IT Tools Essentials – What you Really Need to Have by Your Side
How long have you been an IT professional? If you’ve been earning your living as an IT professional for a while I’m sure you’d agree that the IT pro’s tool box has definitely evolved over the years.
Ten years ago, mobile phones were around and even very common in the IT department’s arsenal, but nothing like today, as more and more organizations try to keep balance between their own mobile assets and those going for a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).
Amazon’s S3 cloud-based storage offering defied the “on prem” paradigm, as did their Mechanical Turk service with its promise of easy money for folks working from the comfort of their living room. Today’s Amazon AWS offering knocks the socks off anything else. What’s next?
Not so long-ago server backups were tape backed up. Iron Mountain would stop daily to bring me my new rotations and take my latest tape backups for safekeeping offsite. Now, it’s uncommon to see a company still backing up to tape. Great services like Veeam make our lives easier now.
Twenty years ago, most IT technicians were equipped with crimpers and soldering iron. Can you recall network administrators then, struggling with their Novell networks, all connected via token ring? Have you ever been stuck looking for a missing or defective “terminator”?
With the advent of VoIP technology, cloud-based systems, SaaS (software as a service). I thought I’d put a list together of my typical go-to tools today. Hopefully, this list will become obsolete as technology continues to evolve.
Here’s the checklist (just copy and paste for your own use):
• USB Keys
• SD Card
• Pen and Paper
• Small Flashlight
• Jeweller’s Screwdrivers
• Antistatic Wrist-Strap
• Mobile Phone Backup Battery Pack
• Passwords and IP Addresses
• Wireless 3G or LTE modem (Not a Router)
• iPhone Charger
• SIM Card
• Miscellaneous Chargers
• Router and Ethernet Cable
• Small speaker or Bluetooth Earbud
• A VoIP Handset
• A USB Microphone
• A tape Measure
• Glass Cleaner and Teflon Cloth
• Miscellaneous Cables
USB Keys, Flash Drives, Sticks, or Whatever you Call Them
Soon, this tool may be headed the way of the Do Do bird. As more companies lean towards implementation of PCI Compliance or ISO 27001/27002 standards, USB ports on company computers will be locked down. Even now, I’m beginning to notice that the number of USB A ports on laptops is reducing, making way for the faster and more compact USB C standard.
But for at least several more years, you should expect to carry anywhere from two (2) to three (3) sticks in your kit. Make sure they’re coloured differently, indicating their different purposes. They sure come in handy to install drivers, desktop shortcuts, and especially other installers such as pdf readers, and enterprise anti-virus apps, but to name a few.
SD implies “storage device”. You must be thinking I’m crazy to suggest SD cards right after suggesting USB keys but there’s a different purpose than storage purposes.
SD cards come in various shapes and sizes. You’ve got mini-SD and micro-SD. You’ll need one of each. The mini SD cards are used to test the same ports on a laptop while the micro-SD card would let you test the port on a mobile phone such as Samsung and BlackBerry. iPhones don’t have SD ports.
Pen and Paper
Why pen and paper? Isn’t this pretty obvious? Yes, it is, but I’ve been asked, “Hey, can I borrow your pen for a minute?” more often than not. The IT pro needs a pen and paper to jot down notes such as MAC addresses, IP addresses, and especially the new employee’s personal email address or mobile number so he may add these to a 2FA (two-factor authentication) or MFA (multi-factor authentication) profile.
This is obvious but often overlooked and forgotten. I am blessed with a well-lit server room, however, every time I open my four-post rack’s doors I feel like I’ve progressed to next-level Game of Shadows. I still curse when I find myself under someone’s desk to do cabling work.
Today’s IT pro’s tool box should include nothing but a flat and Philips jeweller’s type screwdrivers. The bare necessity to open a laptop. Only purpose: to add a larger hard drive (or upgrading to SSD from SATA), or RAM.
This is actually not required. It is a comfort item. Antistatic wrist-straps serve to protect sensitive electronic equipment. They are also known as ESD (electrostatic discharge) protection devices. These are more commonly on factory assembly shop-floor environments. While not a bad practice, the IT tool box should include an ESD type work surface. These mats are available at any electronics store.
Again, these are not really necessary. They serve as a talking piece when someone Wikipedia-informed that you should be wearing one. “Oh sorry, you’re absolutely right. Here it is.”
Mobile Phone Backup Battery Pack
As mundane this is of a tool from an IT pro, it always comes in handy when you’re stuck at the airport with your CEO. You’ll be thought of as Batman or James Bond’s Q.
Passwords, IP Addresses, and Other Useful Information
Copiers printers email system (office 365) telephone system, security system passwords are good to have for obvious reasons. But the single most important password is the local admin one for any laptop in the building.
