Problem solving skills can be applied everywhere in life. You may not realize it but even simply making a cup of tea involves problem solving, you need to figure out how to turn an empty cup into one full of your morning tea. The IT world is no different.
There are many problems to solve, some can be solved permanently (an ideal we strive for) while others are more finicky like the infamous printer problem. There are four main steps to problem solving:
Let’s do a little walk through of a situation where we cannot print. Here the first step is very important, we have a lot of interconnected systems and any one of them could be the issue:
- The workstation we’re using
- The printer drivers on the workstation
- The network between the workstation and the print server
- The network between the print server and the printer
- The printer drivers on the print server
- The printer spooler on the print server (another piece of printer related software)
- The printer itself
Our first task is to figure out where our print job is failing. For example, if we can determine the error is only on a single workstation or if it affects everyone, we can cross out some of the above. It’s only a matter of elimination until we arrive at the source of the issue.
Let’s say we’ve determined that the problem is on the print server and the problem is the print spooler component, but it’s only affecting one of 10 printers on that print server. Now we can think about possible solutions.
- Restart the print spooler service
- Reboot the print server
- Use another print server if available
- Use another printer if available
When evaluating these different solutions, we need to consider the difficulty of implementing them, the time it takes, and how many other people will it impact.
If we’re doing something that affects the server, we could be taking down printing for everyone and depending on the environment this could be many people with deadlines etc. It’s also unknown exactly how long printing will be down, if the server is quite old it could take upwards of 20 minutes or more.
Using another printer or print server is more work for everyone affected but it keeps the problem isolated to the people already experiencing the issue, we can schedule a reboot of the print server after hours to limit the downtime impact.
At this point it is time to talk with the client and their management to determine how much downtime may be required and the availability to complete this change during business hours or after-hours. From there we can go ahead and implement the solution we’ve determined is best for this situation.
What I have learned from my time in the IT world is that every problem can be broken down into smaller, more bite-sized issues. No matter how daunting the issue, anything from a broken printer (all too common) to an entire network being down, can be solved efficiently by using the 4 steps mentioned above. By applying this to every aspect of life, including your morning cup of tea, stressful situations may seem more manageable.
James McGeorge | Support Specialist