A TechRepublic member wants to know how to get past just knowing the IT basics when the systems at his company are so stable he doesn’t get the troubleshooting experience he needs.


This week’s What should I do? entry comes from a TechRepublic member who is feeling a little insecure about his technical skills. He knows the basics of the technology his company uses but doesn’t really feel he knows it front to back because it’s rare that the systems experience problems. Here’s his story:

“I came upon my first IT job 11 years ago with very limited computer experience (didn’t own a computer). I learned the hard way, doing tech support at an outsource company for a well-known modem manufacturer, doing installations/configurations over the phone. I eventually learned the basics of PCs and then some (learned how to build one) and became a team lead of a group of techs. After a year, I left the company to pursue a career with a more stable company. I found myself in tech support again, as that was the only experience I had. This time, I was supporting end-user client software that downloaded data via a direct modem connection. I eventually ended up as a senior help desk technician. After four years of what I felt was spinning my wheels and not learning anything, I left to work for my present employer, a community bank.

I started out in the online banking area, doing pretty much what I did at my last job (client software support). After two years, I then made a lateral move to the networking department, which was something that always interested me. Shortly after being in a position where I just slapped Windows 2000 images on PCs across the company, I was nominated to be the e-mail admin after ours quit unexpectedly, and I was the only one to which she’d showed something about the system.

I was given the label of e-mail admin for a system that no one wants to learn (it’s not Exchange), but was and still am expected to be on-call for other facets of the network, just like any other admin in our department. I have not been to any formal training for our e-mail system. They signed me up for one a couple years ago without consulting me, and it ended up being more of a sales pitch for the latest release of the e-mail system.

To make this already long story, a little shorter… I still feel like I don’t know the e-mail system like I should (I find myself looking online for solutions) and have a blank stare on my face when the topic of ports, mx records, dns, etc., comes up. Granted, I know the basics, but I am used to knowing my stuff (like at my last two jobs), and feel like I don’t know it here. I don’t know if it’s the way I approach this stuff, but I actually read the thick e-mail administration book from beginning to end when I was first appointed the email god. Maybe I don’t feel I know it that well because it’s rare when we have e-mail problems? Maybe since it’s so stable, I don’t get the experience I need? The same thing happens in other areas. I learn the basics of a system, but don’t know it when problems happen.

Any suggestions, or tips on how people actually sit down to learn these systems would be extremely helpful.”

Got a career scenario of your own? E-mail it to us here. We’ll post it anonymously, and see what kind of feedback your peers have to offer.