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The Six Vital Questions to Ask Your New Computer Tech BEFORE You Hire Them


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The vital questions that you will want to ask before you hire a computer technician. Never let a novice technician near your network. You friend's son can do much more harm then good. Network downtime translates into lost revenue.

1) How long have you been doing this?

Every week I run into a client who has been using a son, daughter, nephew or the like to manage their small business IT needs. The phrase “real good at computers" crops up in interviews with new clients all of the time. The reality is, being good at using computers is far different from knowing computers. An experienced technician can quickly identify software and hardware problems, and will either know the procedure for remedying the problem, or know where to find the answer.

2) Where else have you worked?

Experience is a vital prerequisite. Experience in setting up a simple peer-to-peer network for an aunt's day care business does not necessarily translate to the kind of network experience required for a large enterprise. Experience is a must in the tech world. A good technician is always up to date on the current state of technology, and must possess a large “Bag of Tricks". This bag includes litany of past experiences and contingencies that make up what we consider experience. A great example happened to me several months ago. Last December I got called into investigate the appearance of a bazaar biohazard looking background that appeared on the background of a PC. It was obviously a hijack of some sort. It took four hours and an assemblage of tools to repair. The good news, the next call a week later took a whole half hour to fix, because it was now in the “Bag of Tricks".

3) What do you work on?

Many so called geeks will likely attest to knowledge in a wide array of computer areas. The reality is that the computer world is a vast expanse that contains hundreds of varied technologies. A person who is particularly skilled in the Windows XP operating system may know nothing about the Windows Server 2003 environment. They look alike, yes, but are indeed very different animals both in purpose and function. Let a PC man get his hands on a MAC, and wait for the blank stare. Visa versa holds true as well. The only difference is that a MAC guy would not be caught dead touching a PC, at least not in mixed company.

I had an experience some time ago with a company's worst nightmare. The book-keeper's husband was “really good" with computers and was contracted to provide network support for a small (6-10) PC network. He immediately installed a bunch of Windows 98 tools on an NT based server, at first slowing it to a crawl, and finally toasting the entire PERC-RAID controller, essentially killing their server. The upside is that I got called to ride in like the Calvary and fix the whole mess. My advice to him, don't touch a server until you know what a server is.

Don't ever let a novice technician anywhere near your network. Network downtime translates into lost revenue or productivity.

4) What degrees or certifications do you have?

The world of computers is ripe with certified and degreed technicians. Certification means you passed a test. A degree means that you passed all of the classes. Having the paper in hand does not guarantee experience. The level of knowledge needed to be a well rounded computer technician takes years of dedicated experience and training. I personally have two degrees, each taking years to complete, and half a dozen certifications from Microsoft. Where did I learn to implement a two city VPN with secure file and print sharing? I learned from experience. Where did I learn to effectively communicate to Ethel the part time receptionist, who first touched a computer last year, the proper way to save data to a file server? I learned from experience. The point being a good technician will bring knowledge, experience, and humanity to your home or workplace.

5) What is your company about?

A slick phone book ad or commercial does not tell you much about the company you hire, except that they paid for an advertisement. I have encountered dozens of companies who pay their sales staff twice what they pay their techs. This translated to high prices, low return, and poor service. I cannot count the times I have inherited a new client, often on referral, who is frustrated by the slick salesman who sent over “Skippy", the new tech, to fix their system. Skippy showed up, looked all of twelve years old, and preceded to cause even more problems than there were to begin with. Why? No experience, no clue, and high costs. Be aware that “Skippy" is often paid eight to twelve dollars and hour out of the Seventy-five or Ninety you are paying. Who gets the rest and how concerned are they about the service you receive?

In my experience the best new clients are ones that come on referral. A referral - based client begins with a trust relationship already in place. The dialog goes like this. “Mike H. says you are the best computer guy ever, and that's good enough for me". The point here is to ask those people around you who they recommend. What was their experience with a particular company's service?

6) What is your experience with our business or software?

A knowledgeable and conscientious tech will be the first to admit zero or limited knowledge of what you do. I met an architect once who told me “I can build you the nicest Pizza Hut on the planet, but I can't tell you to make a pizza". The same holds true for a technician. A good technician is skilled in a core set of principles that are inherent to all like computers and networks. Many businesses use a variety of proprietary software that is unique to their particular business. This type of software can take weeks or even years to master. A technician cannot possibly master the subtleties of all software in the client realm. Therefore it is critical to choose a technician who has mastered a strong set of troubleshooting skills, and understands the core principles of computer hardware. operating systems, and networking.

A Montana Native, Kelly McCann, MCSE, MS. Ed has been active in community development, education, and business in the Billings, Mt area for over 20 years.

For computer support in the Billings, Mt area go to

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