Training Users

I’ve on several occasions had to do some end-user training on various subjects. ShoreTel phone and Communicator usage has been the big thing, but also how to use Outlook and stuff like that. I’ve found one very important thing about doing these trainings:

The user has to want to learn what you’re teaching.

This should be obvious and old news to most teachers. I can’t imagine standing in front of a bunch of school kids day after day trying to teach them Shakespeare or basic algebra and have all but maybe one kid per day just completely ignore you because they don’t want it. If a person was one of those kids who put in minimum effort, always looked for the easy way out and passed their classes because their least effort was enough or the teacher didn’t want to deal with them again, what makes you think they ever grew out of that? Pro-tip: They probably haven’t.

I know in some ways I haven’t grown out of that myself. I always look for IT fixes that are simple and easy, and not following nine page dissertations on how to solve a problem. If I can reboot it or delete a registry key, that’s the fix I want, not the day long endeavors some IT blogs talk about. If I’m like that I have to assume a significant number of people are like that too. Nine step processes aren’t good, two-step processes are acceptable, not having to actually do anything is great. Sometimes this is good, but not always.

This has forced me to re-evaluate how I present information to people. I think the normal IT reaction to people not listening to them is to simply take something away or shame them into doing better if they won’t change. There’s a time and place for both of those things, but what really needs to happen is to make things less intimidating for people to begin with. The major problem of course is people typically don’t like to change their thinking or habits. This is because that isn’t the easy fix.

One complaint I get is what they call ‘information overload’. Too much information is being presented and they feel overwhelmed. A lot of times the people with these complaints are overwhelmed before they walk in the door and that’s a hard thing to get past. They’ve already decided they’ll either fail, it’s too much or they are just scared of messing up. I don’t know how to get past that except with maybe short, repetitive information snippets instead of hour and a half lectures and labs.

Another obstacle are the people who are convinced that ‘the old way was better’. I’m not talking about the people obstinate about changing a process, but those that actively hate computers and technology. On the surface they long for the days when everything was on paper, that ‘simpler’ time fifty years ago. Amusingly most of these people are like, you know, sixty years old or younger. Computers have been in the workplace for well over twenty years now. My grandfather was using one in the 80’s, my dad had a portable computer in 1984 (which I still have, it’s a heavily upgraded Panasonic Sr. Partner, I keep it in case of apocalypse. I’m pretty sure it’s nuke proof.).  So for a lot of these people computers have been ‘normal’ for at least half their life. Their great grandparents were likely similarly freaked out by electricity, so you can’t really blame them.

So I’m working on a different way to present training materials. Not totally sure where to start but I think I’ll be interviewing some school teachers to start with. It’ll probably change how I think about blogging.


Digital Filing System Thoughts

I’ve been to a lot of small two and three-man shops over the years and it’s rare for anyone to be truly paperless. A few of the places I’ve worked for have been paperless long before that was a thing. They typically do this without any need of any sort of special ‘Document Management’ system. One of these places actually went paperless not due to need, but because they thought it odd to have all that computer equipment and not use it for all their file storage.

Thought I’d show how their file structures were set up and how they got documents in there to begin with.

One business was a local financial firm with three generations of one family working there. The youngest generation wasn’t sure how to get dad and grandpa on board with storing everything on the computer so they had to get a little creative. The first thing these guys did is painfully simple most IT guys won’t even think of it, fortunately they’re financial consultants. They made folders A through Z. That’s right, they made an A folder, a B folder, a C folder, a D folder and so forth. Under those folders they would put their client names, last name first as folders there. So I would be under the E folder, and my folder would be EVANS AARON – 12345. The number at the end would be my client number or phone number or even a physical paper folder number (my grandpa files by client number, not by name, it works well). Their father and grandfather were able to catch on to this concept quite easily and never looked back.

Any of their paperwork the client fills out gets scanned, printed to PDF or whatever and named something like this: EVANS AARON – I49B Form.PDF. This would sit in a holding folder, email or whatever until whoever was doing the filing would drag this file into the proper folder, after verifying the file name was correct. Whenever they needed it, they’d just look in the correct folder and print it up.

Another interesting solution actually did involve document management software, but it was a really primitive kind. It was in a lawyer’s office, and they did the same thing the financial consultants did, but they used their forms software to help. They basically just had a folder called “Clients” and then another folder called “Clients Old”. Any of their current clients were put in their own folder by name under the Clients folder. Their forms software used this folder to keep track of what had and hadn’t been filled out, possibly with a database file for each client. I don’t know if they used this folder because the forms software just generated it, or if they just made the forms software comply to how they did things, but it worked out well.

They had a Ricoh copier that they had set up to print to a holding folder and essentially did the same thing as the financial firm. The difference was they had printer software that could tell the scanner where to put things from their computer. There were far fewer mistakes made that way.

One thing both places had in common was the lack of file cabinets. Sure they had some paper files, but the bulk of their stuff was digital so the didn’t have to keep it in the office. I’m sure the law firm had a storage unit or something somewhere that paper files were stored in but it certainly was not at their office.

Daily – Missed Posts

I was beating myself up all weekend about missing a post Friday. Then I went and missed one yesterday too. I’ve figured out that my idea of posting these at 4:30 every day wasn’t the best as people tend to come in at that time and ask about last minute problems. Sometimes these problems are really bad and I can’t put them off after a blog post. That got me thinking about distractions in general.

It’s pretty easy to get distracted in the IT world. Someone always has a problem, someone always wants to talk about their home computer, something will always be broken. Vendors and management will call at the worst possible times. Stuff just seems to come up. So to that end I think it’s best to try and schedule some down time each day to work on online content and social media.

I think it was Jack Spirko on his “Five Minutes With Jack” podcast (Which is awesome by the way) said you should take an hour out of your day to work out new content. Now while I can’t do this at work I think fifteen minutes is a good period of time at work to post stuff like what I’ve been trying to do. Now obviously if you work for some place where they are very uptight about posting any kind of work details online this is not a good idea. What I have noticed is that most IT departments lack a good internal Knowledge Base, which should be essential at any company. One thing I will be working on is improving ours, because there are so many little fixes we come up with that should be documented. So here’s my ideas for improving ours.

  • Add where to find stuff entries. Like “I can’t get this Office 2010 key to work”. Problem was that the MAK keys we have to use the install package on the media that was sent from Microsoft. It’s a protected knowledge base that we control access to, why weren’t the keys, that information as well as a link to the install package or which binder it was in posted on the Knowledge Base? Lazy IT guys that’s why. So stuff like that will be included now.
  • How to do things properly within our protocol should be there. I’ll be putting in our standards for adding and removing new users in the Knowledge Base.
  • Basically anything that is required for an IT person to do their job should be documented with whatever policies and protocols we have in place. I think the only exception is “How to Reboot a Computer”. That shouldn’t be in there because honestly if you don’t know how to do that you probably shouldn’t be touching one.

So those are my first baby steps towards better documentation.



Social Insecurity Part 0

With some of the security changes people keep talking about at Facebook I thought I would put my thoughts and advice up here.

I have some credentials that make me at minimum ‘knowledgable’ on the subject.

I have been working in the IT industry in some capacity for over ten years. I have been a denizen of the net for nearing fifteen years. Since day one I’ve been using it as a social tool. I’ve been around since the early days of the web when AOL was still the thing to have.

Social networking sites have changed the whole landscape of the web. Microblogging and status updates are here to stay and with them come a whole new set of things to be careful about.