After Hours

Put a camera in your kit

Computer support is all about having the right tools. Any IT shop worth its salt is going to have a basic complement of equipment, but what else should be on your workbench? Here's why a digital camera needs to be within reach.
Computer support is all about having the right tools. Any IT shop worth its salt is going to have a basic complement of equipment, but what else should be on your workbench? Here's why a digital camera needs to be within reach.

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There are lots of tools that come to mind when one is trying to outfit the ideal computer service center. Personally, I am a big fan of those precision screwdriver sets. You know the ones that let you apply pressure to a pivoting button on one end while your other fingertips turn the driver's shaft. They are great for disassembling laptops. After you have your screwdrivers though, and all the other obvious equipment, you should make sure that your techs have access to a digital camera. It might not immediately occur to anyone that the help desk might need one, but a point-and-shoot can come in really handy...

...for documenting a hardware disassembly. Snap a shot of each part you remove and where it fits. The camera's review mode will let you step through the process in reverse. Never have leftover screws again! ...when meeting new clients. Take a picture of your contact person in the client office and share that photo with your colleagues. Every tech that might need to service that site will be able to recognize the customer contact immediately. ...if you need evidence. Once, I was sent to work on a machine that some joker had filled with hot glue. Every cable, every port, every internal component was stuck tight. I shot a photo to show the client why we wouldn't be servicing that box. ...when you can't find a pen. Shoot a picture of a machine's serial number or the Microsoft Product Key label. ...for getting a second opinion. I was able to take pictures of a weird problem with an Apple iMac's LCD. The iMac is an all-in-one computer, so swapping displays was not an option. I sent the photos to an Apple service center, and they confirmed that the problem was a failure of the integrated video board.

These are just a few of the uses that I have had for a digital camera while on the job. I am sold on the value of having one close at hand, but what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

35 comments
dpresley_50201
dpresley_50201

Using digital cameras on the job brings all sorts of privacy and security issues with it. It's best for the technician to consult with the customer detailing what the camera will be used for and how it will be used. Generally the customer will allow the camera's use only under specific circumstances and in areas not regarded as sensitive. I know this should be common sense, but it's amazing how often the precautions are ignored. Get the customer's OK before using any picture recording device to cover your rear end.

rmagahiz
rmagahiz

You don't need tons of megapixels on a camera used for this, in fact it tends to make the file sizes bigger than you really want anyway. More important is the close focussing distance (so-called macro mode setting) where you will be spending the great majority of your time in just the ways you mention.

flausher
flausher

Points mentioned, plus some others that I have just looked back on and thought "yeah, that would have come in handy there" have made me want one for our department. brilliant idea. Really simple, I like it =)

ChedDesro
ChedDesro

I have also found the inclusion/use of a digital camera to be invaluable. "A picture is worth 1000 words" is never truer than when it documents the BEFORE and AFTER of a major project - especially the reorganizing of a wire closet, office renovation, etc. Then a nice slideshow of these pics will really impress the boss/client, and serve to document the important work that we do and progress we make. Keep up the good work, and keep the ideas flowing. Peace.

TonyG324
TonyG324

I work for a company that has 200+ field locations. We have an overall network infrastructure upgrade in progress (new switches, routers, racking, etc.). One of the things we require from the 3rd party tech's doing the install is that they photograph the completed install. We then take the pictures from each location and couple it with the other documentation for the location. Our NOC is outsourced to a company on the other side of the world. Not all field locations have an identical set-up. When troubleshooting a problem at a field location, having a visual representation of the equipment really helps the network support person, especially when the local, non-tech contact at the field location needs to be walked through checking physical connectivity and power to the equipment, etc. Also, we can use the pictures to verify that the install was done correctly. We???ve had one case were we determined the tech had plugged some of the equipment into a wall outlet instead of the ups and another case where some of the equipment was incorrectly labeled. Without the pictures, we probably would have never known either had happened.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The family got a camera for Christmas 2006 and I got one for myself. It's come in extremely handy; two pictures have completely justified the cost.

gbrownsword
gbrownsword

I totally agree. Just 2 days ago, I wanted to show a friend what I did with their pc. I took some pictures of the error messages, screenshots of setting changes, and inside the tower of the conditions and upgrades. Saved valuable time explaining by just showing them!! Will use a camera for now on!

