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An Insider’s View of Working at a Walk-Up TechBarby@jazzmariekaur
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An Insider’s View of Working at a Walk-Up TechBar

by Jazz Marie Kaur August 27th, 2022
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This article highlights my favorite memory of working on a walk-up TechBar for the first time and having Global Service Desk interns shadow me. Seeing them grow was incredibly valuable overall, plus was a time I had the opportunity to truly serve as a mentor. The Genesys Works program allows high school students to gain first-hand work experience before college. The skills they gain can be applied towards their future career paths or help them decide what field they want to go into, e.g., technology, business operations, or accounting.

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This article highlights my favorite memory of working on a walk-up TechBar for the first time and having Global Service Desk interns shadow me. Seeing them grow through their Genesys Works program was incredibly valuable overall, plus was a time I had the opportunity to truly serve as a mentor.


Introduction

One of my absolute favorite memories is from 2017 to 2018. I had the opportunity to have a group of phenomenal interns from the Genesys Works program work alongside me at a walk-up TechBar, shadowing on JIRA tickets and incoming support chats. During that time, I transitioned to a walk-up TechBar-focused role at SPS Commerce in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a Help Desk Analyst for the Global Service Desk (GSD) team.


About the Genesys Works Program

It essentially allows high school students to gain first-hand work experience before college. The Genesys Works program prepares the students before they join the workplace by helping them strengthen essential computer-related skills for the IT industry, career interests, or even business operation management. The skills they gain can be applied to their future career paths or help them decide what field they want to go into, e.g., technology, business operations, or accounting.


Each group of students for a workplace is assigned a program manager to support them and holds regular check-in points. Our workplace also established other amazing mentors that could be leveraged outside of our own Global Service Desk team and manager 1:1’s they could grab lunch with too.


I began initially in IT as an intern for a few months then was offered a full-time role at Minco Products, Inc, so when I heard we would receive interns for the Global Service Desk at my new workplace, I was thrilled to really have an opportunity to share my go-to troubleshooting tips for the first time with them.


I had been in their shoes once before, where my training came primarily from learning on the go and soaking up knowledge from others with decades of experience in system administration, business analysis, and technical support in manufacturing environments or derived from those who wore multiple hats in the IT Department.


I also had tackled new hire training and mini “IT Quick Tips” sessions in the past, but this would be the first time really working with interns on a more long-term basis for the Help Desk.


The Groundwork

I made a short crossword hunt puzzle for our interns to solve covering key aspects of the Global Service Desk, such as our team lingo or terminology we used as well as the software they would be interacting with daily to provide support.


I revised the general TechBar policy outline tip page before their arrival and our manager ensured their system accounts were ready. They even received company-branded first-day kit items e.g. a backpack, T-shirt, and notebook all the items we as full-time employees receive too so they felt welcomed from the start.


All of our morning stand-up meetings included our interns so they were kept in the loop on projects or issues even on the other side of the globe for other offices in Ukraine, Australia, and Canada. We made sure they were introduced virtually with Lifesize to all GSD members across each office or were aware they could ask for help and reach out to them too not just onsite team members at the headquarters.


Scheduling Coverage

We had to map out a regular calendar schedule via whiteboard initially for the TechBar rotation coverage as they balanced school classes with the program, then apply it to Outlook. While I had handled walk-up requests at my former workplace, a walk-up TechBar requires the ability to think on your feet continuously. Often, you must handle the issues with a sense of urgency if they impact not just a few but upwards of 50+ employees or a line starts to develop.


Any schedule changes or events unanticipated that impacted coverage were directed to our Global Service Desk Manager and team HipChat message channel. Additionally, each intern ensured they had the HipChat app on their mobile device or at most provided their cellular number so we could communicate with them on the go or while they were navigating requests while not covering the TechBar which may have resulted in being late for their scheduled shift.


Overall, we had about three Global Service Desk interns with more hours of availability and a few other interns assisting from other departments who would have free time to help or returning interns as needed would pitch in with inventory tasks and new employee workstation deployments, onboarding event assistance in terms of new hires logging into programs for the first time, or mass desk move relocation projects.