Do you remember your firewall’s public facing IPs? Do you remember your copiers’ IP address? If you’re like me, I used to be able to remember everything. My colleagues thought I was Idiot Savant to remember everything. Now I walk around with notes in my wallet. Recently, someone asked me why I didn’t put these notes in my phone. I can’t always find my phone.
Paper clips are required to pop out the SIM card holder of any mobile phone. Apple’s tool used to be pretty good (actually, probably the best one) but now they’re flimsy and bend upon the first removal of the SIM card socket. Go for a paperclip. If you use it, you’ll not feel as badly as having lost an Apple accessory.
Wireless 3G or LTE Modem
Essential to test new VPN profiles rather than asking the user to try at 7:00pm tonight and to call you if it doesn’t work. Very handy should there be a local ISP outage.
This device isn’t the same as a router, which I’ll get into below.
Probably the single most forgotten, stolen, or broken device in human evolution. Apple thought this one well-through with the reselling/recurring business revenue this would generate. Always have an iPhone charger on-hand.
Have a SIM card ready to give to someone going on last minute to some weird place like Taiwan, Malaysia, or even Indonesia.
Also have a local one handy for those satellite office colleagues who visit Montreal for two weeks.
Mice come in pretty compact form factors now. You can keep one in your front pocket and it wouldn’t bother you. While Bluetooth is good, the mouse should be cabled-USB so that you can validate that the USB ports are working.
Just like the heading says. These will be required to support the vast availability of a multitude of mobile devices, many of which are approaching their 10th year, yet still in circulation.
You charger kit must include a 12-volt type car lighter to USB charger.
Router and Ethernet Cable
Small, 4-port routers are about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Their power adapter is usually larger! Having a router on-hand can be very helpful, but a word to the wise: Be very careful when you use a rogue router as many routers incorporate a DHCP server, assigning IP addresses to any device connected to it. Given that your server may do the same, ensure that your router issues IP addresses within the same subnet and make sure you don’t create your own IP address conflict.
Small Speaker or Bluetooth Earbud
Never a time has been missed when I’ve been in a server room with the cooling systems on and the system fans when I couldn’t hear a damn thing from Dell support on the other end.
To make things worse, there’s nothing like squeezing your phone to your ear as hard as possible thinking it will get louder. Having that ear bud or a small speaker is handy. It keeps you working handsfree while you look for codes received via SMS or by email. Having a small speaker becomes much more convenient when there are two or more IT professionals listening to the same conversation when one is in front of the server rack, and the other in the rear.
The great VoIP companies have outstanding IP phones; however, more and more companies are trending towards softphone, which are basically the phone on your computer. This lowers costs of having to provision desk phones, and saves valuable desktop real-estate.
Though some conflicts, local firewall ports in Windows Defender, etc., may cause the softphone to not work properly. Also, having a separate handset is beneficial when guests from overseas offices decide to camp in your office for the weeklong sales conference and their Italian Vodaphone mobility package makes it just too expensive to make local calls.
A small, discrete USB microphone comes in handy to prove to a user that his laptop’s input is not permanently muted or to validate any other microphone issue that may circumvent a user’s plea for a new set of Apple ear buds.
There’s basically only one reason an IT pro should be carrying a tape measure: That’s to confirm the screen size of any monitor display. I so hate being challenged late Friday afternoons by a wishful, disenchanted user: “Can I have a larger screen? Mine is smaller than everyone else’s?”
“No, your screen is the same size as everyone else’s.” – whips out tape measure to prove it.
Furthermore, those whiners who insist they “need” a new, smaller, executive laptop as they claim to travel frequently generally leave you alone when you show them how much screen size they lose when they switch from a 15.6” screen to a smaller 14 or 13.3”.
Glass Cleaner and Teflon Cloth
Glass cleaner and Teflon cloth should be kept only for those you appreciate. While some IoT device is rebooting, you may gently clean their display or keyboard. Or even better, you may clean your own while the onlookers figure out why your body hygiene is less important than your device.
I’ve seen laptop tracking pads that had nail polish stuck, preventing the trackpad to work. You’ll need nail polish remover for that, or a new laptop.
How many cables must you carry? As many as it takes. For your troubleshooting kit, think minimalist and only carry the shortest cables you need. You’ll need an HDMI, Display Port, VGA cable, Ethernet, USB, and even a simple power extension.
This is my basic list as I’ve written it at this time. No doubt I will add or remove items that become needed for me to be quickly successful in the day to day, or remove them due to irrelevance. If you would like to add anything, please comment and I’ll revise the post to include your comment. Thanks for reading and thanks especially for your continued support.