Being Tech Support for your Friends and Family

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In the real world (yes I know, there’s a world out there… go take a look) I am a Technical Support Adviser and Team Manager. It is my job to ask questions to identify what the customer is doing, how they got there, and then work out what to do to resolve the issue or provide with relevant advice.

When you are sharing your servers with Friends and Family, there is an immediate expectation that any questions, issues or similar, you are expected to know the answer to, and can resolve really quickly.

Now, when you don’t work in that field, you may feel flustered or not really sure how to deal with this and then become angry quite quickly because you’re not able to understand what is going on.

In this blog, it is my aim to provide some generic advice that can be used not only for your server, but also for any questions your mum or grandma might throw at you, expecting you to be the expert – when you’re really the expert at googling things.

1. The key questions

There are key questions to ask whenever someone asks you something. You need to establish a base line of their intelligence, understanding, and knowledge of the subject. So there are 3 questions that you can ask to understand what on earth is going on.

What have you done so far?
Can you talk me through step-by-step exactly what you are doing? 
Have you tried doing it any other way?

These questions will give you a base line of what the other person has done, gives you the steps to exactly replicate what they are doing, and then also allows you to understand if they found any guides or similar online.

2. Understanding the issue

When it comes to technology, there are normally 3 areas in which problems can occur. In my job, we call this the Troubleshooting triangle. You are asking questions to rule out certain areas. These areas are Software issues, Hardware issues, and the environment.

A simple query might be “I can’t connect to the internet on my laptop”. So let’s ask some questions that help narrow down what could be the issue.

“Is your laptop the only device that doesn’t connect to the internet?” If the answer is no, then it could be an environment issue like the router, power, Wifi Signal or similar. If yes, then we know with a degree of certainty, it’s not the router.

“Have you done any software updates recently?” If the answer is yes, then potentially it’s a software issue with a bad update. If the answer is no, then we can look at the drivers for the network card and uninstall and reinstall them. If that doesn’t work, then it rules out it being a software issue.

“Have you dropped the laptop or has it been damaged recently?” If the answer is no, then it’s less likely to be a damaged hardware issue but the hardware could still go faulty. If the answer is yes, then most likely the issue is damage to some hardware.

By asking simple questions that help you rule out an area in which the problem can be, you are less likely to go unicorn hunting (trying to find the obscure answer) and find the most likely cause of the issue.

Always remember, that when someone asks you a technical question, they don’t know the answer and they trust you enough to provide good and sound advice. If you just don’t know the answer, then tell that person. It is better to be honest than lie and get something wrong. And also remember, Google is your best friend. Someone out there most likely has already had this issue and has got a solution waiting for you to find it.