Automattic Life Talking Support

Talking support: should I switch it off and back on again?

With nearly 30 years of experience working within support, I want to share a number of simple discoveries that I’ve made about how it can be improved.

And, today, we’ll talk about the age-old IT trope… fix everything by switching it off and back on again.

the it crowd chris odowd GIF

The thing is, it works. So why should we be avoiding this?

This goes back to a few weeks ago when I was gaming with a group of regular online friends. One was having network lag issues and went away to reset their router, which resolved the problems. They have to do this on a weekly basis. The conversation then went something like this…

Me: Yeah, that’s not good
Them: What do you mean? It doesn’t take long and you should be resetting your router every week
Me: I don’t – I can’t remember the last time I did it
Them: No, that’s not right. You really should be doing this

But, and this is the thing, this is a common misconception, caused by the over-use of this solution.

So, why would a router run slow after a week? A router is just a computer. And this will happen, in the same way you might find if you ran your computer none-stop, you’d have to restart that as well. Operating systems, let alone the applications we run on them, are complex beasts and all sorts can go wrong. Something can get stuck in a cycle, sucking up the CPU cycles, or you can have a “memory leak”, where memory gets filled up.

In both cases, rebooting them will resolve the problem. Short term. But that’s the thing – the root cause is not being fixed here. In the case of the router, it was assumed this was normal and therefore shouldn’t all routers need the same? In this situation, you should ensure your router has the latest firmware and, if so, ensure the manufacturer is aware of the issue (chances are they will be and may even have a temporary solution that doesn’t require rebooting – e.g. changing a setting that prevents the memory leakage).

But let’s be more general – rebooting devices may be a temporary cure but it doesn’t resolve the actual cause. Not only that, but it will usually wipe away all evidence of what it was too.

And this doesn’t just apply to the latest electronic gadget. In my previous car, after filling up with fuel, the fuel indicator would often not change – restarting the car would fix this. In my current car the radio station names will often appear blank – again, a restart of the car resolves it. In this latter case, by not rebooting, I was able to find the cause – a USB memory stick, containing music, that seemed to effect the car’s entertainment system. How many times have we tried to cure a website issue by clearing cookies or cache?

The reality is that these often do work but they’re really, really poor solutions. Rather than go for the quick solution, no matter how quickly a customer may want something working again, next time consider the bigger picture. And let’s not accept regular rebooting as a standard practise.

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