After Hours

10 newbie mistakes you can easily avoid in the field

New IT pros -- and even industry veterans -- sometimes make costly, embarrassing mistakes. Here are a few common missteps that are easy to avoid.

Remember when you were fresh out of college and you started your first IT job? Remember the mistakes you made that not only cost you time but maybe, in some cases, cost you respect? Those newbie mistakes can be easily avoided with just a bit of care, caution, and knowledge. Most important is simply knowing that they happen. Knowing is, after all, half the battle.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share some of the newbie mistakes I've either committed or witnessed over the years, so you can file them away under "Remember not to do this." I won't tell you which mistakes I've made and which I've witnessed, but I'm fairly certain you'll find at least one on this list that you've either committed or seen.

1: Where's the backup?

You're faced with a situation that requires the reinstallation of an operating system and you plow into that reinstall before taking a mental inventory of what has been done. You have account information, you have passwords, you have time. Unfortunately, as soon as you start the reinstallation, you realize you forgot one critical piece of the puzzle -- you failed to back up the user's data. Sure it's fine if that data is housed on a server, but not all networks are created equal and some user data resides alone on their client hard drive. If you forgot to back up that data, and you've reinstalled the OS, you're out of luck. At this point, it's time to start sucking it up and taking the punches you will inevitably receive.

2: What's the password?

One of the most commonly forgotten pieces is the password. That's okay if you're on an Active Directory domain and you know the domain administrator password. In that case, just reset the forgotten password and move on. But when you forget the domain administrator password, guess what? You've got a long, hard road to travel. The domain admin account must be remembered -- or documented. This is a mistake that can be made by anyone, not just a newbie. But don't put yourself into this position. You will wind up frustrating everyone involved (and possibly costing the client a lot of time and money).

3: What's your account information?

If you're dealing with a client and you have to blow away his or her Outlook profile (for whatever reason), make sure you have the account information before you delete the problematic profile. If the profile is bad and won't let you open Outlook, get the profile information from the Mail tool in the Control Panel. Along these same lines, make sure end users know their password, especially if you don't control the mail server.

4: You forgot to bring what?

You've driven to your client, only to realize you forget to bring along a crucial item to the appointment. At that point, it's time to turn around, grab the forgotten hardware, and hope you can make it back in time to finish the job. I've even seen engineers leaving for appointments without the computer they were supposed to deploy. Do whatever you can to avoid this. It makes you look really bad and costs you precious time (but shouldn't cost the client money).

5: Was that your production server?

Before you do something you're unsure of, find out if the machine you're about to work on is a production server. If so, do you really mean to begin the process you're about to undertake? Or should you be doing it on a non-production machine first? This could have serious, long-term ramifications (of the type that causes you to lose clients -- and income).

6: You deleted what?

You've seen the look on your clients' or end users' faces - that look they get when they realize you deleted an irreplaceable file that had no backup. That look will haunt you. Before you delete anything that might be remotely of worth, verify it with the end user. If they give you the green light, trash that baby. Otherwise, keep it. Many times, I'll create a folder and dump what I think could be deleted into it for the user to pick through at a later time.

7: How could you forget to reboot?

You did updates on either a client or server machine, you thought you were done, and you walked away without a reboot. Unless you're working on a Linux box, most likely that machine will need a reboot --especially after a major update. Granted, most times you will be notified the reboot must happen. But sometimes we dismiss those warnings to finish something else and forget they were ever there. Big mistake. If you don't reboot, all those changes won't take effect.

8: Why did you reboot without warning?

In the same vein, when you reboot a server, you'd better make sure you warn all users. You never know if someone is in the middle of some critical work. Or what if users are all connected to QuickBooks and you reboot? That could spell damage to a data file. Always, always, always get permission to reboot before you do. And verify that everyone has disconnected from whatever they were doing on the server.

9: How many DHCP servers did you set up?

That's right -- more than once, I've seen engineers setting up a router, complete with DHCP server, on a network where a server was already charged with handing out DHCP addresses. We all know what happens to a network when this occurs. Chaos. If you're about to roll out a new router on an already established network, make sure you know the purpose of that router. Is it supposed to just serve as a wireless access point? Is it supposed to take over DHCP? Know the details before you cross those streams.

10: Why didn't you register that software?

One of my least favorite tasks is registering and validating a QuickBooks installation. After spending the time to get the software installed and to get all the clients reading the data file, the last thing I want to do is have to call Intuit and get the validation code. But I do it...without fail. Unfortunately, this (and similar issues of registering software) falls by the wayside all too often. What happens when this occurs? The client winds up having to handle the registration. Or they neglect to do it and 30 (or so) days after you did the installation, you get a call from the client asking for your help registering said product. When you have to make a trip out to register software, this is (or should be) on your dime.

Other mistakes?

We all make mistakes -- some worse than others. But certain mistakes can and should be avoided, not only to keep from looking like a noob, but to retain both respect and clients. Although the mistakes on this list might look like things you would never do, think back on your early years and give yourself an honest evaluation. Did you make any of those mistakes? Share your experiences -- and cautionary tales -- with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

20 comments
Beothuk
Beothuk

I'd tend to agree - except for maybe the bit about backups on the local HDD. Before we decided to lock down access to the HDD, we had a policy that told people "do not save anything whatsoever to your HDD - especially if it is mission critical". We also told them that their PC could be rebuilt at any time without notice in order to effect a repair. When we had to reinstall OS, we would do so, as advertised, without noticed. Occasionally users would come to us about a missing file which, it turned out, they had saved on their HDD. We would look all innocent and ask why they saved it there since they knew it was contrary to company policy and that local HDDs were never backed up. We'd leave them to stew for a half day or so fretting about their lost, mission critical file. Then we would tell them that we had backed it up before the re-install but that they couldn't count upon us remembering to back up next time.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

