Leadership

Video: Five dumb mistakes IT pros make in the field

Bill Detwiler discusses five of the worst mistakes IT pros can make in the field and gives you some advice on how to avoid them.

No matter how technically proficient you are, even the sharpest IT consultant or support pro is going to make a mistake every now and then. Most mistakes are recoverable, but you definitely want to avoid ones that could lose you clients and customers. During the episode of TR Dojo, I go over five of the worst mistakes IT pros can make in the field and give you some advice on how to avoid them.

For those who prefer text to video, you can click the Transcript link that appears below the video player window or read Jack Wallen's article, "10 really dumb mistakes to avoid in the field," on which this video is based.

You can also sign up to receive the latest TR Dojo lessons through one or more of the following methods:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

105 comments
TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

Not backing things up before making changes is probably one of the Biggest things that cause IT people grief.

leo8888
leo8888

I just worked on a clients WinXP box where I had to migrate data from an old users profile to a new one for a new employee. The new employee had already been working under the old users profile for some time and setting up their own programs and preferences. After creating the new user I copied the old users data using Windows built-in utility for copying a user profile. Everything was looking good until the next day when the user found that all her Outlook folders were missing. I found out the hard way that Windows copied most but not all the data from the old profile. Unfortunately we had already deleted the old users profile folders and defragged the drive because everything seemed to be working well, we had tried all the programs she used on a daily basis but forgot to check Outlook before deleting the old folders. Then I found out that the backup of Outlook she thought she was making to her server every week was not working so we could not recover any data. I felt really bad for losing her emails and contacts and on top of that I spent well over an hour using recovery software to try to get back the old .pst file and I could not charge for my time. After seeing this article I just had to share my dumb mistake to try to make myself feel a little better.

shawn.shutt
shawn.shutt

I would say that from my experience and learnig trail by error it would be all of the above as a mistake...

mfrburke
mfrburke

Making "the change" - whatever it is - during normal working hours w/o taking heed that people you need to be working are working & will be adversely affected by your actions even though you told them what you were doing & when you were going to do it. You work for them, not the other way around.

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

They are either IT rookies or IT professionals.

jefferson.harris
jefferson.harris

This shouldn't be labeled IT Pros but IT desktop support. The vast majority of IT pros are not dealing with desktop issues.

cranky_paranoid
cranky_paranoid

You only need to learn that lesson once. Very disappointed user, he was.

tom_housden2k8
tom_housden2k8

One of my clients' daughters' bought him a new computer for Christmas, from Mesh. His old computer was Windows ME, and the new one was Windows 7! Documents backed up and transferred fine, emails transferred and set up fine, hardware - different story! He had to get a new router, and a new printer, which I had overlooked! It's only 2 things I didnt foresee, but it could have cost me a client!

jbhardman
jbhardman

It might just be my line of work but I see a lot of people that are over confident in their skills and screw something up. They then refuse to admit it was something they did. So, the most common thing I see if blaming others/something else for problems they've caused.

Craig_B
Craig_B

Many times new IT personel simply listen to what the end user is saying. Example: End User "My computer doesn't work I need you to reinstall program X". Turns out program X is not the problem at all. Asking the proper questions up front helps understand what the user needs and how best to troubleshoot a problem.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

I'd like to personally thank everyone for sharing stories of their IT mistakes. Keep them coming! And, I'll admit that I've made them all at least once.

ks2problema
ks2problema

Please tell your advertisers to CAN the audio auto-play in their animated adverts or I will be forced to stop visiting Tech Republic. Seriously, I can't believe TR allows such ads! So wrong.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I spent a lot of time trouble shooting a problem that I had created because I relied on my memory because the documentation was not accessible at the time. Taught me that I'm not as smart as I thought I was. Bill

davidthornton
davidthornton

... that I should have known better than to do: We had just upgraded our graphics department computers to the latest version of a desktop publishing app after a brief testing period that went without problems. I got a call from the manager saying that they had a problem job file, so I went to take a look. I verified the problem on the one machine and was about to check it on another machine to see if it was specific to the machine or to the file; the manager told me that they had checked it on other machines and it had worked fine, it was only the one. So I proceeded to spend the better part of two days trying to get that one machine to work... reinstalled the app, same problem. Reinstalled the OS, same problem. Wiped the HD & reinstalled everything. Same problem. Nothing worked. Then I did what I should have done in the first place and tried it on another machine, and it displayed the same issue. Grrrr! Turned out they had only checked the file on one other machine that had not been upgraded. Rolled the department back a version, and all was well. Trust your users, but do your own troubleshooting.

