The Big Secret to Troubleshooting a Network Problem (Or Anything For That Matter!)

“Give a Man a Fish and He’ll Eat for a Day, Teach a Man to Fish and He’ll Eat for a Lifetime”

I wanted to write a post today on how to troubleshoot a computer or a network, and as I started writing, I realized how many different areas I was going to have to cover.  There’s enough information to write entire books on this (and believe me there are entire books on this subject).

Then it hit me… “Teach a (Person) to Fish” – I’m going to share with you how I handle troubleshooting almost ANY problem that anyone has EVER come to me with.

Chris Kane, our VP of Sales at OneVoice, always tells me that the “IT Person” for a company sometimes ends up being the person in the room who just happens to know the most about computers.

I was that person in the room for a long time – having grown up around computers, having built websites when I was younger and having a general curiosity that led me to take apart multiple electronics around the house (Sorry Mom and Dad! I know you actually wanted to use the VCR and not have it strewn across the basement floor – but I HAD to know how it worked.  I mean, you gave me that tool set to play with.  I’m sorry I couldn’t put it back together…) I was the “smartest IT person” in the room and therefore troubleshooting computers and networks usually fell on my shoulders.

Along the way you tend to learn a few things about computers, but most importantly, you learn how to Troubleshoot.

The art of troubleshooting ANYTHING in this world, stems from the ability to: assess the situation, gather the information you need and leverage the tools you possess to accomplish the task.

While this post talks about troubleshooting Networks, you can apply these same principles to practically any area in your life.

I should note that this post also talks about troubleshooting a Windows PC on a Network – again principles are the same no matter what you’re troubleshooting, but terminology and phrases may be different.

Step 1: Accept the Responsibility

When someone comes to you for help with a problem they have, take that problem as your own.  Own the issue that they’re dealing with as if it’s happening right on your own computer.  This will prevent you from putting a virtual “band-aid” on the problem, and help you actually get to the root of the problem.

Grab your paper and pen and head over to the troublesome area.

Step 2: Assess and Recreate the Problem

I can’t tell you how many times someone came to me with a problem, that when I sat down to recreate it, nothing actually was wrong.  The biggest waste of time is chasing a rabbit down a hole that doesn’t exist, make sure that the problem actually currently exists and that you can recreate it.

Once you’re able to recreate the problem (unable to visit a webpage, check email, etc) then it’s time to start jotting down some notes.  Ask the person what they were doing right before this happened – did they download or open anything, or do anything different.

Step 3: Initial Check of the Situation

First thing I always do is mouse over the task bar in the lower right hand corner of the desktop and check for

  • Internet Connection
  • Antivirus/Firewall is On

Since most computers these days can handle a virus scan running while you work, go ahead and get one started.  Even if it’s not related, it doesn’t hurt to make sure and do a thorough scan anyways.  Check to see if the Internet Icon is showing that you have an active connection (No Red X’s on it)

Then you are going to want to check Physical connections: Primarily Power and LAN Cables.  On the back of the computer, where the network cables connects, you should see one solid green light (connection is on) and one blinking yellow light (traffic is transmitting).

Step 4: The Big Secret – How To Fix Anything!

Rather than talk about how to diagnose each individual potential problem (which could be the subject of an entire technical manual), I’m going to give you the best tool possible to fix any problem.

The Number One Tool for Troubleshooting Any Problem is Your Ability to Use Google Effectively!

Once you’ve recreated the problem, wrote down what happened, and assessed the very basic things (like physical connections) – the next step is to take what you’ve discovered and head to Google.  The Google search engine has become so sophisticated over the years that it’s ability to help you find what you need is astounding.

The first thing you need to do is take all of the information you have and formulate the proper question to type into Google (Yes! You’re going to type an ENTIRE question/phrase, not just keywords).

For example: Let’s say you can’t send an email out from Outlook, and you know that your email service provider is GoDaddy.  You would type in the search bar on Google:

I Can’t send emails in Outlook 2013 with GoDaddy

Now search results vary by location – but if I type that into Google right now, the very first result is a link to Outlook 2010 and 2013 troubleshooting from GoDaddy themselves. The guide has a step by step walk through on what to do and how to get things working, as well as additional information in the event it still doesn’t work after following their directions.

I know what you’re thinking… That’s it??? That’s the big secret??? 

It’s true… there is no way that any person can really hold all of the information possibly needed, to troubleshoot every single scenario and problem in the world. The great thing is – you don’t have to.

Now after you fix something, you might be able to recall those steps at a later time for a similar situation, but at the very least, you’ll know exactly where to look.

Once you develop your skills to find answers that people have already provided – you’ll be able to find an answer to anything.  Dryer making a squeaking noise? Dishwasher isn’t cleaning dishes anymore? Car makes a clicking noise when you turn?  Doesn’t matter – because now you have the tool to find out what you need.