When faced with an asset that refuses to work properly – be it a computer, a piece of software, a printer, a network switch, or some other tool – there are certain steps you can try that will diagnose just about anything. They’re simple and perhaps obvious, but sometimes it’s the basic things that trip us up.
There’s a reason tech support usually suggests turning your troublesome equipment off and on again right at the beginning of a call: a majority of the time, it works. Memory is flushed out, system resources are reset, components are automatically checked. Most effective is a complete, proper shutdown, removal of power entirely, and then a fresh power-on.
Check configuration settings
Even if a computer or other device had been working properly and suddenly stops doing so, the solution can turn out to be a simple configuration change. The installation of a new program might have changed a seemingly unrelated setting, or a new device on the network could make a certain communication port no longer work the same way. You might need vendor manuals or some other working machine to get the specific settings right, but always check.
This one is the most frustrating when you’ve spent hours chasing down a gremlin, only to find that a cable was loose. Physical connections are what make everything work at its most basic level, so checking and, if possible, changing cables should always be on your checklist. And yes, this includes making sure the equipment is plugged in. My very first ticket at a new job involved someone who’d accidentally flipped the switch on his power strip with his foot. I was hailed as a genius for fixing that.
Look for updates
Sometimes a persistent problem in software or hardware is a known issue with the manufacturer. Unlike, say, a car maker, which has to issue a recall and bring vehicles into a dealer to fix a defect, an IT vendor can often just make a software patch available. As long as things are running smoothly and there are no security vulnerabilities, it’s often preferable not to update – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but if something isn’t working, it might just be outdated. As above, a change elsewhere can have unpredictable effects, so don’t let “It was working fine before” keep you from considering this step.
Ask for help
If none of the previous steps are fruitful, remember that you’re (probably) not alone. Even if you’re the sole IT person in the office, you can turn to online forums and manufacturer support to see if your problem has been encountered before – and, more importantly, to learn how it was resolved. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective or someone who’s seen the problem before. Even if you end up slapping your own forehead at how obvious the solution seems in retrospect, the important thing is that the problem is solved. Congratulations!
John Andrews writes for Infragistics, a provider of user interface tools for application developers.