We had them heavily assist with reimaging stations early on as that was one of the most frequent tasks in our department too. A lifesaver for not only us, but the interns was Visual Directory by OfficeSpace to track down employee desk locations, and conference rooms or to navigate other department floors in the building as well otherwise it would have been an endless maze.


True Teamwork & Outcomes

I could tell they were nervous their first few weeks and I myself was starting in a new workplace, adjusting as well to a larger organization. Still, together we worked as a team whenever one of us was stumped on an issue or was swamped with walk-up support requests; we made sure we had adequate back-up and coverage or signaled for assistance through chat.


We started with a basic paper-based clipboard sign-in sheet created via Excel to keep track of requests as a reminder to generate a ticket. At the end of each day, one of us would go through to cross off each one or double-check if we missed any issues or had duplicates entered.


Eventually, to improve efficiency and issue tracking accuracy, we transitioned to an iPad to help automate ticket creation and check-in arrival to the TechBar for support integrated with JIRA.

Either we would prepare and provide a loaner workstation with standardized apps for the internal customer’s role or have them wait in the lounge to chow down on free snacks or play a video game.


Our interns often helped them adjust or get situated with the loaner workstations if it would be more than 24hrs or a longer turnaround time in rare cases extending out to a few days. If it was anticipated to be a short install or process depending upon the situation if we had seen it before, some would choose to go to the gym downstairs, read their iPhone while charging it at the TechBar, or grab food in the skyway during a break as well until we completed our diagnostic work.


It was key to communicate time resolution estimates over how long it would take to repair or troubleshoot an issue as much as possible due to other high-priority meetings and projects across the company.


Visit the Lounge Art by Jazz Kaur


While I was not the Global Service Desk Manager, I too took it upon myself to really make sure that they knew they could always ask me questions or what to do to tackle common issues right off the bat, e.g., rejected Single-Sign-On (SSO) logins, access errors, application slowness or network connectivity performance failures. I was always happy to jump in and help fellow team members, but we also wanted them to learn how to tackle situations independently, so they shadowed for the first few weeks, primarily for a few hours at a time.


There were times we even shifted our lunch breaks to help others as well or on rare occasions, we would be heavily short-staffed briefly due to transportation issues as a result of dastardly snowstorms or offsite events others had to attend for a few days.


All team members would also offer to swap times if someone helped cover a shift when we were unavailable suddenly or even the interns would fill in a coverage gap if someone was expected to be out due to a vacation, sick day, appointment, etc. we would discuss together and update our shared Outlook calendar.


Passing the Torch

Sometimes due to sudden shift changes or simply forgetting to log in during a super busy day, we would not always be aware of some tickets or all statuses 24/7, so it was essential to remind them starting off to assign any outstanding ones or communicate remaining tasks to the next team member covering on the TechBar or to escalate them to the appropriate channels verified by one of us right away.


I always stressed the importance of logging what steps were taken in a ticket so far or what actions we performed, especially if a station was replaced or it was an urgent matter preventing one from working or not having access to the applications they needed for their role. The status must be known at all times as much as possible so others can pick up the task and carry out the remaining steps left by following notes in the ticket.


Once in a blue moon, our hearts would race when we would see actual lines forming down the hallway when a particular Window update crashed systems or a regular traffic flow with Microsoft Outlook bugs surfaced. Some weeks and especially around the holidays, it would be super quiet where we could focus on stock room cleaning or inventory organization.


On top of this, throughout the year we had to juggle a massive ongoing project of retiring older workstations and removing old desk equipment for those stations to be used. that required all hands on deck.


What really helped us manage this “Refresh Project” was having internal customers pick from available time slots that worked best for them via scheduling software tied into a shared Outlook calendar we had and harnessing the power of User State Migration (USMT) for Windows OS workstations. We had cases sometimes where we needed to individually schedule desk equipment swaps or additional tasks outside of the scheduling software in just Outlook, especially for Mac OS X backups through Time Machine.


