Sysadmin Thoughts: Stop Belittling Your End Users & Empower them instead
I’ve been working in IT for a while now and every now and then I run into the Endpoint support specialist or System Administrator who thinks they’re smart stuff. I mean, who wouldn’t in 2021 when software has eaten the world and most people joke that people who work in technology are modern-day wizards? I think that mentality goes to people’s heads a lot of the time and it often emerges in unflattering ways. I’ve been guilty of doing it myself and I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t do you any favors to make fun of people. I work with a lot of academics and used to get frustrated with some of them when they would need my help for something basic…like making something print or projecting out to a classroom. Just because somebody doesn’t know how to work a bit of technology doesn’t make them stupid, people often have a million things going on in their lives and sometimes that printer not printing or that projector not connecting via Airplay to their laptop that they haven’t rebooted in a month is just the one piece in the Jenga stack that broke their brain. If somebody is coming to you for help take it an opportunity to make a connection, oftentimes by helping somebody you can learn yourself.
Feedback: Somebody coming to you for help is the purest form of feedback you can get as an IT professional. If you have people asking you how to get to a file share all the time or print to a printer, look at it as an opportunity to reevaluate your processes or system designs. Sometimes the technology is good, but communication can be the issue. A lot of the time, people are just throwing into a new organization with zero or little IT onboarding. Do not look at Helpdesk tickets as somebody criticizing your system or wasting your time, but rather, as a stress test pointing out the parts of your information systems that can be improved.
Educate: If you teach a person how to fish then they’ll be able to feed themselves for the rest of their life goes the adage. The same goes for technology. There is no amount of programming or automation that you can do that will eliminate 100% of end users programs on a daily basis. Save yourself some headaches and empower your people by taking some extra time and just educating them how to do things or about new features. Often times just spending a couple of extra minutes on a service call will save you a lot of time in future help desk tickets.
Document: Documentation is boring, I’m guilty of not writing it as much as I really should, but it's something that I’ve found to be a real time saver in the long run. I’m a guiltless thief though and not opposed to Googling for how to do something and sharing with my people that I support. Obviously, do not use documentation in place of helping people with a problem, but in a lot of cases simply sending somebody a short walkthrough can go a long way towards educating and empowering people. If you’re busy, its also a good stalling tactic if you want to be a 10x endpoint support technician (That’s a joke…please never refer to youself as a 10x endpoint support technician). Also, I’ve found that sending a student worker or intern with the documentation and having them walk people through things to be a useful technique. Its pleasant experience for the inexperienced worker and oftentimes busy people has skipped steps. Sometimes people just need a safety blanket to get them over the hump.
Self-Service: Especially with the advent of Mobile Device Management, products like Intune and Jamf both have self-service portals where you can publish apps, scripts, and websites. If you keep getting trouble tickets about an issue, consider writing a script for people to self-service their own computers. Even simple stuff like buttons to upgrade to the latest version of MacOS or cleaning out troublesome caches can go a long way. Sometimes people just need an “Easy” button, and this goes back to the whole Jenga stack idea that somebody can be a highly intelligent expert in their field and whatever issues they are experiencing may be the 1x thing that just sets their otherwise busy, crowded brain over the edge.
Listen to People: You have two ears and one mouth; you should use them in that ratio. Oftentimes if you think you’ve heard an issue a lot there is the tendency to want to make the trouble ticket or email go away and you move unto the next fire. This is a habit you must develop over time, but often listening to people you can notice other issues they are having or even realize that the issue they are having is a completely unrelated problem.
Computer Check-ups: This is one thing that I learned from working at my current jobs. You can automate and MDM-up everything, but at the end of the day you are dealing with physical objects that are basically rocks doing math. Your MDM will not tell you if there are physical issues with the keyboard, fans are flaring all the time, the trackpad is not clicking right, and a host of other issues. I’ve found its good to just lay hands on a machine a couple of times a year and give it the once-over. This is also another good time to listen to end-users and see if they have any other technology issues, needs, or desires. I’ve found that just talking to people ahead of time with some preventative maintenance can really pay divides in the future so that you’re not scrambling when a laptop suddenly fails on you and you have to rush to provision out a machine when you’re in the middle of doing something else.
Anyway, those are just some thoughts. Maybe it’s me watching a bunch of Ted Lasso lately that made me think about it. I know when its busy to get aggravated with people. I once had a boss who joked that their computer networks would have zero issues if it weren’t for the human factors. At the end of the day computers are tools for the betterment of human creativity, productivity, recreation, and just…life. Without humans using technology, we would not need these rocks that do math nearly as much. Just try to keep in mind that people are the reason we do what we do at the end of the day, and I’ve found that always keeping that in mind is a recipe for success. Happy users lead to happy bosses. It also can lead to more secure systems when people come to you with questions or wanting help with problems rather than trying to figure it out themselves and creating a shadow IT department, which is a whole other blog post for another day.