Sometimes the job in IT support can feel like you’re the only one that understands the simple concept of cause-and-effect. Sometimes the logical jumps can be made with the information provided by the client. Other times it requires discovering more information through observation or research while in more complicated cases it requires making a logic jump of 2-3 steps like a challenging Sudoku puzzle or thinking ahead in a game of Chess.
Client: “A few times a day my CRT monitor shakes for a minute. See? There it goes.”
Me: “Oh yeah? Does it always coincide with the elevator on the other side of this wall arriving?”
Client: “Oh. Huh? Yeah!”
Often the solution is also provided with understanding cause-and-effect. You can prevent the cause or mitigate the effect.
As I worked through this thought process in my head, I wondered how it would be if everybody was taught the general troubleshooting process, which many of us may take as a part of common sense. I then realized that was the case, at least from my education experience, the scientific method was a standard part of the grade school curriculum. To explain my thinking, I’ll work through troubleshooting a problem with the scientific method. Of course, experienced folks may skip or combine a few steps in a far less formal process.
(The seven steps of the scientific method are in bold below while the troubleshooting process is in italics.)
Make an observation
My computer is suddenly running much slower than it used to operate.
Ask a question
How can I return my computer to its previous level of performance?
I learned performance of a computer could be negatively impacted all of a sudden by degraded hardware, processes consuming resources in the background, or the computer process I am trying to run (launching a program) has become less efficient.
Theory 1: My computer either has degrading hardware such as a dying hard drive, a failing RAM module, or some other more integral piece of hardware.
Theory 2: Something is running in the background that is consuming the computer’s resources like RAM or CPU cycles.
Theory 3: The programs I am trying to launch are less efficient than they used to be all of a sudden.
Test theory 1: It’s going to be expensive to replace all of the hardware in my computer to rule it all out as culprits. I do have a spare stick of RAM that I can use to replace the RAM.
Test theory 2: I recently installed software right before the problem started occurring. Surely that can’t be to blame!
Test theory 3: If a program updated and included additional functionality or introduced a bug that slowed down the launch of its program, it could have a detrimental effect on launching that program.
Results theory 1: I swapped out the RAM and the problem still existed. I also booted in the operating system’s Safe Mode and the problem seemed to go away. This seems to tell me it’s not the hardware as it is performing perfectly in this limited state of the OS.
Results theory 2: I used Task Manager and other performance tracking utilities to investigate my computer’s performance. I noted that the get-rich-quick (or GRQ) bitcoin miner I installed is consuming over 60% of my available physical RAM and over 50% of the CPU cycles. It is also configured to launch automatically at Windows’ startup.
Results theory 3: The slow launching of a program is a general symptom to the slow down problem but it is not the entire problem. All functions on the computer are performing less than ideally and all programs are slow to launch, not just one program that could have been updated recently.
Since the computer performs well in Safe Mode and all programs are impacted with this problem, it seems we can eliminate theory 1 and theory 3. Theory 2 is the only one we have left. The bitcoin miner’s constant consumption of resources definitely seems to be the culprit. This is further affirmed by the computer’s performance being much better in Safe Mode where startup items like the bitcoin miner are not started automatically.
Upon uninstalling the GRQ bitcoin miner and restarting the computer, performance of the computer returned to its previously zippy levels.
From this example, you can see how the scientific method’s seven steps provided a framework for thinking through a problem and formally removed consideration for the many possible causes and variables that could have been involved in the very general initial observation.
If all individuals could apply this methodology to not just use of technology but all situations, they would probably be much better off and also save a little money in repair calls.
Cause and effect illustrated in a single comic frame