Remembering things in general for any human being can be tricky, therefore, we also had customized Ready-To-Go (RTG) in graffiti font sticky note identifiers in our inventory from Vistaprint and eventually revised these to checklist post-it notes on completed items coinciding with standard work that we would apply to the laptop’s closed lid over imaging or remaining replacement tasks e.g. standard or role-based app installation, making sure Outlook signed in successfully or testing VPN once.


Ticket Management

Having a ticket made also for every single task pertaining to a replacement truly helped solidify tracking e.g. “Desk Equipment Swap — Name “ and a separate one consisting of their existing workstation asset tag number, location, and department where we would also log all tasks were completed in terms of prepping the old station to be wiped after a certain amount of days once we verified everything on the new station was present and marked it for donation.


Coordinating what we had to do and our completion towards project goals was seen visually through JIRA pie charts, grids, and bar graphs, extensive numerical data, which was really helpful to see what we were working on as a team collectively and individually.


We had a leaderboard tracking over who closed the most tickets that year, but we weren’t competitive as team members we always helped each other succeed. Occasionally, due to the colossal volume of incoming tickets daily and a vast number of department projects in existence we had to triage from the Global Service Desk queue, it could feel like finding a needle in a haystack, therefore advanced search, bulk moves, and filtering was crucial to use in JIRA.


Once we integrated the iPad for the walkup TechBar support tracking, it became much easier to keep track of everything coming through support-wise, the order especially as well instead of on paper where everyone had different handwriting, had to log the time manually, or would lose track of ones created as a result of the high traffic that day. In the event the iPad or app developed ever did go down though, we had our paper-based clipboard on hand just in case.


At times JIRA was pretty hard to navigate for our interns and myself coming from being used to Zendesk for years, so we had to do mini-walkthroughs on\off while helping others at the TechBar and I think if we had everyone take courses back then over it or a video tutorial everyone could’ve accessed when onboarded would have been beneficial for increasing the team’s efficiency.


Based on experience from this, I’d say also if you’re investing in a ticket management system, make sure you take advantage of all of its features as much as possible and take the time to complete an introductory course on it through LinkedIn Learning, especially Atlassian products or have all team members complete foundational training offered through the ticket management platform such as a paid certification program or academy course i.e. Atlassian University’s student-based learning paths.


Key Focus Areas

Our Global Service Desk interns learned how to image workstations, worked with Active Directory (AD) groups, got to dive into System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), were introduced to USMT, and extensive Software Center client deployment troubleshooting via log file tracing, On top of this, they installed a wide array of applications for each department, and set up Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) 8x8 capable phones.


They examined various Office 365 issues, Virtual Private Network (VPN) errors, W-Fi dilemmas, and domain join issues created new user profiles, and zeroed in on website accessibility issues. Furthermore, they gained experience in performing surgery over several different types of Dell workstations, handled offline Windows Defender antivirus scanning, unraveled Mac OS X connectivity problems, keychain issues, or notorious password synchronization hiccups.


I showed interns how to perform screen replacements on older workstations, recover browser bookmarks, remove Solid State Drives (SSDs), and perform data recovery and disk space clean-up tasks on Windows 7 and 10 workstations. They walked employees through their computer replacements every step of the way for both Windows and Mac OS X workstations.


Support Hurdles

There were at times pushbacks or obstacles arose where they developed key skills over how to handle tough internal customers or address conflicts by explaining our IT policies clearly, empathizing, and remaining as calm as possible when communicating the action that must be taken over their support case.


In the event there was ever a complaint or confusion further from an internal customer, we would be informed by our interns and help take the time to help explain the next steps to the customer in detail again or reel in managers as needed to communicate statuses on incidents that would impact one’s productivity for a bit.


They also found out that “customers are not always right” and we must carefully go over why a new workstation or equipment is always a last resort as replacements must be prioritized appropriately by system age and one’s role changes with taking into consideration our inventory for new hires that month. All new replacements escalated underwent managerial approval and valid reasons if they were beyond repair or if an identical model existed.


