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If you think being an IT person is easy these days, you might be in for a surprise. Just a few years ago, it seemed that anybody and their brother could be an IT "professional" with little more than a screwdriver and a basic knowledge of Windows. But times have changed and a true IT professional has again become a valuable asset. Whether you're an "IT guy" yourself or simply in need of one, here are some things that make for a bad IT person:
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1. Selling clients hardware and/or software that they don't need - If a client has a problem that you are certain that hardware or software will fix, be sure that that's the real problem. Don't make them waste valuable resources on a solution that only masks the underlying problem. This will nearly always come back to bite you because, more often than not, replacement hardware or software merely masks the problem or simply changes nothing.
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2. Keeping administrative passwords top secret and/or users on lockdown - All too often, I get the call: "I need help. My regular IT person is on vacation and I can't access my [insert software or document title here]..." If you are the only one that has access to passwords or can install hardware and software, lighten up a bit. Be kind and share these privileges with another trusted person in the organization, if for no other reason than in case of emergency. Your position with the company is already justified so don't make life difficult for others when you go on vacation or just need to take a sick day.
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3. Backing up over the internet - This is one of those things that sounds great, but only until you actually have a problem. Backing up over the internet is slow and the only real purpose it serves is to maintain an off-site backup. So what happens when you don't have a speedy internet connection (or for that matter, one at all)? That's precisely when you'll have someone that has accidentally deleted a document that they absolutely must have recovered right away! Worse is that it was their mistake, but if for any reason you can't get to the backup, it'll look like yours. After all, this is what you get paid for, right? You can backup data over the internet simply for redundancy, but remember to physically take off-site backups off-site, and always keep on-site backups as well. If you do, you won't have to count on your internet backup to always be available or reliable.
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4. Deploying hardware or software when it's first released - This is a mistake that I used to hear about quite often when working in the technical support department for a software development firm on the East Coast. Users would call and say "I just got this great new [insert software or hardware type here], but now I have a problem with..." It usually turned out that they recently upgraded to the latest version of the operating system they were using or that they bought new hardware that wasn't a very close fit to their existing hardware. Remember, your computer users are not beta testers! The sad reality is that hardware and software often get released way before they are tested thoroughly enough to be deemed trouble free. Vendors will then begin releasing updates or patches over a period of time that typically do fix things, but the early adopters are often forced to weather the storm. Always use tried-and-true upgrade paths (unless you have a testing facility for those great new bells and whistles).
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5. Using phrases like "boot strap" or "stack trace" or "buffer overflow" when talking to clients - This has always been a pet peeve of mine. I cannot stress enough to never use phrases like this when talking to end users or clients. They likely won't have a clue as to what you're talking about to begin with (and isn't this what they pay YOU to understand, anyway?) and will often later misuse these terms when trying to describe a problem. How many times have you heard people refer to their PC tower as a "hard drive" or tell you they're going to "upload" new software they have on CD-ROM?
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6. Being unavailable - This is particularly problematic when you are self-employed or not actually on the company's payroll. Ponder this: how would you like it if someone took your computer away, even for a single day? If you're like me, you have already cringed at the thought (followed by a shudder). Your end-users might not be as computer literate as you and I, but they probably feel the same way! When they have a problem and can't get in touch with you, your snappy voicemail greeting will be no help to anyone. Put simply: be available unless you have previously scheduled the time away. Disappearing acts are for magicians, not IT staff.
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7. Not accepting responsibility - Cold, hard fact: If your end user's computer is down and they cannot do their job for more than even an hour or two, it's your fault. Why? Because it's your job to have a disaster recovery plan in place and be able to help get them up and running again, in no time flat. Software backups, backup hardware, and simply being available will get you far! While this doesn't mean that everything that goes wrong is truly your fault, blaming the hardware or software for a catastrophic failure is not something a responsible IT person does. It might be a reason, but it's no excuse!
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8. Not accepting that someone else may be better at solving your problem than you are - Okay, this final entry is a two-part item that I admit I threw in here for my own benefit as well as yours. Even so, troubleshooting problems can be a daunting task, not to mention a time consuming one!
Part I: Sometimes you simply have to throw in the towel and call a support rep at the software or hardware vendor to get a problem solved. After all, it's their product and the issue you're having might be quite easy for them to diagnose (and possibly even repair). Many times this can be done simply by upgrading from the software or firmware version you are on to one that has already been released to address your particular issue. This is valuable because it could potentially save you hours (or worse, days) of troubleshooting and diagnostics.
Part II: If, after performing Part I, the support rep tells you its something on your end and not theirs, accept that they have a pretty good chance of being right. After all, they likely deal with many different hardware and software configurations, not just yours. Don't hinder their progress in helping you resolve an issue because you "checked all that" first. Instead, accept help from anyone that is willing to assist, especially the experts who only deal with their own products!
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Today, with computers and operating systems that are able to do more now than they ever have before, it's easy for us IT people to sometimes let our roles go to our heads and occasionally cloud our better judgement. But by simply following the rules I've outlined in this article, it's likely that nobody will ever be able to call you "a bad IT person!"