The Phone Is Ringing, So Answer It

How many times have I seen even seasoned technicians dismiss, ignore, or forget to seek out relevant error messages? A lot! So many machines in use today will tell you exactly what is wrong (should you be bothered to listen). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tune in to this information, but you may have to snap out of the trance you’re in to recognize what you’re missing.

An example from my work life: I was with a co-worker and we were trying to look at some data on a portable storage device. After plugging it in, it was clear it wasn’t working because the drive wasn’t showing up in the filesystem browser. A few error messages popped up on the screen, which my friend, on auto-pilot, quickly clicked to dismiss. Like a pop-up box removal ninja, he killed the messages so fast that I could barely see them:

Me:“What did that say?”
Co-worker: “I dunno, it was in the way…”

Another error message popped up and I grabbed the mouse, insisting that we read it. The alert said that one of the hard drives in the array was missing. Hmm…that’s interesting. We opened up the enclosure and, sure enough, found a disk that wasn’t seated properly. We reseated the drive and everything returned to normal. The device was screaming out what the problem was, but we weren’t listening!

You should answer that.
(image: Shannon MooreCC BY 2.0)

The lesson is simple: unless you have a good reason not to, a good place to start any troubleshooting exercise is with a machine’s own error codes. If the system has built-in diagnostics that will tell you exactly what is wrong, why aren’t you using them? Remember, the Master Troubleshooter is looking to find the shortest path to a resolution. Not using the low-hanging fruit of built-in diagnostics is the equivalent of walking from LA to New York, after turning down a ride on a friend’s rocket ship. Leave the hard path of self-denial to your personal quest for Enlightenment. When it comes to troubleshooting, take the easy way out and save your energy for the really tough problems.

In essence, this is just another reminder of the importance of being present when you are troubleshooting. I’ve been over the importance of listening to people, so I’ll simply add: listen to your machines too!


1 thought on “The Phone Is Ringing, So Answer It

  1. Another way of saying this is “solve the problem you know” Sometimes *a* problem can be *the* problem. While it could be a distraction, often the simple symptoms can lead you to a simple solution. The other day my battery powered vacuum was turning off after a few seconds of runtime, despite being fully charged. When investigating, I found that the inlet was clogged with debris. I could have easily ignored it, and assumed that it was unrelated to the motor’s behavior but clearing the clog was easy. I recommend noting down all of these side streets and coming back to them if you cannot make headway with your main symptom. Some of the side streets may lead to dead ends, but this strategy is very effective.

    Chasing down error messages is also a great way to shake out operator misunderstandings and latent product defects.

    Liked by 1 person

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