Moreover, they had the ability to install software and we reiterated that we had to take extreme caution when using admin account rights, and any new applications had to undergo a thorough review process before being purchased, assigned a license seat by us, or set up for deployment through Software Center.


They had to learn when to say “No” or along the lines of “Sorry, we need a specific ticket created in our portal with your manager (carbon copied) to it (cc’d) before we can take action. I can show you how to do so, once it’s approved we can try to escalate it in the appropriate channel.”


Usually, it entailed a ticket being triaged to a correct team project in JIRA for access or software requests to be vetted fully as a security precaution.


Common & Unusual Visits

Sometimes something as simple as full disk space due to a lack of proper file maintenance, being behind on manufacturer updates, or insufficient random-access memory (RAM) resulted in the source bogging a station down. We all leveraged TreeSize quite a bit to investigate disk space consumption and showed our interns how to ensure that OneDrive for Business is used going forwards for all essential team files instead of having files scattered across the desktop (where they would not be backed up).


There were also days we would have cases where others thought the TechBar could handle almost anything e.g. repairing your prescription reading glasses or ordering a new laptop bag or providing mobile phones. We did keep and loan out cleaning products to use at the TechBar though such as compressed air duster spray for keyboards, have sticker removal solutions such as Goo Gone, offer adapters, as well as provide sliding web camera covers.


The most common issue aside from password resets, was sadly where we would see stations with extensive water or coffee spill damage as well which set us back a bit, and if we were not available other interns would step in to help one another with other high-priority support tasks we had on our radar to complete still by their set deadline that same day. Any checked-out items were maintained through formerly what was once known as Samanage, which was acquired by SolarWinds in 2019.


Apple vs. Dell

It was definitely more challenging for our interns to support Mac OS X workstations versus Windows OS systems as we had limited documentation at the time and most were familiar with Windows at home themselves, however, they got the opportunity to see how to work with terminal commands a bit, troubleshot wireless certificates via Jamf, fixed Cisco Any Connect failures, figured out printing issues tied to the keychain, and used Time Machine backups. We often worked with Dell and leveraged the support warranty when it came to touchscreen defects, battery failures, or motherboard and keyboard replacements. There were times we would have to ship Mac OS X workstations back in boxes for repairs.


Coming from an environment that had predominantly Windows OS workstations prior, I found what helped me grasp complex Mac OS X station issues best, was being assigned one as my primary workstation for my day-to-day duties as a Help Desk Analyst, but still having a virtual machine of Windows 10 (W10) set up via VMWare Fusion.


I also had awesome co-workers always willing to show me how to use a set of terminal commands or guided me over performing a new process on a Mac OS X workstation e.g. domain join, keychain fixes, handling FileVault, or renaming a station that underwent a Time Machine backup.


Being Methodical

From time to time, as they saw, you have to dive into an error message you haven’t seen before and take it one step at a time, research it further, reproduce it yourself, see if any other reports came into, e.g., search Microsoft, Apple threads, or perform preliminary troubleshooting steps. I stressed that It’s okay not to know the answer or solution right away, but we should never give up nor leave an issue sitting unattended for hours or days that we are not familiar with.


Quite frequently, they would also see that when you go through a process the first time around its easy to miss one detail or misread a step that throws the success of an installation off entirely, therefore it is of utmost importance to try again or a few times before notifying a team member, they noticed the value of retracing steps or helping comb through a new guide to reword or screenshot a particular step so it’s clear for everyone on the team going forwards.


I emphasized we must show urgency for high-impact cases, but ensure we do not rush to a point where e.g. countless applications are missing or even more errors arise creating a poor customer support experience, and to always follow a checklist of items each time or standard work guide when performing steps over and over again. They comprehended the importance of technical support documentation plus screenshot steps in Confluence being always our guiding star and taking the time to follow procedures in place.


The exception to not following a step would often be if a systematic error was encountered that must be reported to the team so that a standard workaround can be established in the meantime or the best course of action can be identified immediately.


