Never forget the top 3 IT troubleshooting questions

Back in my days as an MSP I got a call from the office asking me to make a “quick stop” to fix a customer’s email problem. I was told this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.

Sure… we’ve all heard that before!

So, it’s the end of the day and a Friday. You know how that is. I’m tired and my brain is fried. But this should be easy. Sometimes it’s good to end your day with an easy problem.

asset3I pull up to the “office” that is really an old house that’s been remodeled. It’s a hot August day, and as I step up to the porch, I kid you not, about 30 spiders dropped down like tiny ninjas repelling off some ancient temple.

Security system?

Kinda creepy actually; that should have been my first clue to turn around and leave.

I gave the spiders a leery glance and walked past them. After all, I am IT, fearless are we! Or something like that. More like, I am ITspiders remind me of that scene in Lord of the Rings with Bilbo…

What’s broken
I find the user at her computer, looking a bit lost without email.

“So, what seems to be the problem today?”

“My email is broken.”

Ah… so I’ve heard.

“Ok, let’s have a look.”

“I have someone I need to contact today!” She explains, obviously very upset.

“Do you have their phone number? You could call them,” I suggest.

“Oh… I hadn’t thought of that…”

I’m amazed at how much we have become dependent on email for communication. I fight the temptation to say, “Back in my day…” and turn rather to the problem at hand.

I have a look while she makes her call. Sure enough, she was unable to send or receive email. The very first thing I did was the classic reboot fix.

“Could not reconnect all network drives…Click here to check the status of your network drives…”

My fried brain began to work. It looks like they just moved to this location, lots of boxes around …hmmm… better check the basics.

I look behind the Hello Kitty waste basket at her computer on the floor. Yup, patch cable was not plugged into the wall jack.

Ah… that could be a problem.

What no network
I attempted to plug it in, “Um… you don’t have a network drop?”

“What’s that?”

“You know, a place to plug your computer into the network… where this cable (I hold up the end for a visual) can connect. It looks like a phone jack, but a little bigger.”

She looked at her cell phone, “a phone charger?”

Oh boy, generation gap getting bigger here.

Back in my day….

I look down at Hello Kitty for moral support, “No, it’s a socket to plug this wire into. The drop would lead to a switch or router?”

“What’s that?”

Hello Kitty, help me out here!

Blank Kitty stare back meaning, you’re on your own David.


My fried brain is quickly building the scenario. End users don’t need to know IT, if they did, we wouldn’t have a job. Let’s see what I can find out from her.

“Did your internet service company connect you to the Internet? Have they been here?”

“Oh, yes, they were working in the other room.”

“Can you show me?”

We headed down the box littered hallway to an empty room.

Where’s the router?
Almost empty actually; I see a lone router sitting unplugged on top of a moving box on the floor. Three foot patch cables protruded from the back of it like the Alien in predator.

A coax cable hung from the wall, the disconnected cable modem, still in a box, sat uselessly on the floor.

“Um, all that has to be plugged in, configured to work together. Then we have to run Cat5 to your office, make a drop, and then plug your computer in.”

“And then my email will work?”

“Yes, that should fix you up.”

“Oh, is that why I can’t print to the office printer too?

I took a moment, blinked twice, “Yes, that’s correct”.

Fifteen minutes turned into a two-day project running cat5, punching down a patch panel and drops, to connect all five of the workstations and the three network printers. I ran cable up and around and through one of the hottest attics I have ever been in in my life.

When I was running the lines, I did not see any spiders. But still felt many times like they were all over my body. Bilbo…

Once we completed the project, Hello Kitty was back in business, sending emails once again.

What’s the point of this story, David?

The moral of this story…
When diagnosing a problem it is sometimes easy to miss the obvious IT troubleshooting steps in an effort to resolve too quickly. Remember the top three questions for any troubleshooting scenario.

  1. When did it last work correctly?
  2. When did you first notice the problem?
  3. What happened in between the time it was working and now?

End users are good at what they do, they are not expected to be good at what we do. Although this case was a bit extreme (but unfortunately, true!) it illustrates a basic point. What may seem obvious to us, it not always the case for the end users in our care.