There are many young computer geeks on the Technibble forums who are looking to make the move into turning their skills into a career. However, many of them have doubts about their knowledge so I have created a list of what skills I believe to be essential to a technician that wants to do basic residential jobs. This is a very general skill set that covers most tasks I have performed in the residential market.
Know How To Google
Lets face it, its almost impossible for a technician to know how to fix everything they come across. There are all sorts of strange error messages that are fairly cryptic but lucky for us they often have an easy fix on Google since other people have already spent hours trying to figure out and succeeded. Don’t be afraid to Google in front of your client either as its better to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” rather than continue along blindly costing your client more money. Using Google sounds simple enough but a technician should know to use Googles advanced operators effectively.
If I was to search for:
computer repair California
It would include pages that have the word computer, repair and California in it but it doesn’t have to be “computer repair California” in that order. The block of text that Google finds could be “I found a place using my computer that will repair my TV and its located in California”.
A better search would be:
"computer repair" +california -geeksquad
This will produce results where the site must have computer repair together somewhere in it. The page must have the word California but doesn’t matter where and it’ll exclude pages that say “geeksquad” on them.
For more information on using Google well by using its advanced operators, check out this page.
Remove Tough Viruses
You need to be able to remove tough viruses like Antivirus2009 (without formatting) and understand how to use tools like Combofix, SmitFraudFix, Hijack This!, Autoruns, Process Explorer, Malwarebytes, Superantispyware and UBCD4Win.
Know Whats In a Clean Windows System
You need to know what processes, files and services commonly appear in a clean Windows system as this greatly assists in the removal of viruses and other malware. For example, a 22kb file named exqzxcop.exe that was created two days ago, is currently running and is residing in the system32 directory probably shouldn’t be there. Basically, if you know what the good guys look like, it makes it easy to spot the bad guys.
General Hardware Understanding
This is a fairly large topic but the essentials to know is understand the power supply wattage’s and voltages.
- Have an understanding of motherboard and CPU socket types.
- Understand different RAM types and speeds.
- Understand motherboard slot types (AGP, PCI, PCI-E etc..)
- Understand hard drive types such as IDE and SATA and understand hard drive jumpers and their configurations.
With these skills, you need to be able to assemble a computer. I am not just talking about putting one together, but building a good one by knowing their part speeds, compatibility and possible bottlenecks.
Troubleshoot Hardware Problems
Computer parts go bad and it isn’t always obvious what the issue is. You need to understand things like BIOS beep codes and what it means if the computers fans spin up but there is no video.
Understand what it means when nothing powers up or the computer powers up for 2 seconds then shuts down.
You can learn this by experimenting with a worthless test PC that you don’t care about if it gets damaged (and it probably will). I personally learnt all this by finding a bunch of old computers in hard garbage that didn’t work and turning the 5 damaged ones into 2 good working ones. If I damaged some hardware, I just put the computer back out in the garbage.
Recover Data from a Non Booting Operating System
You need to be able to remove data from a non-booting operating system by either using a boot CD like UBCD4Win and an external hard drive; or by putting the bad drive into a good system of your own and recovering it that way.
How to Format a Computer and Understand Windows Licensing
Formatting a computer is a fairly common task for most computer technicians but its a little more than just sticking in the Windows CD during boot time and installing. You also need to know the differences between OEM, Retail, Branded, Home, Professional, Volume and Corporate Licenses.
Identify, Find and Install Appropriate Drivers for Hardware
You need to know how to install common peripherals like printers and scanners, how to identify hardware devices by either looking on the actual hardware for model numbers or using a tool like SIW or Everest and know how to spot driver problems in the Windows Device Manager.
Repair a Damaged Windows Install
- You need to know how to get into safe mode.
- Know how to do a repair install of Windows.
- Know how to run the chkdsk command and registry restore in a boot CD like UBCD4Win.
Setup a Basic Wired/Wireless Network
- Know to setup a network with a modem, router and a few client computers.
- Understand how IP addresses work in a private network vs public Internet situation.
- A general understanding of masking/subnetting.
- Understand what your Gateway is.
- Understand how DHCP works and also know how to setup a basic computer to computer network.
- Understand how and when to use static IPs.
- Know how to forward ports.
- If wireless is involved, know how to apply encryption, understand signal strengths and how it can be improved.
Basic Network Troubleshooting
- Know how to find the systems IP, release and renew it.
- Use some DOS commands such as Tracert and Ping and understand the results.
- Know how to login to the modem/router and troubleshoot it. Are the internet details correct? is the modem getting an IP from the ISP? etc..
Be Nice and Know How To Communicate To Your Clients
You can be the best technician in the world but if people dont like you personally, you wont get far. You need to learn how to speak to a layperson in a way they understand because “geek speak” often sounds condescending and will frustrate and annoy your clients.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Don’t accept work that you don’t know how to do and don’t get in over your head. For example, I once had to clean out 4 servers for a courier company. This company had about 400 trucks going around the city at any given time.
They were all GPS tracked via these servers and dispatchers could assign jobs to them. This job listing such as who’s the client and where its going was also tracked by the servers. I can easily clean out a servers as I have done clean out jobs many times before but I had to shut these machines down in order to clean them because their panels were inaccessible. These servers also ran 24/7 so they haven’t been rebooted in a long time. The technician who set up these servers was in Cambodia at the time so if these servers don’t boot back up after the cleaning the business will be in big trouble. Even though I knew how to clean them, the damage to the business that would occur if they didn’t come back up was just too high so I turned it down.
Losing a little bit of money and maybe taking a little ego hit is a lot better than getting sued.
Special thanks to everyone in this forum thread for helping me build this list.