Be Your Own Tech
My favorite television show of all time is The IT Crowd, for obvious reasons. A running joke on the show is that the main characters, who work in tech support, will just pick up the phone, yell "Have you tried turning it off and on again?!" and then slam the handset down.
One of the things I love most about my job is empowering others to solve their own problems. Not because I want to talk myself out of work or because I don't like helping people, but because I think that knowing a few simple steps to take can make users more comfortable with their devices (and even enjoy using them more). To that end, I'm starting a series on this blog called "Be Your Own Tech" in the hopes that you'll come to feel that way, too. Empowered. Confident. Heck, someday you might even open up your own tech support business!
If you do, give me a buzz. We'll have coffee. I'll help you get started.
Anyhow, the first trick I can give you is indeed "have you tried turning it off and on again?" Which may seem too simple to be important, but there's a whole tech support philosophy tied up in this. Why? Because the first thing you need to do is figure out what systems are affected by the problem so you know what to reboot. Is it an app? Is it the whole computer? Is it your network?
Here's an example of what I mean. Let's say that you can't get email on your Mac. The first step is to try to isolate the problem. Is it that your network is down? If so, other computers in your house would be having trouble, too. Is it that the Mail application itself is having issues? If that's the case, maybe just quitting and reopening the app might fix the issue. Does it seem to affect more than just the Mail program? For example, is Safari not working properly, either? Then restarting your Mac might be what's needed.
The more you can isolate how small (an app has crashed) or how large (the house network is offline) a problem is, the more you'll know about which equipment to focus on—and what to say when you call Comcast or a tech support person like me. Plus, thinking through problems in this way will give you a good head start on troubleshooting other stuff, too. For example, if your computer is acting oddly when you plug in a certain drive, what could potentially be wrong? If you start thinking about the separate pieces of the puzzle—the computer, the port the drive is plugged in to, the cable to the drive, the drive itself, the drive's power supply if present—you'll at least know better how to frame your Google searches. After all, "drive doesn't work" won't give you as many relevant results as "Mac USB port not working," which you could discover if you tried plugging a known-good drive in to the same port.
And okay, I know you're wondering how I just filled that much space on The Philosophy of Power-Cycling Devices, but I think it's an important thought experiment. Believe it or not, someone figuring out whether their problem is an app versus their Mac in general before they call me can save a lot of time—and consulting fees!