.. at one point or another. When I was a student, newbie and even a long time pro, except for the DHCP thing. One just has to be more careful.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Like many others, I have been known to toss a few tools back into the truck and slamming the door. Over fourty years of experience, I have seen just about every kind of fault and just as many user failures. The trend today is a bit better, my major client has set up their machines so any user can use any machine just by plugging in their USB RAM drive and booting up. This means that all machines are identical and eases the repair when you have lots of spare parts for testing. Backups?? Too many users think that it gets done for them after hours. Far too often, those disks get lost and leaves the user to request them from the mfgr. Back ups should be done weekly and daily of your data can not be reproduced. Having recently retired, I find that my hair is actually starting to grow back. Who knew??

gscratchtr
gscratchtr

"sure, it's ok to delete that", I take a copy anyway. what's the worst that could happen: I eventually have to delete it for the disk space. what's the best that could happen: "hey, remember that file I told you you could delete? you didn't actaully delete it, did you?"

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

I am not part of our IT staff, I am a programmer on one of our products but people know me and know I used to be an independent consultant so every once in a while I get these. (I Quit as an independent because of health issues. ) I get a panic call from the admin-assistant of our President, there is a board meeting, IT has been trying to fix the computer for an hour, the parts are scattered on the floor of the board room and every IT person who has looked at it has failed. (Why they didn't just swap in another PC I don't know, maybe they tried and it didn't work either, clue 1 guys.) Can I take a look at it and fix it fast. Yup the computer is in pieces, the hardware IT guys say it's the mother board or power supply, the software guys want to re-install everything. SO I go to basics, does it have power. Um light on the power bar is out, might be just the light blown, lets try plugging something else into the wall socket, the old overhead projector is right there, try it. nothing, it works in another outlet. Fuse was blown. Me and the president of the company go to the fuse panels in the bowls of the building and yup the breaker is thrown, I let him turn it back on, we go back and the IT guys are trying to hide. It was hilarious. The president now calls me by my first name anytime we pass in the hall.

jwlinson
jwlinson

Biggest mistake I've made is not listening to the end user concerning their problem. Many times I'll hear their discription of the problem and immediately jump to a solution, work towards that solution, and find out... nope, wrong solution. Now I try to listen to their complete description of the problem and not jump for the first "obvious" solution. I also ask further questions to try to narrow down what it could and could not be, and go from there. Saves loads of time in the end.

DuarTech
DuarTech

The worst instant of an imature rookie mistake that I have witness was seeing my manager, from a previous employer, that I interviewed to get hired, effedUp! a Citrix CAG by never simply looking that the problem was a loose net cable on the back of the machine. It cost us the price of a replacement... Way to go IT Manager!

kelly.jacobson
kelly.jacobson

Too many times individual users are pushing their agenda for what they want or think needs to be fixed or changed. Be sure you have agreed with the company who is authorized to give you direct and only go by what that person says. If others approach you, have them talk to your contact.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

Before you start document everything you need to do to the system and continue documenting as you go along. I even document at the bottom things I want to do to the system once it is fully functional. I also document the local account username (if its not on a domain) to a system before I wipe it; then on reinstall I add a 1 to the username....over the years I have found that if the username has changed there is a greater likelihood that anything in the old user folder may be recoverable (but maybe its just superstition). "Where is the backup?" is right, but having a backup does not mean that you are out of the woods...after backing up or after being given a backup I always verify using a random sampling of files that they open and match the original data. Don't be afraid to speak up and voice your concerns to the client, not doing so is your fault and they will respect you for it.

tony.reid
tony.reid

My pet hate is seeing new techs (and old) getting visibly angry and wound up at users.

Da Saint
Da Saint

I have always asked as soon as I walk in IF they even do a backup and if so, where and how is it done. It's always amazed me that people have the utmost trust in their computer that they believe that it will always work and their data will always be available. USB drives in both flash & portable formats are too cheap nowadays NOT to have a backup. I follow the 3-2-1 rule - 3 copies, in 2 differnet formats, with 1 offsite.

tmccaff
tmccaff

I've been in IT over 30 years, and started out on a telecom test board way back when (for you young folks, the testboard was akin to a HelpDesk). Made several mistakes in my time, and the most valuable lessen I ever learned was to fess up immediately, and then get busy fixing the issue.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I committed these acts time and again during my first year in the IT biz. In my defense, I was thrown into the job on my own, so I have definitely learned from my failures, haha. Fortunately I work with some very understanding people who didn't and still don't give me a difficult time when I mess up.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

Before reinstall OS in a client computer, I always Backup all docs to an external hard drive and dvd

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

If I had a dollar for everytime I got a call from a user who just says "It doesn't work'. Er, what doesn't work? "There was this message". Uh, what message? etc etc. Users just don't articulate the issue well enough.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

Make this contact the ONLY point of contact. You do not want to be servicing a client's office and have 30 people approach you to ask you if you could look at their system or is the email server back online again. All requests for service by phone, email or in person should go through one and ONLY one contact.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Even today, after over 35 years, I sometimes have to tell the customer "I'll be back," and go outside to turn the air blue or throw rocks at inanimate objects. I don't usually lose it with the users, though. What usually sets me off is installing a repaired/reburbished part that turns up DOA...after one or more previous parts have done the same!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

A mechanic friend of mine got a phone call from one of his regular customers: "My car won't start." "Is it turning over?" "I don't know. It doesn't make any noise at all." "Okay, tell me where you are and I'll be right there." Mike the mechanic drove up Madison Ave to 123rd St to his customer's location...to find the car on blocks, completely stripped. Nothing left but the welded panels!

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