john_mattson
john_mattson

Blessed are the pessimists, for they hath made backups.

fredb
fredb

Not communicating a change and the effects of the change to the people who are affected by the change before making the change.

renodogs
renodogs

Succumbing to the screams and pleas for mercy from your friends, "I don't know how to set this up, could you help me?" If you allow this person to dupe you into their illiterate fold, you will be their tech slave for eternity. Nothing will suck the life blood of your soul and waste more of your time than a friend who is ignorant about anything with a power cord AND a non-payer to boot. To equivocate, it is the same as teaching an illiterate adult to read. It is not good for the reputation, the blood pressure, or your psyche. In short- when this request pops up, state that you are "...extremely busy with well paying customers, please call ________

JonGauntt
JonGauntt

Learn to say, "I don't know... I'll be right back and I'll make sure it is taken care of." And then make sure you have either good contacts that can get you an answer or have been actively practicing your GoogleFu. Some "customers" (because Users get such a bashing) are not always happy with this answer, but when you deliver the goods, they learn to trust you. Next time you are called they will know that you may not know instantly how to take care of everything, but that you are going to make sure you take care of them. At the end of the day, it's better to have a growing base of people that trust that you can take care of them than it is to spout off what you think they want to hear, especially when you aren't certain if it is right or not.

dayen
dayen

I have been an IT for near 40 years self taught most of the time. I did take a class once windows had just come out and I wanted to know more. I had the fortune to have the 3 dummies IT in the class. I learn a lot from their mistakes. On hardware one could set a computer on fire in no time and claim it wasn't anything he did, the next one though he could remember everything he did no note no pic. The last one was an A student with ego to match well even among these I was dead last in class. Mister A got the first job with a major company and had a server problem well we all know formatting the drive and reinstalling the OS always works. Well he didn't make a backup and no redundant server I would like to have been there when he walk up to the front desk and ask for their backup. None ever made that why they hired him. I still didn't have a job in IT tell the mainframe went down on the night shift all the tech were on the other side of the city if was very bad night and I was a computer user and we were losing $6000.00 a min they new I taken the class just said what can you do I had us up and running in 15 min not a brag here just a little knowledge now I was the unofficial night shift tech support. Do I make mistakes yes but I never lost DATA do I backup yes I also take pic of all setting on the client computer some have accounts information that must be save suppose to be in a book my rule is if you didn't back it up it not, if you don't save setting and account information you didn't do your job I make a backup of client computers it take extra time but I have all files if it goes wrong. I would spent many more hours if I didn't

tbmay
tbmay

I have many bosses now and I work DIRECTLY for the people paying me; however, they call me because I know how to do what they don't know how to do. This is not meant to brag as we all have our areas of expertise; however, in IT it does cause conflicts and your attitude begets a notion among some users that IT needs to be their little trick ponies and if they don't give them everything they want, they should be terminated. If I've heard it once I've heard it 1000 times, "Can't you just......." Usually the answer is "No." A certain business owner, a client of mine, insists on debating with me about everything I do regarding security. Even down to the need for passwords. Yesterday he called me to inform me his laptop had been stolen and he wanted me to see the thief couldn't get into his VPN. I revoked the client certificates but even if I hadn't the thieves would have to know two layers of passwords before they could do any damage. My client did nothing but complain about these layers.....until yesterday. My point is this attitude you and many others have regarding working for them needs be put in to proper context. I work for them but I DON'T tell them what they want to hear if they want to hear falsehoods and bull and I DO tell them I refuse to sign my name to certain things and we agree to part ways. You'd be surprised how many end up coming back.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

no the 'users' are my work colleagues and I do not work for 99% of them. They all work for the same company as I do.

