10 tech tasks you should be able to do in your sleep

Nearly all the jobs you tackle will require you to handle certain fundamental tasks. Make sure these essential skills are part of your repertoire.

In the tech field, there are certain tasks that you do more than any other. There are go-to tasks you almost always do, regardless of the situation. And there are certain essential tasks that can save your skin onsite. These are tasks you should be able to do on autopilot.

Earlier this month, I looked at 10 essential items to take with you on onsite calls. Now I'm going to share my list of 10 tasks I think every consultant or support tech should know. These tasks cover a range of topics and issues. Some of them you will already know like the back of your hand. But you might not be familiar with others.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Run chkdsk

Recently, I had a client whose two point-of-sale machines were randomly crashing. When onsite, I asked the age of the machines (I had my suspicions) and found out they were approximately four to five years old. And judging from the size of their QuickBooks data file, the machines got hammered on a daily basis. It took only a quick run of chkdsk to find out the machines' drives had errors. This command should definitely be in your toolkit. In some instances, it will save you a great deal of time.

2: Uninstall antivirus

There's been a rash of viruses in this area lately, and the old school antivirus just isn't cutting it. We often prescribe AVG Pro, and as with nearly all antivirus solutions, the current antivirus must be uninstalled before installing the new. The unfortunate reality is that every antivirus has a different path to complete uninstall. The first place to look, of course, is the antivirus menu entry. Sometimes it will have its own uninstaller. If not, your best bet is to either carry with you (on a flash drive) tools that will do the trick or have Internet access so you can go to the vendor's Web site and find out how to uninstall. After a while, you'll have them all memorized.

3: Map drives

This is one of the easiest tasks with one of the biggest benefits (at least in the eyes of the client). Mapping drives makes finding data on remote locations so much easier for the user. And successfully mapping drives means you won't be called out again because the user can't seem to locate the data on the server any longer.

4: Join a workgroup

If a company has multiple machines that need to share files, but it isn't big enough to require a domain, joining those networked machines to a common workgroup will make everyone's life easier. But I am always surprised when I hear that consultants are unsure of the benefits of workgroups and/or how to join a machine to a workgroup. This is consulting 101.

5: Join a domain

This takes the workgroup to another level. Not only can you see other computers that reside on the domain, login credentials are contained on a single machine so users can log in from any machine on the domain. The process of joining a domain is similar to that of joining a workgroup. You will, however, need to know the complete domain of the company. Is it DOMAIN or DOMAIN.local? Another basic task, yet it's overlooked time and time again.

6: Use the command line

It always strikes me as unbelievable when I run into IT pros who don't know how to use the command line. I guess I have an advantage coming from a Linux background, but every consultant should know how to use the command line. Even in Windows, it's a must-know tool.

7: Safely restart a Linux server from the command line

You will come across this one day. And although it's rare for a Linux server to need rebooting, you need to know the command sudo reboot and how to do it so that users have time to log out of whatever they're doing. Just like any computer, if you don't shut down or restart safely, there are dangers.

8: Check for rootkits

Rootkits are nasty. And many times they go unchecked and destroy all of your hard work. Every consultant must know how to check for a rootkit or at least know of a good antivirus software that includes rootkit defenses. If your client's machines aren't being checked for rootkits, cross your fingers when you finally install a tool to check. If a rootkit is there, the damage might already be done. I have dealt with rootkits that rendered a machine unrecoverable.

9: Replace any component on a machine

You never know when you will have to replace RAM, a video card, a CPU, or some other component. Although these tasks seem far too simple to even mention, there are some people who, when faced with replacing a CPU, will toss up their hands and tell their clients they have to purchase a new machine. To those consultants I have to say "Really?" Replacing hardware is done for sport by most geeks. Be it power supply, hard drives ... you name it. Get your hands in that case and get them dirty!

10: Deal with angry clients

Although this doesn't address computer issues, it is one of those challenges you're inevitably going to face. Either you're dealing with a client who is generally an ugly person or you have done something they didn't like. One way or another, you're going to need the skills to calm those clients down and reassure them that you will do everything you can to make them happy. It may mean you take a loss on the job or it may mean you put in more time than you really want. But making that cranky client happy will go a long way in helping your reputation. Of course there are limits. Some people are simply never satisfied. The best solution for those types of clients? Fire them.

Expand the list

These are 10 tasks every support tech or consultant should know. Do you have a few other essential tasks add to this list? If so share them with your fellow TechRepublic readers.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....