Ask the IT Guy

I apologize if this has been done before, but the search terms are all too short to allow a proper search.

I understand that as a community, we’re pretty computer literate, but there must be a few questions about the mysteries of the IT department.

What goes on in those dark rooms? Why do we need so many computers under our desk?

Can we really read your email and IMs? See what sites you’ve been visiting? Why can you never get a new computer or have someone replace your mouse?

A bit of background: I was a “consultant” for 4 years, working for someone else. Two years ago, one of our clients hired me full-time. Although I’m Director of IT, I don’t direct anyone but myself - I’m the entire IT staff (plus outside consultants). We’re a privately held, medium sized company with 5 offices currently, but we’ll probably expand that to at least 7 by mid-2007. Presently, we’re a US only company, but we’re looking at Canada or the UK for '07.

Since I’m the entire department, I wear a bunch of hats - help desk, user admin, web and application development, phone support, etc; any question is fair game.

I’ll try to answer all questions in a timely fashion. Fire away.

What do you think your job will be like in 30 years?

Where’s the “any” key?

That’s a tough question. I suspect there will be a radical change in computing before then, but like the internet in the 1940’s, it’s practically unimaginable to us. Barring that, I’d like to see computers that are either reliable enough that tech support is unneeded, or cheap enough that if one breaks you can just get another. However, I don’t see either of that happening.

Even with the younger generations growing up with computers, what goes on in the backoffice is still a mystery - kids know how to use the computer, but not how to set up a new network or any server-based functions. As such, I don’t see tech support going anywhere - offshoring may increase as bandwidth does, but a breaking point will be reached; eventually countries we associate with offshoring will have a higher standard of living and the cost will become prohibitive.

So I think my job will still be around and fairly similar, just adapted to the technology of the day. Perhaps I’m being optomistic :slight_smile:

I can’t speak for your computer, but in my company I’ve disabled the any key and pasted “esc” on it. I got too many complaints of people typing c-o-m-p and then hitting “any” to complete ‘company’. Unfortunately my plan backfired, as I now get complaints of people trying to type d-esc-r-i-p-t-i-o-n. Such is life.

may i use this ?

I had somebody on the line once who couldn’t run a setup.exe on her cd-rom. I had her trying to run d:\setup (this was back in Windows for Workgroups) from a command line. Kept getting “bad command or file name.” I asked her just to type d: and press enter. I listened carefully and heard “tap tap tap tap tap tap tap Hey, it said bad command or file name again.” I asked her how she was spelling “:” and she said, “C-O-L-I-N, just like Colin Powell.”

Please do.

I hope you told her that she needs spell check, as it’s C-O-L-O-N like the puncuation mark, or human organ.

Of course, when it STILL doesn’t work, tell her she needs a new computer. :smiley:

What are the 5 things you hate the most about your job?

What are the 5 things you love the most?

In no particular order…

[li]Cow-orkers who refuse to learn - look, I’ll show you how to do something as many times as is required, provided you’re paying attention. I will not do your job for you.[/li][li]People assuming that all technology is my responsibility. No, I cannot fix the air conditioning.[/li][li]Lack of respect - not for me per se, but for the position. Around here, if you don’t bring in orders (sales), or fill them (recruiters), you’re useless. Trust me, if the phones and email went down at the same time, that would change quickly.[/li][li]Budgets - I need air conditioning in the server room that’s separate from the rest of the office so when someone turns it off, I don’t get woken at 4AM by alarms. So far, no luck.[/li][li]Unreasonable deadlines - We’re opening a new office in California and the officers know I need at least 60 days to get phones/internet installed, so of course they give me 40 days.[/li][/ul]

And for no reason at all, in alphabetical order…

[li]Cow-orkers - most of them are very pleasant and fun to be around.[/li][li]Ease - not to sound like a shit, but I do have things running pretty smoothly, and it gives me plenty of free time to surf the SDMB[/li][li]Freedom - since nobody really understands what it is I do, I have alot of leeway.[/li][li]Indispensibility - even thought they may not respect IT, they know they need me[/li][li]Technology - I figure most IT people have a love/hate relationship with technology. Sure, it keeps us employeed, but it can be a pain in the ass. But I’m more on the love side.[/li][/ul]

How do you manage your time?