There were new situations with fellow team members, and I had to ask our management team members about or escalate patterned re-emerging issues up to our Senior System Engineers. We always advised that they should bring it to another team member’s attention to brainstorm further or collaborate with our manager for the next steps or learn how to resolve it ourselves in the future if possible by ensuring the solution is properly documented for all. At a minimum, they knew that they should always add a response in the ticket and via chat or e-mail to ensure the customer knows the timeline of the next steps.


Major Takeaways

Downtown MPLS by Jazz Kaur


Aside from shadowing, I believe chatting about some troubleshooting suggestions, growing our documentation knowledge base in Confluence, and having our shared team messaging channel were also very beneficial for team members to ask for the next steps. For quite a while, all of our MPLS Help Desk or IT team members at the headquarters (HQ) desks were just a few feet away from the TechBar, so we could help monitor or answer further inquiries as needed.


Our Service Desk interns learned how to work with Dell service request technicians, assisted with IT donation equipment coordination through PCs for People, tested cloud-based conferencing equipment regularly, ran built-in hardware diagnostics, and learned when to reel in our IT System Engineers or escalate and triage issues to our departments. They didn’t have access to all systems nor administrative permissions, so leveraging our team messaging channels was undeniably important to ensure the request was submitted through our request fields portal via SharePoint and tracked fully.


We had a dedicated TechBar section in our ticket management system. We really did our best to ensure a ticket was generated for each TechBar request and this provided valuable data on common questions or trending issues employees were running into over time. Once again, a challenge was ensuring we didn’t automatically provide brand new equipment from our inventory room when someone stated “something wasn’t working” until we verified all options were exhausted in terms of troubleshooting and made sure that we got employees back up and running ASAP, of course.


Growth Achieved

The more issues or cases the Global Service Desk interns tackled over time, the more they became comfortable handling cases on their own and ensuring we had as many details logged as possible when tickets were submitted so they could be addressed by me or other Help Desk coverage members or closed correctly to signify completion. Our interns also helped keep track of issue patterns and began to document new processes too or would help train fellow interns who had missed training or forgotten a process.


We couldn’t always solve every problem at the walk-up TechBar itself, e.g., we had to visit desks on other floors to fix monitors or replace cables and docking stations or grab carts to transport desk printers, collect inventory shipments, and others on the team would step in to help so they could remain to cover incoming TechBar requests.


Taking Initiative

I began to notice them starting to grab tickets from the growing queue they wanted to assist with, ask about what they could do to help if they were low on tickets and really take the initiative to make sure we got employees or contractors back up and running as soon as possible.


They learned the importance of regularly updating their tickets, scheduling meetings, and establishing a successful routine. There were times our interns found root causes of problems, we ourselves had not seen before and they took the time to isolate the issue to help or go back through what we may have missed. Their confidence levels were bolstered and I myself had improved as a trainer, mentor, and IT Professional due to the walk-up TechBar’s existence.


Often they would pinpoint solutions to problems themselves too, and seeing them tackle support requests or visibly noticing their reaction to fixing something on their own was awesome as well. It was cool to hear them echo some of my own words for troubleshooting, asking customers questions, leveraging my ticket formatting, or explaining what we could do to try to fix a problem.


Ultimately, we were able to really expand our reach across support requests and improve inventory management due to having additional help also from our Global Service Desk interns as they were able to follow our standard work documentation with an abundance of screenshots or move quickly to the employee who may have been on another floor level entirely, which improved our Service Level Agreements (SLAs) or response times. But of course, there were some days or weeks we would have unforeseen incidents that would slow our times down across the board.


Reaching the Finish Line

A constant flow of communication was pivotal to the walk-up TechBar’s success each week and bringing up issues in daily stand-ups. I think my favorite part was hearing how much the interns valued the knowledge we all shared which helped them troubleshoot absolutely bizarre issues and how to perform a process of elimination over each issue, whether it be hardware, network, or application-sided fault.