ibennieb
ibennieb

With todays camera-phone, you should be able to do the same with that. I've had to send workstation setups, motherboard configurations and back room printer/fax setups and I did just fine with my cellphone camera. The first job I did was POS setup and the company specifically required us to have camera-phones. So just make sure that your camera-phone takes a good low light picture of the inside of a computer, and it comes out clear when you email to your computer or where ever it has to go.

ashokk
ashokk

Phone Camera is not only helpfull is capaturing images of IT related i used it once to record under my car during a jack wash was helpfull.

chandu_shah
chandu_shah

Very helpful tip. I will make point of carrying one with me.

tlccomputers
tlccomputers

I agree with William on this one. I included a digital camera in my toolkit quite some time ago, and find it very useful for documenting each phase of an install project, as well as initial condition of systems I'm asked to service, and condition when complete, in case there are questions about level of service performed. On a side note, I have also run into computers that had all components hot-glued in place. I worked for a while as production and service manager for a small custom builder in the midwest. My predecessor used some of the cheapest cases he could find to build his systems in order to keep production costs down, and would hot-glue the components because after a short while, shoddy rivets on the cases would become loose, causing any movement of the case to dislodge a board from its socket if they were not glued in place. Makes up for the cheap cases short term, but woe unto the tech who has to subsequently work on that system and replace boards.

mikevoor
mikevoor

I have had remote clients E-mail shots of their machine so that I can talk them through which part to replace. I use a camera to document remaining bulb life on LCD projectors that are under warranty. The manufacturers require it for replacements. I also keep photos of server rooms so that I can direct remote users to data switches and particular servers in large cabinets.

jsaubert
jsaubert

I keep a digital camera in my work bag for just such uses. My dad did a similar thing while he was working for Motorola in the 70s & 80s. He would take photographs of wiring closets, consoles being put together and just about anything else that might have to be disassembled or repaired later. When he'd mail them to the home office for one of the secretaries to keep filed and he'd also send copies to the designers or manufactures to show flaws or problems he encountered. He told me started taking the pictures because it was easier to right off film and postage then trying to get a whole crew of people to an offshore oil rig.

jim
jim

In addition to my regular digital camera and cellphone camera, I lucked into a handy little tool awhile back. It's a digital intra-oral camera(USB) - the kind dentists use to record images inside patients' mouths. Very handy thing for "seeing" into nooks and crannies where eyes and conventional cameras can't go. I also carry a couple of dental mirrors, a small pocket mirror, and a small "gorillapod" with flexible legs. They've all earned their places in my permanent kit.

tonyj_stirling
tonyj_stirling

Similar to Jim's post above, I've found cameras to be great when a piece of kit is located in such a position that it's impossible to maneuver your body to be able to see the back/front/side, and it's more hassle than it's worth to remove or disassemble the kit. In that situation, it's often a great benefit to be able to stick your hand in an appropriate position and get a quick photo that tells you what you need to know.

kenyon.c.norseth
kenyon.c.norseth

Just be ready to take it out when you go to a location where cameras are not allowed. Even Cell phone cameras can be forbidden

wfs1946
wfs1946

Depending on the location and the severity of your need for a picture, such as customer abuse, maybe relocating the pc to take the picture could be an option.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You probably wouldn't be able to relocate the PC for the same reason your camera is not allowed. My experience in the military is that cameras don't come in and PCs don't go out except under controlled conditions.

frank.huminski
frank.huminski

Not just the military, either. In most cases, if you need a security clearance to be at the computer unattended, then cameras/cellphones/etc are usually not allowed.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Years ago, I started taking pictures of my clients server rooms and other infastructure. Those pictures are invalueble when you haven't been somewhere in months (or years) and get a phone call and can't remember what is where when you are asking someone who doesn't know what they are doing to push buttons. I remember the 1st time I e-mailed a digital photo to a tech person over 10 years ago. It saved me an hour of explaining a problem, and blew their mind that I thought to do that.

joshua.pelligrino
joshua.pelligrino

Yep. We had just won a contract for one of our clients and we had to actually go out to their site to just check things out. and what I had found about made me scream it was so bad. Network cables were running everywhere in the server room. And I mean everywhere. Over, under, on the side. I actually took a bunch of shots to one, show my manager, and two, to actually get a game plan on how we were going to re-route everything. MAN, what a mess. But the shots helped tremendously.

