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4 steps
5 Steps To Becoming The Best IT Professional
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5 Steps to Becoming the Best IT Professional

What are the 5 steps?

  1. Learn
  2. Read logs
  3. Research
  4. Protect Data
  5. Be decisive

What is an IT Professional?

IT Professional is just a blanket term to cover a variety of IT positions. Positions such as Systems Administrator, Helpdesk Engineer, Support Engineer, Network Engineer, etc...

What makes you think I have any authority to judge such a wide range of people?

I don't have any authority. However, I do have more exposure to people who work in IT than most others due to my consulting experience. I spent 5 years of my career as a DR consultant doing DR solution design and implementation. To be successful I had to work with the big picture. That meant I worked with the Systems Admin, Network Engineer, Operations Manager, Email Admin, Backup Admin, DBA and the like. In some smaller shops this was one or two people. In larger corporations it was 5 or 6 different people. By the time I left the consulting life I had worked with well over 100 different companies and over two hundred IT Professionals.

Can you give me some examples of where the 4 steps has worked for you?

Example 1:

I was consulting for a large law firm in New York where I was implementing a cross geographical cluster of their Exchange systems. I showed up at 8:00 AM EST and by the time 11:00 AM came around I still hadn't done anything because their Exchange cluster was down and they were still working on solving the problem. They finally got me an administrative account so I could start looking at things and I thought I'd look at their Exchange server to see if I could help with the problem they were having.

  1. Learned - Prior to this project I had configured everything on my laptop using VMWare Workstation. I read help files and other documentation to get an idea how MS Exchange worked
  2. Read Logs - I started up Event Viewer, connected to their Exchange cluster, and started reading the logs. In less than a minute I saw that the Information Store service had been stopped.
  3. Research - I used a utility called psservice to check the status of the service to verify that it was stopped. I already new that this service was required for Exchange to be operational from the learning I did in step 1.
  4. Protect Data - Exchange data was already protected using transaction logging.
  5. Be decisive - I then promptly grabbed one of the three Exchange Admins and told them that their Information Store was down. They started the services which brought Exchange up so I was able to get started on my project.

Example 2:

I worked with a customer who had a backup application to backup Virtual Machines on a VMWare server. Backups were fine but restores failed. I had never looked at this application before so it took me a minute to find where the logs were stored. After reading the logs I found that the software couldn't restore the files because it couldn't find them. It had the path to the file which I compared with the path on the actual target file system. Right away I noticed that the case of the letters in the log were different from the case of the letters on the file system. Since a lot of things these days are still case sensitive I thought maybe that was our problem.

After looking through the software I learned that it was not possible to retype the path so that it had the correct case. From my knowledge of what I've worked with at other customer sites, played with in the lab and read about, I knew that most enterprise applications that are written for windows and have large datasets use MS SQL on the back end. So I had the customer log me into a SQL server that had the MS SQL GUI installed. I then pointed to the database on this server used by the backup applications.

Right away I found the table that contained these filesystem paths and after making a backup I changed the path to match the case on the target backup system. We then tested a restore using that particular share and it was successful.

This case had been opened for 5 months and had gone through multiple people within my team and the backup app vendor's company. I solved it in about 25 minutes. The customer called my boss to give me some big kudos and after proving this pattern over and over again I know work from home with a lot of freedom.

It wasn't because I know everything and as my wife will tell you I am by no means a genius. It was because:

  1. Learn - I quickly learned about the backup application that the customer was using by spending a few minutes on Google.
  2. Read Logs - I found and read the logs
  3. Researched - Fortunately I already knew a little about all involved in the big picture (I've never managed MS SQL before but I know enough to poke around) For me, my research almost always includes a recreation of the solution. When I implement the entire solution where a problem is involved then I learn more about the big picture. I often will also have good logs to compare with the logs that contain errors from the customer or my own systems.
  4. Protect Data - I protected the data by backing it up. If you can test this type of thing in a lab environment then you eliminate risk because you now have an expected outcome.
  5. Be Decisive - Then I made the necessary modifications with confidence that it would either solve the problem or break the software completely :D

I have dozens of similar experiences where I can tie everything to these 5 steps. From recovering data after formatting a drive to a full blown Disaster Recovery project for a fortune 500 company. My experience in the industry within the USA has shown me that we are severely lacking in IT Professionals who can consistently follow any if not all of these steps.

I've met a lot of people who are so afraid to make any changes that things don't get done. I've seen data lost from silly mistakes and out of the 200+ IT Professionals with whom I have worked I would say that maybe 15% actually read logs!

Where I think we lack most is in step one. I have seen a lot more Facebook and Ebay on LCD screens than I have logs and white papers. I've seen hundreds of shelves filled with technical books but most look untouched. I've asked dozens of Systems Administrators for large fortune 500 companies to open a command prompt to learn that they don't know how. It is frustrating to watch a customer point and click through 35 windows when a one liner command could do them all in 5 seconds.

Let me know what you think of my 5 steps. They have served me well and hopefully they add value to someone else.

Street Talk

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