Tried and True Tech Tips
Anyone who’s worked in IT knows a great deal of the day-to-day work doesn’t come down to one secret trick—the job consists mainly of stringing together hard-won wisdom and convenient Google searches to solve problems. Working in IT is a little like parenting; when you’re first told you need to pick up your children’s LEGO bricks every day, you say, “Really? Is it really necessary to do it every single day?” But you only have to step on one at 1 a.m. to understand why it’s so important, even though it may not have seemed obvious at the start.
The difference between old and new IT pros is the flatness of the front of their head from banging it against a wall. Sharing some of the struggles that flattened it in the first place can help spare newer IT pros some pain. By sharing with you some of the tech tips I wish I’d known earlier, I’m hoping you’ll have one less wall with which to smooth out your forehead.
The “Reload In” Command
To paraphrase my favorite Vulcan, the “reload in” command has been—and always shall be—your friend. If you’re changing a whole mess of things on a Cisco switch or router and you’re not sure if A) it’s going to work, B) it might blow your SSH session in the middle, or C) it won’t do what you want (in other words: All. The. Time.), you can start by saying “reload in 30.” This gives you a 30-minute window where you can do anything you want, and if you totally mess up the machine, it’ll reboot after the 30 minutes expire and go back to the way it was when you started. Pro tip: when you’re all done and everything’s working, remember to give the “reload cancel” command. Or else all your hard work is going to go out the window.
To new IT folks (and let’s be honest, also some not-so-new IT pros), the Windows registry can seem like an impenetrable forest of odds and ends, where every new application jams a bunch of its settings into nooks and crannies, seemingly at random. And sometimes that’s true.
But there are a few tried and true areas you should get to know. I’ll share just one area with you here: the “Run” area. In this one folder, you’ll find almost every program set to run when Windows starts. Being able to get to this spot and remove things can be a life (and CPU) saver.
Actually, it’s two areas. You’ll find it (with different settings) in
A Good Chair and Sharing Information
On the less technical side of things, the single most important thing you can invest in—aside from your computer—is a good chair. Your back will explain why after two weeks of sitting in a mediocre office chair. More people understand now why someone would spend $500 or more on a good chair than they did in February. Aside from your computer, your chair is the thing you use the most, so make sure you treat it like it’s an important part of your workstation.
Another thing I’ve learned in my years of experience in IT is you never get ahead by keeping information secret. I often tell people, “irreplaceable == unpromotable.” Your job as an IT pro is to work yourself out of your job. Like parenting, your job is to make it so the person you’re helping eventually doesn’t need you. You want to raise up the people around you, so they can do your job just as well as you can. This leaves you free to find a mentor who’ll raise you up like you did for others or to work on another project you’re passionate about.
Tips for Managers
Don’t overestimate the incentivizing effect of a $50 gift card. It’s nice, but it’s not exactly a huge morale booster. On the other hand, a coveted piece of hardware given as a gift is worth triple any bonus amount you could get HR to approve. Back when I had a 2400 baud modem, I was put on a project where I was required to log in from home. My boss, Maria, walked me down to the company equipment lockup and handed me a 56K modem. I asked her, “Do I need to sign for this?” She said, “No.” And so I asked, “Well, what happens when I leave?” She told me, “You’re going to keep it.”
At first, I was dumbfounded—it just wasn’t the way things worked. But my boss pointed out to me that if she had given me a $300 bonus (about the same price as the modem), by the time taxes had rolled around, it wouldn’t have been as important a gift. Then she said, “I just handed you a modem and now you’re ready to take a bullet for me.” And she was right. I encourage other managers to do the same. If you know your IT pro is coveting a technology—even if it’s an Xbox or a Nintendo Switch—think about just giving it to them. For the cost of a team lunch, you can earn their unending gratitude. It isn’t a dollar-for-dollar equivalency; hardware has a 3-to-1 conversion rate in dollars.
Find Your Force Multipliers
A force multiplier is a military term usually referring to a weapon or piece of equipment that makes a group of soldiers more effective than they could possibly be on their own. One example is a tanker aircraft. By enabling planes to refuel in midair, you allow them to carry less fuel and more weapons. Look for force multipliers on your own team—they’re not always pieces of hardware. Sometimes they’re software or even people. To use another military example, a single comms officer relaying commands can make an entire unit significantly more effective.
So, if you find a piece of key software—monitoring, for example—that enables your team to do more in a day, you should invest in it. If you’ve got a person who makes your whole team better, invest in them. Let’s say someone on your team maintains a positive attitude. Their ongoing happiness and cheer keep your whole team motivated. In this case, there’s three options in front of you: promote them, promote them, or promote them.
Recently on Twitter, Corey Quinn had an entire thread about “ancient SysAdmin wisdom” (you can find it here). This kind of sharing is how IT pros with experience can help newer IT pros avoid running into the same problems they struggled with. Doing so can help ensure they don’t have to sink or swim by themselves. By following these tips, you can make your job, your employees’ jobs, and your experience in IT a little better.