williamjones
williamjones

This week I've written about an item I think every computer support tech should have handy: a digital camera. So, had you already thought of this? Lots of techs probably have cameras in their cell phones, and may be using those for many of the same things I list in my article. I like to make sure our techs have dedicated cameras provided by the company. Even a cheap stand-alone camera will take better pictures than the phone can. Make sure you get cameras with a "movie" mode! I have seen tech capture a video of a machine that was stuck in a reboot cycle. He went back and analyzed the video frame-by-frame on his laptop. He was able to freeze the video and read an error message that was briefly flashing on-screen before the computer restarted. Have you found cameras to be useful elsewhere in your work?

Garreth
Garreth

I use a digital camera on a regular basis to document for the customer what he/she did to their machine. One of the most prevalent ones is the piles of dirt, animal hair, and cobwebs inside a machine, with the cooling fins of the CPU and chipsets completely clogged with dirt. The second most prevalent (at least during the era of 478pin Intel CPUs) is the broken plastic holddowns for the heatsink on Intel CPUs. Customers claim they haven't been inside the machine until I show them the pics, then they admit they took the heatsink off for whatever reason (and didn't put it back on correctly, breaking the supports in the process).

TomSutor
TomSutor

I have used Digital Cameras to get the Dell Service Tag that flashes on the screen in the initial set up. I left that in the client?s photos for future reference and "free" service they might get from dell. I also use it to document a very DUSTY inside the case CPU. And yet to keep track of the O/S in case I need to reinstall it as part of the repair job. lompocdirect.com

tom
tom

I've tried catching a message that flashes too fast. A movie is a brilliant idea. I use my camera to make it easier to pass information to others. We use Iomega REV disks, both 35GB and 70GB. The disks are almost identical, so I took a picture of them and pointed out the differences and posted it by the drive.

goodmama69
goodmama69

I support several locations and I use pictures I have taken of the different server rooms to help lesser experienced technicians navigate to the correct jack or component. I also take snap-shots of the whiteboard after meetings and import the images into a personal knowledgebase that supports character recognition such as Microsoft OneNote or Evernote. In a tem environment you can build the KB in SharePoint for ease team retrieval of any of the data captured.

enossified
enossified

No doubt this has already been suggested, but I recently set up a web cam to trace a mass of unlabeled network plugs. I was able to watch the hub and label the ends without any jogging back and forth. There must be network monitoring tools that could do this just as well, but this was a clean and fast solution.

mmoran
mmoran

That's exactly what what I did once in a similar situation! Don't remember the details, but the error message led to a solution. The other techs looked at me with something resembling awe ;>)

_Nobby_
_Nobby_

I recently had 15 system batteries to replace in various types of servers As most of them were going to lose their "volatile memory" I took a digital camera along to snap the more important BIOS screens before removing the old batteries. A lot quicker than trying to note down the important stuff

info
info

Great idea, that alone makes having a camera handy to the work bench.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...so you don't always have to remember to bring one with you. They certainly don't have the quality you need if you are dealing with something in detail, but it beats not having to schlepp another piece of equipment around.

init4$
init4$

To document wiring closets and server rooms, or when I'm alerting others to problems with same.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

We popped the hard drive case apart, grabbed a high resolution shot and placed the top plate back in place with a weight on it. Then we spent the next fifteen minutes infront of the computer looking at the shot to see what failed and if it could be fixed long enough to rip the data off the platters. Turned out that the drive motor jammed and storing the platters in ziplocks with the dream of one day handing them to a restoration company wasn't going to happen. Very good use for a digital camera though and one I hadn't thought of though it seemed obvious afterward.

Gate keeper
Gate keeper

I used the video recorder on my cell phone many times to capture that error message that flashed by your screen too fast to catch .. to replay in slow motion so i can actually see what the msg says ... usually during start up. saved me alot of time

dearmoree
dearmoree

Users are always breaking usb ports, dropping laptops, hitting lcds with round objects. I also use it to identify potential fire hazards when I find a heater, coffee maker, printer, monitor and system all connected to the same cheap power strip

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