What is Documentation?

Your Tech Career – Documentation

I was asked recently at a talk I was doing at a community college for students in their Network Design and Administration program what documentation is. It was their Computer Hardware class and for many of them their first exposure to computers and computer support. Documentation is simply recording or writing down what you did to solve an issue.

Documentation is critical to a team environment both large and small because tech issues can be ongoing. It is the end goal to resolve a user or technical issue in most tech jobs. To explain what documentation is a bit further, I’d like to focus on a help desk environment where a team of tech support specialists helps end users at a company with their computer configurations, issues, and emergencies.

Say a computer user named Erin, in a marketing department at a mid-sized company, suddenly cannot print to their local printer attached to their computer. She has tried turning it off and on and made sure paper was in it, but it doesn’t print. It’s critical that she finishes printing the project she is working on for a meeting later in the day so she calls the company tech support line for assistance.

The help desk tries to help remotely by logging on the computer but the printer just isn’t showing up. Tech support asked Erin to check the cable connections and it seems like everything is plugged in correctly. Tech support dispatches someone to go look at the printer in person. When the tech person arrives they realize that the USB cable that connects the printer to the back of the computer fell out. It appears the user may have caused the issue inadvertently by catching the cable with her foot and unplugging it. The tech reattaches the cable and shows Erin how to do that, tests the printer, and asks the user to test print something.

The technician will then fill out a ticket to document the troubleshooting. The ticket will look something like this:

1/20/18 10:50 AM – Adam the tech
Erin on PC-78 called with a printer issue. She could not print from any program. I was able to remote into the computer and look at the printer settings. The local printer was not showing up. I asked her to check that the power cable and USB printer cable were plugged into the back of the printer snugly. She could not confirm it was plugged into the computer. I dispatched Matthew to go to look at the issue in person.
1/20/18 11:35 – Matthew the tech
Arrived at Erin’s PC-78. Checked that the printer had power. Confirmed it was not showing up as a printer option. Followed USB cable to back of the computer. Noticed the USB cable had fallen out and plugged it back in. I showed Erin the issue. Noticed cables were loose behind the computer so I secured them with a Velcro strip. Test printed a page. Asked Erin to test print. Test print was successful.

This looks like a lot of documentation for a simple printer issue but let’s look at why it was important to document the issue.

A few weeks later Erin can’t print. She has another deadline and is frustrated that she is having another printer issue. She remembers that she kicked out the cable before, looks under her desk, undoes the velcro that was tidying up the cables and confirms it’s plugged in. She reboots her printer and it starts working. Crisis averted.

Fast forward another few weeks and the printer stops working again. Erin is extremely frustrated. Especially because this has happened twice in the last month. She reboots the printer an that doesn’t do the trick. She calls tech support. Tech support looks through the ticket and asks if she checked that the cable was plugged into the back of the computer. That’s right, she loosened up the cables to check last time, sure enough, she kicked the cable out. She reconnected it and asked if someone could come back out to secure those again for her.

The tech was able to read the documentation from the last ticket and diagnose the issue even though Erin forgot to check that cable behind the computer. She forgot because, in her mind, it was an ongoing and different issue with the printer. The good documentation that both the techs took last time saved an urgent trip from the tech department to help her with another printer issue. Since it was a reoccurring issue, tech support can schedule a tech out when convenient to secure the cables even better so this issue doesn’t keep happening.

Documentation in a help desk environment can be recorded in different ways but it’s usually recorded in a ticket management system. Some popular ticket management systems are Freshdesk, Zendesk, or ConnectWise. These ticketing systems can record tickets, network configurations, passwords, and usernames, and even track an organization’s assets like computers, printers, and network equipment.

If you are new to the tech world or interested in getting a job in the tech world, I’d recommend starting a blog of your own to showcase your documentation skills. As you work on tech issue and resolve issues, document the steps in a blog. Put that web address on your resume so future employers can see your documentation skills. I did this when I was fresh out of my Networking Design program. I would check at times how many new visitors to the site I had when I was going to the job interview process and saw a huge jump in traffic during that period of time. My potential employers were looking at my documentation skills!

Ideas for things you could document:
-How to install MS Office 365
-How to configure the settings in Chrome
-5 things to check if your monitor isn’t turning on
-10 features to look for when buying a new computer
-How I helped my grandma get rid of a virus on her computer

Practice and showcase your documentation now. It will give you an advantage when looking for a new job in your NEW TECH CAREER!

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