See IT through a child's eyes

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I believe Newtonian mechanics is better understood by children than adults. Classical mechanics, based on the work of Isaac Newton is concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces. Watching my 15 month old son play with a new toy he first starts by trying to understand how it responds. If he pushes it does it move? If he hits is does it make a noise? If he drops it, does it bounce? As he is now getting to the walking stage he has discovered things that he can walk with whether it be a walker, a push trolley or a tricycle. Once he can stand up and hold on to it, he pushes it in the hope it moves. If it doesn't (usually due to a wall) he pushes it a few more times often getting frustrated at it's failure to respond. Knowing that his parents can turn him around again, he often pauses to gain our attention for assistance, knowing that he can't resolve the situation himself. After repeated attempts, or unless he is turned around, he will give up and move on to the next object of his affection.

It is usually our lack of naivety that makes us think problems are harder than they are or impossible to fix. I know that if I hear the words "exchange is down" I will always pause for a breath before diving in as email problems can be complicated and time consuming to resolve. This assumption is based on experience but may not always be correct. It is amazing how many times re-mounting an exchange store or rebooting a server can resolve the problem. That 1 time out of 100 that you experience a damaged mail store that takes days to resolve is more permanently etched into my memory. The iconic British Channel 4 TV series, The IT Crowd, said it best with "Have you tried turning it off and on". While a traditional IT stereotype, like most stereotypes it is true in many cases.


Faced with a malfunctioning server, or toy, I would immediately jump into investigating errors, replacing batteries, or preparing backups to restore. My son would instead give it another push to see what happens or turn it over to see if anything had changed. Worst case he would find another toy that could replace the broken one. While both approaches would hopefully resolve the issue, he is ruling out issues at a much higher level than I am. While I am focusing on minor details he is looking at the big picture. I might find three errors and fix those but will that actually solve the problem that the user is experiencing? We might both be correct. Ultimately turning it off and on, checking there is power and giving it another push might prove unfruitful. In which case resolving any reported errors is the next logical step in the process but if these errors were caused by something simple such as a power or program failure resolved with a simple reboot I could have wasted important time with this investigation.

When faced with a difficult problem, if we can forget our own assumptions or preconceived notions, then we can take an issue at face value and identify the real cause and effect. Often, in support, issues can be assumed to be related when no true correlation exists entirely based on the assumption that a similar set of circumstances apply. By identifying the raw facts and looking at the big picture we get a better understanding of the fundamental problem and the correct process to resolve it. Just like the coffee machine all problems can be boiled down to their simplest elements. Something goes in, something happens in the middle and something comes out. Good IT support relies on removing all assumptions and identifying fact. Did the right information go in? Did the right information come out? If not, why not? Did the wrong process happen in the middle?

With this information at hand we can determine the most appropriate course of action. Can we put different information in? Or can we put that information into the system in a different way? Is there another alternative, whether this is a different system or different process by which we can input this data to receive the same output? If we can't achieve what we set out to then maybe we should go play with another toy.

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