[HOW TO] Become An Efficient Support Engineer

I have been a Production Support Engineer for over 5 years now. Over the years I have used several tools to help me work efficiently and be productive. In this post I have tried to list down the few things that I have learned being a Support Engineer.

Use a good text editor and master it (Sublime Text 2)

A text editor that is easy to use is a very good tool in the hands of a Support Engineer. No matter what product you support, you will always need a workspace to copy things quickly, make notes, etc. There have been several instances wherein I have had to transform text using simple actions such as find and replace. I also use my text editor to read/write code.

The text editor I recommend and use is Sublime Text 2. This is easily the best text editor I have used over the years. It has a fantastic set of nifty shortcuts, very good syntax highlighting that helps in reading code and also has a very simple word completion feature (really useful when writing code). The one feature I really like about Sublime Text 2 is that the unsaved files are not lost in case you accidentally close the editor and will be available when you open Sublime the next time. The default theme is very soothing too.

Some of the other good text editors I have used are :

Using the various utilities that come with these powerful text editors will speed up your work drastically.

Manage passwords using a Password Manager (Keepass)

As a support engineer you would have access several systems to get your work done. Most of these systems would be password protected and managing the access credentials could be really difficult.

Keepass is a free tool that can be used to manage your passwords and log in information.

Use a Desktop Automation Software (AutoHotKey)

My work involves a lot of emailing. There are a few sentences that I use in almost all my emails. Writing the same line repeatedly in every email is not an efficient way to work. I use AutoHotKey to auto complete my sentences that I repeatedly use.

For e.g. I usually end me emails with, “Please do let me know if you need any information.”

The tool is easy to use and allows you to set a combination of keys which when typed, expands to the required sentence. In the above example “Please do let me know if you need any information.” is expanded when I type “pdl”.

Use Microsoft Excel or a similar spreadsheet application

Microsoft Excel is something that I use for almost all kind of data transformation and analysis. This is a must have tool whether you are Support Engineer or no. For me it just helps to put my initial analysis on a spreadsheet and look at it when working on an issue. You could use other spreadsheet solutions that come as part of LibreOffice or Google Docs, but I personally prefer Microsoft Excel.

Use a Cloud Storage (Dropbox)

As a Support Engineer you may have to work on something that is critical in nature even when you don’t have access to your own laptop/PC. It is good to have some storage on the cloud to keep  your documents and reference notes so that they are easily accessible from another PC over the internet. I personally recommend Dropbox, but these days there are several other good solutions like Box, SkyDrive and Google Drive.

Track your time

Make it a point to track your time correctly. You can use any tool to track your time that works for you. I use a simple time tracking tool that I built for myself, however you can use Microsoft Excel, any text editor, etc. to track your time. Tracking your time will give you a good feedback on how much time you are taking for a particular task and this will help you give better effort estimations for tasks assigned to you.

Learn a scripting language

Try and learn a scripting language, for e.g. Shell scripting, PowerShell scripting for Windows, Ruby or Perl. I personally prefer Shell Scripting and Ruby. Knowing a scripting language will help you automate or work on adhoc requirements more efficiently. In my opinion learning to program or code in any one language helps one think in a more structured manner.

Develop basic SQL Skills

Learn the basics of SQL like SELECT, UPDATE, INSERT, DELETE and TRUNCATE.

Use a Screen Shot Tool (Greenshot)

I use Greenshot to take a screen shots of certain portions of the screen. This avoids taking the complete screen shot and using an image editor like Microsoft Paint or something similar to cut portions of the image before sharing it.

Ask “How can it be done?”

This is something that I picked up from my father. He always says, that if you are presented with a problem, the first obvious question should be : “How can it be done?”. This instills a problem-solving attitude in you and the only way you would go is forward. This is a simple but a very powerful advice.

Revisit your routine and try and simplify your work. You need to find all possible ways to identify monotonous work and try and simplify them and if possible automate them.

Doing the above will help you be efficient which will give you ample time and resources to help your customers solve their issues and problems.

Let me know your comments and also let me know if you are using any good tool that has helped you be more efficient and productive.

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