I am the ‘everything’ guy at work, Which includes a bit of IT. I have so much stuff swimming around in my head and so many distractions I find it hard to get out of Neutral gear and work on long-term projects.

Any useful tips wouldn’t go unappreciated.

So can you spy on workers’ usage of work computers? If so, is it routine monitoring or do you just check on people whose activities are suspicious enough to warrant such monitoring? Do you log keystrokes or look at web pages visited? If so, has anyone ever gotten fired for it? What’s the weirdest stuff you have found to be in violation of your company’s policies on a disharged worker’s system? Ever find hate mail about other co-workers? Being an IT guy, you could really be a fly on the wall and get a good idea of what people are talking about amongst themselves.

Are you offended when non-techie eyes glaze over? Are you good at translating Tech to non-Tech? We have an IT manager here who is and it is a godsend. I would say he knows his stuff and I know mine, but he knows his stuff and a good bit of mine too (accounting) so I feel bad not understanding tech stuff better!

Truth told, not well - I’m a procrastinator and occasionally forgetful.

That said, I have one trick and two software packages I use.

First, if it’s not written down, it never happened. I always carry a notebook with me to write down anything I’m asked to do in meeting or as I walk down a hallway. AND I ask the person to email me as well. All requests must be in email, and it’s real easy to use Outlook’s reminder flags.

For long term projects, I use Microsoft Project to set timelines and goals, and it’s nice that I can mark other people’s tasks down, too, and follow up with them.

For every day problems, I use ticketing software from Intuit (the Quickbooks people) called Track-IT. It’s not great, but it gets the job done, and since there are multiple categories, it really could work for anyone. (For instance, you could have a category “Computer problem”, plus others relating to your ‘normal’ job.) Unfortunately my company didn’t spring for the automatic email-to-ticket plugin, so when I get an email, I have to copy it into a ticket.

Tickets get prioritized on a scale of 1 to 5. One is critical, 4 is low and 5 is informational - things that I need to do, but with no specific completion date.

As for assigning a priority, I first judge the severity. If it’s company wide, like phones are down or a server crashed, that’s obviously a one. Updating a web page is probably a 4. Next, I judge the patience level of the complainant. Usually this means officers are prioritized first, but not always.

Once the tickets are all prioritized, then the fun begins - I generally print the list (for some reason, I prefer working on paper, go figure) and go from the top. Anything that will take some time is an immediate use of “Do Not Disturb”. I’ll also try to do related tasks together regardles of priority, and tasks in certain areas together to save the walking.

The real trick is keeping your eye on the programs :wink: All too often I’ll read a thread here, go to Wikipedia to check something out and get lost in the links.

I’m looking forward to Microsoft’s ticket system due next year - this one probably wouldn’t help you, but it integrates with all of their system monitoring programs to automatically generate a ticket when there’s a detected problem. Supposedly also integrated with Project, Outlook for reminders/tasks and so forth.

I have worked for several fairly large firms. They all have beautiful offices, new computers, great software packages and the firms earn quite a bit of money - so why in the hell do they all have one server in the backroom that has about the memory of a Commodore 64? I know servers are not exactly cheap, but why don’t IT people really push the idea that those funny little boxes in the back room are, uh, kind of important? (My last company finally broke down and bought a second server when they came thisclose to losing every document in the history of their office.)

And as long as I am asking, in my experience there is always only one or two people in the entire office who really know how to use the software…the rest just don’t seem to give a damn, or don’t want to spend the time to learn. Have you ever figured out a way to improve that ratio of software illiterates vs competent users?

I absolutely can, but rarely need to.

All of my routine monitoring is done behind the scenes by computer, which reads all of the event logs and mails me when something important happens.

However, at any time, I could remotely monitor their screen - the only reason to do this is for troubleshooting, but I could for any other purpose.

We don’t log keystrokes, but we do log web visits - this is more for web blocking (No ebay, dating sites or personal email except before/after hours and from 12PM-2PM. These restrictions are purely decided by the executives.) than for logging. I only check these logs periodically to ensure they’re still working, or if an executive wants a report.

We did fire an employee for abusing dating sites - she was the reason we got the blocking software. When I installed it, we put it in log-only mode, and saw she would be on two dating sites for the entire day. She was fired, the policy was changed, and the software went into block-mode.

