Q: This was great! See you next time!

Moderator: Thanks to all for joining! See you next time. Same bat time, same bat channel.

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