Techs are always looking for new ways to connect with their users. Some send out regular tips through e-mail. Many stay in touch through a company Web site. I even know techs who actually speak with their users from time to time, sometimes after work over a beer. While I’m not suggesting you go that far, I recently was presented with a new opportunity to come together with users through a joint training effort. It was an experience many of you may want to try.

Training classes are a great place to start
An office I support on a regular basis has been going through some changes and needed to bring the sales staff up to speed. Classes were scheduled for all and a corporate trainer, Bob, was brought in. On his first day, Bob and I were chatting when a user reported connection problems. For some reason, Bob was fascinated and asked to accompany me to the switch room where I quickly tracked down and solved the problem. Even more fascinated now, Bob thought a tour of the switch room would enhance his class and asked for the favor.

More than just a guided tour
A little reluctant at first, I was soon excited about the opportunity to interact with the users and assembled my support staff to create a lesson plan. Just walking in the room and pointing to equipment seemed like a waste of time, so we decided to start in their training room and briefly discuss TCP/IP. It worked great. The class got to see a connection made through IP to a computer in the training room and then to another computer in a different wing.

We then discussed the “ping” and “tracert” commands, and the class watched a traced route from a training room computer to the company Web site housed in another state. Surprising as it may be, the class seemed interested in the fact that basic transactions often traveled through four or more routers before reaching the intended server. What’s more, they had no trouble following the logic.

It was almost time for the actual switch room tour, but first, the class needed one more prep step. We turned a desktop computer around so they could see the NIC and the cable going down to the LAN port. Our audience was asked to keep that in mind while we walked to the switch room, where they were introduced to a patch panel and all the cables traveling to it through the ceiling. Nods and smiles were telling us things were beginning to fall into place.

Next, they got a look at the hub and router, reminding them of the trace routes they had just seen. We could have ended there but no one in the class seemed bored yet, so we showed them the file and application servers and explained our backup system. The whole process took about 40 minutes and was very fun.

Training can be gratifying
The best part, however, came later that day. People on the tour came up and thanked me personally, saying they’d learned a lot and enjoyed themselves. A few people who weren’t on the tour told me they’d heard about it and were looking forward to their training. Talk about gratification.

Bob will be with us for several more weeks, and he’s asked us to conduct the tour for every class. It’s just once a week and a lot of fun. The whole support team is involved. We take turns conducting the tours, and it gets better each time. The most important thing is that our users in this office seem to have a better understanding of what we do and how data travels.
Contrary to general reputation, most techs really want a good relationship with their users and are willing to go that extra mile. If you’ve given similar tours or plan on trying it now, tell us about your results. We would also love to hear from you if you have discovered another good method of connecting with your users. Post a comment or write to Pat Vickers.