snideley59
snideley59

We should listen to the desktop side guys. They are the ones that are up close and personal with the clients. While they may not know as much about the infrastructure as we almighty gods in our alabaster tower, if they screw up, it affects a desktop. If I screw up, it affects the entire infrastructure. We're all ultimately dealing with the inability of the desktop user to effectively do their jobs. My guys in the field and myself server side collectively solve a problem, which makes the system work. So what's up with this? "This shouldn't be labeled IT Pros but IT desktop support. The vast majority of IT pros are not dealing with desktop issues. " Elitists are part of the problem, not part of the solution. People with your attitude are many of the reasons why the poor dude in the field can't solve the issue that they are out there dealing with. Those of us with a tier 2/3 status are there to teach as well as solve. All IT issues start at the desktop and get solved sometimes there, but sometimes higher up. If I fat finger a DNS entry, it shows up client side and I fix it. Lose your arrogance man. We all have feet of clay. Dan

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You ask me, if an IT pro isn't dealing with desktop issues, he's not IT, but IS.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Whyinell did he need a new router for an OS change? Only reason I can think is he ran out of ports.

tbmay
tbmay

...that's not unique to I.T.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Nobody's perfect. Man up and admit your mistakes. Or Woman up, as the case may be. Either way, have the 'nads to take responsibility for your actions. See also my post here. edit: peculiar punctuation

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

In fact, I don't trust any experienced tech that tells me he hasn't made any of these mistakes. I figure if he'll lie about that, he'll lie about other things too.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Documentation Communication Education Nothing plagues bad IT worse than a lack of any or ALL of these. The job security mentality and non-team atmosphere keeps tasks/projects and day to day work a chore. Post #50 by Ian was on point. Every corporation should follow those steps. Might take a little longer to implement but doing this in an organized, and monitored manor makes life easier for everyone. "No ticket, no work" (make sense)

four49
four49

Firefox with AdBlock is a wonderful thing. The internet would be unbearable without it.

freaknout
freaknout

Im sorry, did you say something? I couldn't hear you over the ad? Seriously agree here dude. That ranks up there with the most annoying thing anywhere.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I have left companies and found out later that the staff still used the documentation I wrote.

tbmay
tbmay

...is little more than lack of time. Before I was independent, documentation was a luxury. Now I work it into each project and the client is billed for it.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I spent 2 weeks off and on uninstalling and reinstalling Acrobat and Office because a user put a ticket in saying she needed Acrobat reinstalled because she was having issues creating PDFs. I finally ignored the user, researched the issue and found the answer in 15 minutes. Always trust your own instincts.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I don't trust other techs even and when I pass something off to someone else I tell them what I did, but I suggest that they double check it. I know that I get too wrapped up in a problem sometimes and make mistakes. It's nice to have someone to double check or bounce idea's off of when I am really stuck. Bill

freaknout
freaknout

I have taken to telling everyone who calls, I only know some other operating system they have never heard of before and have absolutely no idea how (insert their operating system here)actually handles that. Worse yet, the last time I tried to help so & so they ended up buying a whole new system

tjackson
tjackson

I agree 100% Better to admit you are not all knowing - than to pull an answer out of your behind and lose customer credibility. Be honest, be thorough, always check before you call it "done", and remember that many times you can learn something new from just about anyone!

mike
mike

Could not agree more with this. I have built more trust and repeat business being honest about what I do and don't know.

jjmmhh
jjmmhh

Customers appreciate the honesty and will reward you with call backs.

pen5rod
pen5rod

Many IT Pros work on servers, workstations, and mainframes or industrial/medical systems that run on them. Some spend most of their time on printers/mopiers.

