Essential Skills for Basic Residential Computer Repair Work

Essential Skills For Young Computer Techs

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

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.



Bryce Whitty

About the Author

Bryce Whitty
More articles by me...
Bryce is an Australian computer technician and the founder of Technibble. He started his computer repair business when he was 17 years old and is still running it 9 years later. He is an avid traveller and spends at least a month of the year in another country.

Comments (29)

  • Aaron says:

    Great information! I have been in the IT industry for 7+ years and have just decided that it is time to go on my own and start my own computer repair business. I was concerned about my knowledge and this list of essential skills is a great boost to me on being about to start this business.

  • Majestic says:

    My client base is 85% residential. Another skill that’s important is Reliability and Professionalism. Yes it should go without saying but more often than not fly-by-night techies get into the business thinking they can treat their clients as they would their beer-buddies.

    When people call, call them back. When you say you’re going to do something, DO it. Also, follow up with your clients.

    As a new tech, learn to stick to your price. Yes, you can be flexible, but remember it’s food on your table you’re earning.

    I’ve had people ask for major discounts, and I asked them to give me a guarantee of X hours per month in order to get discounted..

    Majestic

  • JerZa says:

    Thanks for another great post.

  • ifelloutofatree says:

    This is a great resource to have. Thanks Bryce.

  • dhrandy says:

    Another great article and great advice for newcomers.

  • Brendan says:

    Bryce,

    You might want to start writing a book on this subject. But, what do I know? :D

  • Jeff says:

    Bryce,

    Very informative. We’ve been in the business for more than 15 years. Independence is tough, but in the end it is worth it. If you are good at what you do success will come. Not overnight, but you will make it eventually. Hang in there.

  • road runner says:

    gee…i must have missed something…..I thought all you had to do was buy a 39.95 copy of Fix it Utilitys 7……charge the client 179.95 and thats it…everyones happy……

    Just Kidding…nice write up Bryce :)

  • capthookss says:

    Thanks Bryce for another great article!

  • Coota says:

    I have a personal addition.
    Providing support for every piece of software ever written and/or might be. :)

    Great place to find informative writeups, great Forum and unique software.

    ****Silver Star****

    Oops

    Sorry but you need some humour to make us grumpy Tech’s smile.

    Coota Au

    Onya Skip.

  • Coota says:

    PS: Will Antivirus2009 get gid of MicRo$oft

  • Ron says:

    @Coota

    “Will Antivirus2009 get rid of MicRo$oft”

    No, unfortunately.. but format c: /u will :)

    It’s good that Windows is around because it keeps us all employed, but as for my own systems, I prefer to run Linux for a variety of reasons.

  • It would be nice to use this as an outline and flesh out each topic more, say in the forums.

    -Shannon

  • ACG says:

    @Ron — Sam e here on the Linux Front. I run a mixed environment though, for various reasons/testing/etc.

  • I’d add sfc /scannow – usually can fix many problem in a quick manner.
    You can join a geek forum – you’ll help many folks and learn new stuff.

    And the most important – read Bryce’s blog ;)

  • Atniz says:

    Nice list of computer repair work. Most of the time, I repair my own computer. Not to the extend of repairing the green board (PCB).

  • I really appreciated that post. I have a little computer repair shop and I take in people who would like to learn and train them from time to time. It is good to have a list that compares to my own list for training future techs.

  • This is a great list. I’d add the following:

    Know how to make cabling

    Having the tools and the skills to be able to crimp RJ-45, F-connectors, and RJ-11 is incredibly handy. It also lets you buy cable in bulk, make it on the spot, and even if you sell it at a lower price than the cable available at retail, you can still make a few bucks and provide a valuable service.

    Plus it makes networking equipment look far more tidy when there isn’t a 6 foot cable connecting a router and modem 1 foot away from each other.

    Know how to work with disk images

    Disk cloning technology means never having to say you’re sorry. It’s the ultimate protection against a virus removal gone bad, or a disk-failure while working on a system. Software like Acronis TrueImage or Macrium Reflect have changed the way I not only sell backup systems, but handle work in the shop. You should be able to clone a disk, restore individual files or partitions, and transfer an image from and old, small hard drive to a bigger one, all while dealing with the hidden partitions and restore partitions that are on many OEM systems.

  • InterNet Age says:

    “Know how to Google”

    Priceless advise, what can I say! It is all about being able to use the tool to get the required results at the end of the day, isn’t it!

  • Mark says:

    Thanks for a great page!
    This is an essential piece of info and resources that I could have used when I was new to the biz, and a great refresher now!

  • Matt says:

    Great article! I’ve been waiting for something like this.

    Bryce,

    You should write one about either advanced skills for residential users or basic skills for businesses.

    I’m actually going to print this and check off each. I do on-site computer repair and I’ve recently gotten A LOT more work and I’d say I know at least 50%-75% of the stuff you listed. But, I should know all of it plus more.

    Thanks again and great article!

  • Joe says:

    Would be great if you created a guide to explain each of the items you mentioned above. For example, a guide that explains how to do the things you mentioned in the “Troubleshoot Hardware Problems” section.

  • Its Me LunchBox says:

    Great article. I always try to keep up with my knowledge and this article helps ensure that I do not have any gaps in my skill and knoweldge.

  • Jasen says:

    This site is great, the help you guys have given is priceless. Your site has increased my confidence in the field 10x. Keep em coming, we’ll keep appreciating it. Thanks a lot to all who help. P2Peace.

  • POS Systems says:

    Good article.This information is really helpful for all. Thanks for sharing good information.

  • bishop says:

    Great writing! nice to share with my students

  • Paramortal says:

    This young geek is grateful :D

    Perhaps you could put some reference links under each category?

  • Kenny says:

    Bryce,
    Great site!! You gave me inspiration to leave my job as an IT Manager and go it alone!!!

    First year trading saw me actually earn more than my former salary and gave me more time at home…brilliant..

    Many thanks….

    Kenny (Eire)

  • LadeeJ says:

    Thanks so much for the info! Im a young person just starting out and I received my degree but however most employers won’t hire me because I dont have a lot of hands on experience. I have used a lot of your tips. Thanks again