The interns had a celebratory ceremony hosted by Genesys Works as well towards the ending stages of their program which I had the opportunity to attend alongside our manager and chat with their parents. It was great to see them exterminate their fear of working with new technologies as a result of the program and to really grasp the core aspects of providing customer support in an IT Department.


When I was moving to Nevada towards the end of their program completion, I received messages from our interns that they learned a lot from me and that I would be missed, which was really awesome to get that feedback because it cemented that I was able to make a positive impact on their very first stepping stones into the workforce.


While not all of the interns may have chosen to stick with a career path in IT like me or pursued that route, I know they gained a lot from shadowing not only me but all other IT Department team members. Our interns were in a workplace that exposed them to many cutting-edge technology areas overall, and their journey reiterated the importance of teamwork in IT no matter where you are located in the world.


Conclusion

The TechBar highlighted that ongoing collaboration, good time management, upholding patience, and listening carefully is crucial to providing excellent customer support. There are many moving integral parts behind an IT Department. What was unique is that the interns or myself, compared to roles in the past, did not focus on incoming call-based requests in an extensive queue; rather, it was primarily fast-paced walk-up help, ticket or chat-based, and GoToAssist screen shares for remote access support.


All team members gained new knowledge almost every day due to covering the TechBar, plus acknowledged mistakes made; which are bound to happen in any role in the workforce. They also saw that even full-time, senior, or fellow team members would make mistakes from time to time; what’s important is that we are always truthful, do not let the same errors happen frequently, and that all incidents are learned from.


Holiday Art by Jazz Kaur


We wanted to make sure our interns knew it was important also to have fun at work when you have downtime, whether it be team lunch outings at a nearby restaurant, testing new gadgets, watching soccer games, dodging Nerf wars, playing classic video games; our work culture was spectacular!


Aside from technology, art is another known passion of mine. I always did a few monthly cartoon drawings behind our whiteboard at the back of the walk-up TechBar as shown throughout this article. We had quite a few other whiteboard areas nearby too for drawing, collaboration or others would contribute doodles at times.


It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when you have back-to-back requests at the walk-up TechBar. Our interns, with approval from our manager, could work on any homework or projects for school in their downtime as well.


Everyone needed to be aware they could communicate passing tickets to other available team members, even those who were not onsite with less on their plate could schedule a remote assist session via chat. We did our best to establish a balanced workload as much as possible for each intern depending on their schedule, but for the most part, stuck to our scheduled calendar rotation.


With the help of our interns, we made sure our TechBar had consistent coverage, also we ensured a sign was present when we would be back to assist when we needed to shift our priorities or had team meetings. Our Global Service Desk interns were part of a majority of essential company-wide events, and key team meetings and they undoubtedly formed friendships as a result of the Genesys Works program overall.


Final Thoughts

Even if one is a young professional who is not one-hundred percent sure of what field they want to go into yet, an internship is a good starting foundational point to see if it’s true for them or they may stumble across another department of interest in the process. Additionally, if your organization does not have an internship program established or cross-training focused environment to gain exposure to other departments on-site or remotely.


I highly recommend you implement or invest in creating those opportunities or working with programs like Genesys Works to do so because you’ll become a better mentor in the long run or positively change the course of someone’s life in the process.


Of course, no IT professional nor anyone on the face of the Earth knows every solution, and we’re all constantly learning and growing over time. We live in a very competitive world, but we need to realize our knowledge shouldn’t be bottled up or withheld; it needs to be shared and helps others grow individually over time.


Programs like Genesys Works and the Experts Exchange (EE) community platform showcase that sharing unique solutions, and taking time to help others as they enter their careers is undoubtedly powerful in the evolving world of technology, and mentoring others creates a positive impact.


To grow, one must embrace new challenges, learn on the go, and take chances without extensive calculation or hesitation. The earlier you do so and the more exposure you gain in IT or your field of interest, the better off you’ll be when trying to adapt to different environments and recognize how to best approach an issue in your workplace.


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Also published here.