5. Assume Nothing
When your life evolves around a niche software product such as JGSCMPHACLSE (Java Graphical SQL Client for MySQL, PostGreSQL and HypersonicSQL with Automatic Class Schema Evolution), its sometimes easy to forget that not everyone spends all their waking hours keying and clicking in the world of JGSCMPHACLSE.
When a user calls to report that a Java I/O exception message appeared after she clicked the Edit button within the Properties dialog of the Advanced tab of the Options panel of the Configuration module of the SQL Query component of JGSCMPHACLSE, dont assume that the user flawlessly executed all of the steps leading up to the failure point.
On the contrary, cross-check and double-check all preceding steps and prerequisites. You dont want to find yourself spending two days debugging the Edit button within the Properties dialog of the Advanced tab of the Options panel of the Configuration module of the SQL Query component of JGSCMPHACLSE to then learn that the user was attempting to run the product on Java 1.4 but the minimum requirement is Java 1.6.
Your mantra here: verify then analyze. Verify the operating platform and version; verify the software product release number; verify the service pack levels of the operating system, the product and any required third-party components.
You may be tempted to assume that the user/administrator has already performed this type of due diligence before lodging a support call but when a system consists of a dozen or more myriad applications and an enterprise includes hundreds more, something as trivial as a version mismatch can easily escape the wary eyes of even the most astute system administrators.
6. Do No Harm
Practitioners of computer wellness must share at least one tenet with the healers of human maladies do no harm.
When you're ripping out DLLs, hacking the registry and editing system parameters, it can be easy to make matters worse either through a mis-keyed entry or an insidious side effect from a change in the system state.
To help guarantee that your prescription for a cure wont be worse than the disease, try to preserve the current condition as much as possible. While it may be impractical to clone the problem computer in toto, at least backup system directories, record settings and parameters that you'll be manipulating, and copy files that you'll be modifying.
In the event that the fix doesn't do its job, you can fall back to the original problem state and concoct a plan B for restoring wellness.
7. Map the Trail
If you spend days navigating unfamiliar barren land, dead-ends, box canyons and deep crevasses, chances are youll draw a map and write a journal. The next time you need to make that journey, youll have a direct path to the destination rather than a random walk of false starts, futile side-trips and ceaseless backtracking.
So too with the journey of solving a technical puzzle. When you finally reach the promised land of problem resolved, take time to draw a map and record a journal and attach those notes to the problem record or ticket. The next time you or one of your colleagues is dropped into this unfamiliar terrain via a desperate users cry for help, the directions from your previous trek will guide you to the destination without bushwhacking new trails.
If web-based forums and knowledgebases helped set your compass straight, consider reciprocating by contributing your own hard-earned experience to the information pool. You neednt become a guru-level member of a forum but a short note describing what worked for you (and what didnt) will help those who may have to follow your footsteps. And if some desperate user opts to check that forum or knowledgebase before calling you, well, that note may have just saved you from answering a support call.