Have you switched it off and back on?

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

We have all been there. One minute our prized possession is working beautifully and the next it all goes pear shaped.

Obviously I am talking about computers, I don’t know what you were thinking about.

The standard help desk response which has become a cliché, “Can you switch it off and back on again?” causes us to titter on occasion, but it is there for a reason. Often problems can occur when software we use has a bug (or three). It may be a caching issue (temporary storage of settings, etc.) or a memory leak (a program does not release RAM after it has finished with it) or something else. The point is that things like that often get reset when you switch the machine off and back on.

Great! Now you are all qualified Help Desk personnel and we can all go home.

Well not quite. There some other things you should know and it might help you to understand that person on the other end of the phone a bit better. It might even make your Help Desk experience better.

So, here are a few things you can check before calling the Help Desk.

Cables. Make sure none of the cables going into or out of your PC are loose. Check your peripherals too. Unplug and re-seat cables if you have to. This can help with simple things like removing strange fuzzy lines from your monitor, power issues and the like. Needless to say, take care and turn off your computer and anything attached to it before fiddling with anything electrical.

Check for physical obstructions. Sounds obvious, but the obvious is often overlooked. If your computer is overheating, make sure it has room around it. Especially by the air vents. Make sure they aren’t clogged up with dust either. If it is a printer or something else mechanical, check to see there isn’t anything jamming the mechanism. Again, switch things off first to avoid mishaps.

Onto software. There are so many programs out in the big wide world and any one of them could be causing a problem on your computer. If your computer issue started after you installed a new piece of software, the chances are that is where your problem lies. Either remove the offender, or try to find a fix for the issue. Google is your friend here, but be warned that some fixes may make your eyes water.

After you have tried everything you can, ready some answers to questions you might be asked by the Help Desk. The chances are you will have got most of the answers already by your own troubleshooting. Think about things like when the problem first started, make a note of error messages, describe in detail what happens and when, from start to finish. Remember that most of the time the Help Desk cannot see your screen and are effectively blind. You will need to use words to paint a picture for them.

Finally, a lot of Help Desk staff are taught to follow a script. Bear with them while they follow that script. It helps them ask the right questions and also acts as a checklist of things to look out for, meaning nothing gets missed. It can be frustrating at times, but it is there to bring order to chaos, which is ultimately there to help you.

Alan Stainer