tom_housden2k8
tom_housden2k8

I didn't make that clear enough! His broadband modem worked on ME, but not on 7, so had to get a router

andrew.mcwhirter
andrew.mcwhirter

For IE users who are sick of the flashing GIFs and pointless ads, help is at hand: http://simple-adblock.com/ Using it for a week and it's like being back in the 90's when websites just had CONTENT... The on-topic bit: made or seen made ALL of the mistakes talked about. At the end of it, you hose down the flames as best you can, pick yourself up, dust off and file it away as experience... One that DOES ring very true is watching these young whipper-snappers try to race to a solution instead of being methodical. I'm constantly amazed that they scroll through pages of config files or code as fast as the screen will scroll, like they're expecting the problem 'bit' to be highlighted in red and flashing for them (bit like those ads we started talking about!)

kferraro
kferraro

I just posted this complaint on another of Bill's posts. Come on TR - get rid of them. On a funny note - why is MS using Flash instead of their own product Silverlight? And hey, if I was using an iPad, I wouldn't even be having this problem, WTG Apple.

ian
ian

Good documentation can take hours off a project. I've seen too many techs, spend too long, trying to figure out what they or someone else had done last month tothe same piece of equipment or software. The company that I worked for (20 years), before going solo, had a very strict change management policy. For changes, upgrades etc. the change had to be justified possible business impacts were noted a time window was scheduled acceptable to all stakeholders - other departments, clients etc. a plan needed to be in place prior to starting a back-out plan needed to be in place prior to starting go/no go checkpoints were in place through-out the time window the change was carried out tests were made by all stakeholders - apps etc. documentation was completed. For emergencies customers, clients,end-users notified if it impacted them a conference call was opened for all involved a log was kept of all actions escalation to the next level at specific time frames In both scenarios, someone had ownership of the situation. a debrief the next day into cause and resolution. The issue remained open and was addressed in the daily meetings until all questions were answered satisfactorily For end user problems, a ticket was opened. Nothing is worked without a ticket. the problem was identified a fix was applied, be it repair, reconfigure or re-educate the fault and repair is documented before the ticket is signed off. There were statistics drawn for number of tickets, response time and resolution time so it was important to get the documnetation in. The client closed the ticket, so there was no cheating. I have used the same concepts in my private business and it is extremely effective and gets high client appraisal.

kferraro
kferraro

One of my favorite techniques is to ask the user to show me, either in person or while I am desktop sharing via VNC. User error can never be ruled out and if you use the show me technique you can see all of the steps leading up to the problem as well as the actual error messages.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

was with his use of "the vast majority." It's possible a majority of IT pros don't directly support desktops, but all those networks, servers, and printers are there to support the desktop user, no matter if that use is on a PC, thin client, or handheld.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

An internet connection is not (or should not be) OS-specific: TCP/IP is TCP/IP no matter whether you're running MS-DOS, Win7, or Ubuntu 10.04. If he had a good connection with WinME, a correctly configured Win7 should have had no problems connecting. I've connected PCs with several different distributions of Linux, Win98, Win 2K, and WinXP directly to the same DSL modem (not all at the same time, of course) with absolutely no problems whatsoever. All you probably needed to do was update the firmware in the modem or disable IPv6 in Win 7.

tcarlson
tcarlson

Ah yes I worked for EDS too. Great system.

enquiries
enquiries

Professor Dan: it is like a doctor's or detective's job, but i think much more like a doctor's. We are confronted with symptoms and eliminate hypotheses by finding more symptoms and testing solutions. A detective's work is more vague i think and involves more hunches and guesswork in the early stages. There's a further analogy with doctor's since the subject matter is very complex (in our case computers, in their case human beings) and our knowledge is limited. As for silly mistakes, i would add: touching the computer before the customer does in your presence. You've come in to fix a very slow computer, begin with a disk cleanup, and *poof* - the whole thing dies. Not a good look, especially when the user tries, in a case of selective memory, to argue that "it wasn't that bad" . Basically you don't know just how sick the computer is and you want to see the customer recreate the error or demonstrate the symptoms in front of you. At this stage i even make suggestions what it could be so that if the worst happens, then i have already mentioned possible causes.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

The first I do when I walk to a user's desk is to do exactly what you said. Show me, recreate the error. I see our jobs like detectives or doctors. We gather information, do research, develop theories, eliminate them until we come up with what we believe is the problem and then we test our theories. I teach at a technical school and one of the things i try to instill on my students is problem solving skills.