Troubleshooting Basics

It is broken!

And to fix it, you will need...

  • A lot of patience and determination
  • A process of elimination
  • A system for recording actions
  • Attention to detail

The goal of these articles is to help you find and fix the problem that you are having. In these articles, I am going to be using the pronouns like "we" and "us" because, at the end of the day, your problem is our problem and we both want to see it fixed.

A Lot of Patience and Determination

Having worked as both a mechanic and now as a computer tech, I can attest to patience and determination being one of most needed characteristics of a troubleshooter. There are many times that finding and resolving the problem is easy. But then there are the times it takes many hours of trying to get to the root of the problem.

If we are going to be successful, we are going to have to be willing to try and try and try again.

A Process of Elimination

Troubleshooting is the process of narrowing down the areas in which the problem may lie until you find the problem. To be able to do that, we will find that it usually works best to understand how the pieces of the system are put together. As we look at finding the problem, I will be giving a simple description (usually non-technical) of what we are planning to do and then giving the technical steps to do.

A System for Recording Actions

As we work through these steps, keeping track of what we did, what we saw, and what happened are very important for two reasons.

  • It helps cement in our mind systems and processes and as a result makes us more proficient for the next time we have to work on something similar.
  • It helps keep us from going in circles as we troubleshoot.
  • It gives us "case" information, should we need to hand to problem off to a more experienced technician.

Keeping a record of what we are doing is not hard; it just demands being disciplined. It means writing down exactly...

  • What we know
  • What we are seeing
  • Why we are going to try what we are going to try next.

If we have pictures or screenshots to add to this record, great.

Attention to Detail

There are many times that I answer a telephone call and the caller makes the statement, "It just quit." Or "It's not working." When that happens, I just start asking questions...

  • Was it working?
  • When did it stop working?
  • What were you doing when it quit?
  • What error messages are you getting?
  • What have you checked?
  • Have you had a power outage or thunderstorm recently?
  • How well were things working before it just quit working?
  • How well are other things working?

And the list could go on for a long time, but what I am after is a story that may give us some clues on what may be the cause of the problem. As technicians, it is quicker and easier for us to cross out unnecessary information than it is for us to figure out the correct question to ask next or what move to make next.

Pay attention to...

  • The story of events leading up to the problem.
  • The error messages when the problems occurs.
  • The attempts at finding and fixing the problem.

But it still is broken!

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