Repairing computers is as much an art as a science. Acquiring technical knowledge is just the beginning. The ability to apply that knowledge in a useful manner is every bit as important as possessing the knowledge. A successful computer professional must be both invisible and indispensable.
Don't Stop Learning
Continuing education is vital in the computer-repair business. Attending seminars, reading books and magazines, and listening are essential parts of the job. The formal training that you are undertaking should be the beginning of your technical education, not the end. Remember, you will never know everything, and it will often seem that as soon as you've mastered a new technology, it is revised. Knowing how to "get the answer" is often more important than guessing or thinking you know it all.
When we want to increase our computers' data capabilities, we network them. Remember that you are not the only one interested in fixing computers. Take advantage of every opportunity to make connections with your colleagues in the computer business and in the classroom.
Join a local computer users' group-one can easily be found by asking around local computer stores. These groups are great places to meet and share common interests with others.
Make yourself available to other technicians. The person you help to solve a problem (from your base of knowledge and experience) today, will be there to help you tomorrow. The best time to learn about problems, and their solutions, is before they happen to you.
The range of hardware, operating systems, and software available today makes it impossible for any single person to master every aspect of the personal computer environment. Your experience base, as you encounter problems, will be different from that of your colleagues. Build a network of technicians with different areas of specialization. Share your specialized expertise with your colleagues, and learn from them when the opportunity and need arises.
Today's computer professional needs to be linked electronically to the Internet. You need Internet access for e-mail, Usenet newsgroups, and the World Wide Web (WWW). After all, your goal is to make computers work for others, so put yours to work for you.
E-mail is a useful way to communicate with technical support people and colleagues. E-mail is asynchronous communication that transcends time zones; a question can be posed at any time of the day, and answered anytime, without fear of inconveniencing the other party. It is also a good method for providing customer service.
Usenet newsgroups are good places to acquire detailed information about computers. In a newsgroup, you can get information from other users. You are more likely to get a frank opinion than to hear "the company line." There are thousands of Usenet groups, and hundreds are dedicated to computers. Be sure to look for FAQs lists (Frequently Asked Questions). They are great for answering basic questions and giving guidance on how to use a particular newsgroup.
Newsgroups are also invaluable when you come across a situation that stumps you. Write up the problem and post it to an appropriate newsgroup (or more than one, but don't cross-post!). You will often be amazed at the responses you'll get from helpful colleagues-everything from "try this" suggestions, to the actual solution to your problem from someone who has encountered it before.
The World Wide Web
The Web is quickly becoming the best place to get computer information. Most suppliers have a presence on the Web. Suppliers often provide upgrades, patches, and work-arounds for most problems users encounter with their products. Many maintain technical databases full of information about both their legacy products and the most current ones. This information is usually free, but the fact that it exists is not always advertised. It is not uncommon today for a supplier to post a fix or upgrade on its Web site without notifying registered users.
Finding the correct Web site can often be challenging. A good starting place is a portal site that caters to technicians who frequently upgrade computers. These sites help you search for a source for buying parts and have links to the major computer industry manufacturers.
If you don't have luck with portals, use search engines. You might feel overwhelmed at first with your search results, because responses can literally number in the thousands. Learn how to use "advanced" search techniques and try suppliername.com to find the correct domain (it works more often than not).
A good example, and an excellent resource, is
www.microsoft.com. Go to the support page and access the Knowledge Base. You will find a wealth of information regarding Microsoft products. After you find a good source, don't forget to use the Web browser's Favorites, Bookmarks, or similar feature to organize folders with links to the most useful resources you've found online. For example, you could create folders for tech support by company or product.
There are a number of major commercial networks such as The Microsoft Network (MSN) available. Many of the smaller Internet service providers host forums for computer users, similar to the newsgroups previously discussed. The difference is that they are private, available only to the users of the service. They work similarly to a bulletin board service (BBS) where you can post questions and answer other questions.
Knowledge that does not get used gets lost. Practicing is the only way to keep your skills sharp. However, use caution when trying things out for the first time or when experimenting (especially on someone else's computer). Having to explain that you crashed because you were "playing" with a new technique or piece of hardware can be a painful experience for all involved.
However, it doesn't hurt to keep some equipment on hand for the sole purpose of playing. For many technicians, extra equipment at work is rare and their personal machines become their test machines, constantly being ripped apart and experimented upon. If a system or two can be kept around for experimentation and education, you can greatly magnify the value of any other training you receive and reduce costs overall.
Read, Read, and Read Some More!
Keep up with the computer-industry press. There are many good computer books available, but remember that the lead time required to publish a book almost guarantees that computer books are out-of-date the moment they come off the press. At the very least, computer books have a relatively short "shelf life" in an industry that is the most rapidly changing industry in the world. Computer magazines are a great source for keeping up with new developments. There are many good computer magazines, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Much magazine coverage overlaps; pick two or three magazines to read every month and make the time to read them.
Don't forget that most print magazines have online editions, and some excellent ones exist only online. These E-zines offer in-depth reviews and industry advice long before it appears in hardcopy publications.
Subscribing to a computer magazine usually means that your name will appear on a number of mailing lists that are sold to computer companies. If you can overcome sensitivity to privacy issues and tolerate junk mail, the ads that will begin to fill your mailbox offer another way to keep track of new products as they become available.