I rarely find anything bad on ex-employee’s computers. Usually just some nasty emails about the company. However, one of the executives is heavily into porn. Not much I can do about it, since executives are exempt from the blocking. When I print category reports for the execs, they kinda look at the Adult/Sexually Explicit line, look at me, I nod slightly, they shrug.

Hate mail is uncommon, but hate IMs were frequent. We kept the IM logging a secret until three employees were fired for having a virtual pile-on their boss.

I also have a master password for email, but I only use that to archive an ex-employee’s email. Most of it is work related or boring anyway. It’s much more fun to surf the web than read other people’s problems.

I try to limit my explanations based on the user, to avoid the glaze and save their time, too.

I’ve got a few technophobes, and they usually get the barest minimum of explanations.

For people who need the explanations, I try to do my best. It gets rough in executive level meetings where I need to explain in depth so I can get funding, but trying to keep it simple. Lots of analogies and metaphors.

I try to limit my explanations based on the user, to avoid the glaze and save their time, too.

I’ve got a few technophobes, and they usually get the barest minimum of explanations.

For people who need the explanations, I try to do my best. It gets rough in executive level meetings where I need to explain in depth so I can get funding, but trying to keep it simple. Lots of analogies and metaphors.

I’ve got a Veritas Netbackup server running through a WDS to a VTL and, while the server itself sees and can write to the virtual tapes, and Netbackup can inventory the library, Netbackup refuses to backup to it.

So given all this, my question is - how long would it take a monkey with a wooden leg to kick all the seeds out of a dill pickle?

Jeez, I’m not having much luck with double-posts.

First off, the quoted standard life of a server is 5 years, whereas a PC is only 3, so you are going to see a few older servers running. Also, really old servers may be kept for legacy applications which will not work on newer OSes. We’ve got a 6 year old to run a software package that, while it’s still made, we got for free so we could train freelancers on it. The company flatly refused to give us a new license for an upgrade, and since the software runs around $100K, I can’t fault them.

I’ve found that IT people are split on server theories - some really like to dedicate one server to one task, others like to cram as much as possible on as few servers as possible. With added servers comes both added complexity (more to monitor), but also less to lose (when one server crashes, only one application is out of service). There’s also more to backup, etc…

As with many things in life, I find middle of the road is best. I don’t overload my servers, but they do more than one thing - even if the software vendor’s specs “require” a dedicated server.

Of course there’s also the budget issues. It’s tough to convince a CEO who barely knows what a mouse is why you need to upgrade your servers. It’s working now, so we’ll deal with it when it’s unfixable. Note: unfixable, not when it crashes, because then we can throw $500 at it and replace the harddrive. Apparently the motherboard needs to catch fire and shoot across the room before we think of having a meeting to table the idea of a new server. (Obviously, I had lots of clients with this mentality.) Sadly, plenty of IT staff feel this way - if it’s still working, keep it around. Also, it is a fair amount of work to replace a server - lots to replicate to the new server and changes to make to every single PC.

I’m working on replacing a 5 year old server now. What’s worked best for me is “You bought that server on the day you opened your office. Every day we keep it running it is statistically more likely to have a failure.”

I find it varies depending on the department. Accounting knows their software inside and out. Perhaps that’s because they’re more logic oriented? I’m not sure.

The rest of the office uses a proprietary CRM package - everything they do is in that database. What has worked for us if setting corporate standards for how to enter information, and it’s very easy to then see who entered contrary to standards. At that point they are scheduled for a refresher training.

This is a problem close to my boss’ heart - she’s working on standardizing training by having me use screen recording software over which she will record the narration. These would be converted to flash, and put on a training site which would track the users to ensure they’ve hit all modules in a specified time frame.

I’ll let you know how that goes :wink:

It seriously depends on the standard of your WDS. Over 802.11b, the monkey doesn’t really have the required kicking speed. If you have 802.11g, I’m thinking one swift kick will get most of seeds, but two more well placed kicks are required for the remainer. So all else being equal, less than 12 parsecs.

If you can wait until 802.11n is out, then it’s down to 40 rods to the hogshead.

Of course, I’m assuming we’re talking about the right leg of a howler monkey. Any deviations are left as an exercise for the reader.