Where to Find the Answers to Technology Questions and Problems

This video/article is intended to demonstrate where (and how) to find the answers to technical questions and problems. I discuss some of the basic rules I live by and have listed a condensed version of them below.
27 minutes – for beginners. Watch the video here:

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First, let me explain why I don’t answer technical questions on my website (other than ones specifically related to my books/videos).
The main reason for this is the fact that everyone who reads my books and watches my videos should learn how to research answers on their own. Without that skill, a person will have a difficult time in the IT field. The ability to solve problems on your own is of paramount importance. So in good conscience, I realize that my job as a teacher is to show how to get the answers you seek.

So let’s give some tips about how to go about investigating questions and finding the answers you are looking for. These are not necessarily in order. It will depend on what type of issue you encounter.

But before you search for the answers you need to…

Define the problem: Sometimes, the real problem lies in the fact that a person can’t properly explain what the issue is. So attempt to define the question or problem in a scientific way. Try writing down your question or what you are doing step-by-step. Be descriptive. Just so you know, 1/2 the time, students and readers of mine figure out the answer to a problem just by doing this. Use a troubleshooting process to help organize your thoughts.

I break down where to find the answers into 5 categories:

1. Technical Documentation – Usually, this is the first place to go. Printed and digital manuals can be very helpful when installing, configuring, testing, maintaining, troubleshooting, and securing technology. Maintain a technical library whether it be printed books or on a Kindle or similar device. Refer to embedded help systems, for example, ones accessible by pressing F1 within an application or operating system. Make use of company documentation in the form of guidelines, policies, help systems, trouble-ticketing systems and forums.

Whatever documentation you possess, be sure to RTM – Read The Manual! Or at the very least scan it. Be fluent in the various type of documentation that you have. Make sure that devices and software you plan to purchase come with good documentation (and support).

Consider building your own documentation over time using a virtual notebook program such as OneNote or Evernote.

2. Go to the Source! – Often, this means searching for an answer at the manufacturer’s website: I always say it: “GO TO THE SOURCE!” If it is a problem with Windows, go to the Microsoft website. But you might say “Dave, Windows is perfect! Right?” 🙂 Microsoft Support and more importantly the Microsoft TechNet are both free. Personally, I find the answers to more than 90% of my Microsoft questions on one of those two websites. This concept applies to any hardware or software. If it is an Intel motherboard problem, hit their site, if a Linux problem, go to a Linux site, if a Call of Duty problem, stop playing. Awww… 🙁 (just kidding… though FPS games can be a real career-killer.)

Also make use of standardization bodies such as the IEEE, IANA, TIA, and also read up on RFCs made available by the IETF.

Be careful with Googling and encyclopedic websites (such as Wikipedia). The information you obtain may or may not be correct. Enough said.

Watch for other search engines that might assist you better in your investigations. For example, I sometimes use Wolfram Alpha for scientific or computational searches.

3. Ask People! – If the problem occurs at work and is work related, ask a co-worker. Part of an employee’s job is to share information. But keep the question within limits. Basic questions that a co-worker can easily answer should be asked of them first before even searching a manufacturer’s website. For example, “Which oscilloscope config are you using for that test?” It would be silly to search the web for something specific to your company. However, more detailed questions should be delayed until you have at least tried to research it for yourself. For example, “How do I setup a policy for an organizational unit in Windows Server?” This question is Microsoft-centric, and not specific to your company. So you should do your best to find the answer before addressing a co-worker in this case.

Escalate the problem if necessary to another tech or to your manager. The whole point of a tech support group is to answer questions quickly and efficiently. Don’t let your pride get in the way of a quick solution.

Consider professors or teachers that you have had in the past (or are currently training with). They can be a great resource, and quite possibly an inspirational one. The smartest students in my classes are not the ones that can answer questions correctly (though they are smart). The smartest ones are the ones that ask me questions during break or after class, and keep in touch via e-mail after the course is completed.

You can also ask people you know. For example, I have a group of “tech friends” that I keep on my Rolodex (what?!?), whatever my Rolodex happens to be at the current time: e-mail, IM, text, social media, whatever it is you kids use… 🙂 – Anyways, this group consists of experts that I am acquainted with, some who know e-mail systems in-depth, others who are experts with Motorola handheld computer displays, and so on. But it’s a two-way street. The exchange of information has to go both ways for the relationships to work.

Remember, sometimes people are the best place to go first.

4. Use Secondary Sources – Do-it-yourself (DIY) sites can be helpful. Video platforms such as YouTube can show you how to do something in a more tangible way. Forums can be great too. For example, Tom’s Hardware for PC questions and Stack Overflow for programming questions. Or sites such as Tech Republic for all kinds of technology. Just remember that it is another reciprocal situation. You should answer questions as often as you ask them – if at all possible! The more experienced you get the more you can give back.

Experienced tech support people try to avoid these sites, because they know the golden rule: GO TO THE SOURCE. But they might be necessary. Just don’t use them as a crutch.

If you do post, be prepared to specify details about the problem, for example:
– what type of computer (laptop, PC)
– OS version, SP or update level
– Software affected, network area affected
– and a descriptive account of the problem. I guarantee you, the more descriptive you try to be, the higher the probability that you will figure out the problem on your own!
Either way, the more details you can give when asking a question, the greater the possibility that someone can help you…

Once again, the exchange of ideas is important. If someone answers one of your questions on a tech support website, be sure to answer one of someone else’s questions on that same site at some point in time. I’ve frequented TechRepublic for years now, so that I can answer questions. Less as of late due to workload, but it’s one of my ways of giving back I suppose…

5. Dig Deep! – Sometimes you just have to come up with a solution on your own. There might be a bit of trepidation, but it can be exciting too. Be creative to devise a solution and document carefully. In these situations you can really gain in experience and learning. Think outside the box and use all of the resources at your command.

Well, that’s it. I hope this article has been of some help to you. Good luck with your technology research!

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