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Conspiracy Theories and Technology

Professional Services Management Ouderkirk, Jennifer VCIO Professional ServicesBy Jennifer Ouderkirk
Virtual CIO
Trivalent Group, Inc.

I have always had the mind of a conspiracy theorist.  It’s just natural for me to glue things together.  The cause-effect relationship jumps out at me.  As a result, I don’t much believe in coincidences.  It all seems purposeful to me.  Sometimes, this gets me into trouble.  But, most of the time, it’s beneficial as long as I don’t go crazy with it!

My career started in customer service and soon transitioned to IT.  I have had a variety of roles in IT, but it has always involved some kind of end user support.  In end user support, it is really important to be able to figure out the cause and effect relationship when you are troubleshooting an issue.  In IT, things don’t just typically happen.  Rather, something happens that causes something else to happen.

It’s kind of like your health.  You’re having stomach issues?  Maybe you’re allergic to something.  Maybe you have an ulcer.  Maybe you…the list goes on and on.  What do doctors do?  They ask a series of questions.  When did this start?  Is there anything that seems to trigger it?  Anything that seems to help?  Anything else going on?  Depending on your answers, they go through the next phase of questioning.  This helps them sort out possible causes and potential tests that should be run to determine what the cause is so that an effective treatment can be planned.

Well, it’s pretty much the same in IT.  As IT professionals, we have to think this way in order to figure out why your computer won’t boot, why you can’t print, why your email isn’t working, why you can’t get to the Internet, or bigger issues.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as this just happened, then this happened.  It’s important on even these issues that you tell whoever is working with you: Don’t worry about getting in trouble for spilling your coffee or clicking on that attachment.  If you don’t tell us and we find it anyway….well, you know!

Start with “I’ve always been able to do this and now I can’t” or “This is something new I’d like to be able to do.”  That will help get started off on the right foot.  If you’ve always been able to do it but now you can’t, here are some things you might get asked.  If you can think about these before contacting support, it will help you get you back to being productive sooner, which is what we all want!

  • When did it stop working? Did anything else happen around that same time?
  • Do others use this, too? If so, has it stopped working for them as well?
  • Are you getting an error message? If so, take a picture or screen shot (REALLY helpful!).
  • Have you tried rebooting? (It’s surprising how many things a quick reboot fixes.)
  • Is there anything that seems to make it worse/better?
  • Are you having any other issues or have you noticed anything unusual recently?
  • Is there any kind of pattern to it? (every time I open this application, every afternoon, etc.)

Sometimes, it gets more complex, especially those tricky intermittent issues.  Even then, it’s helpful to think like a conspiracy theorist, even if it seems bizarre and couldn’t possibly be related.  We’ve seen everything, such as a (non-IT) piece of equipment drawing enough power to cause issues to a bad patch cable in the closet and cause hours of frustrating troubleshooting.  It’s that one little nugget of information that might have seemed innocuous that leads to the final “aha!” moment.  Then everyone breathes a big sigh of relief and you hear, “Really—it was that?!”

So many times it’s something so simple and small and ridiculous or two things layered together that cause a weird set of symptoms that are difficult to diagnose.  So, don’t leave anything out.  The smallest detail may be that nugget.  And don’t get frustrated when IT support asks you a seemingly endless list of questions.  Start thinking like a conspiracy theorist and it might help!

Now, I’ll share a little secret.  Sometimes, you’ll be told, “No, it couldn’t be that.”  And it might not be.  But I’ve been right often enough that I just keep looking for the patterns until we find the root cause.  Being right sometimes just keeps me thinking this way.  More often than not, it doesn’t hurt and it often helps.  I just keep saying, “But this is what I’m seeing. Here’s the pattern.”  Sometimes, that pattern eventually helps us figure it out!