Sound Tip #9 – When Something Doesn’t Work, First Things First. (My Biggest Tech Secret)

I am not kidding when I tell you that this tip is actually my biggest secret in engineering. Once you read it, you might discount what I have to say and that is ok, it’s your loss and your head ache.

This is typically something seen more regularly in broadcast engineering. I have based a large part of my career around being able to fix very difficult broadcast technical problems and have been asked a number of times “how did you know how to fix (fill in the blank)?”

The answer is my biggest professional secret… I likely didn’t know how to fix it!

What is the first thing you do when someone comes to you and tells you that something isn’t working? Your initial response to their problem is important. Nothing ever breaks at a good time and the client was probably in the middle of something important when the system broke. So they are expected to be in “freak out” mode and that is a perfectly reasonable response. A wise man once told me, “if every situation you enter was perfect, there would be no need for engineers”.

“OK, Lee… what is the tip already?”

Sound Tip #9 – When something doesn’t work, just unplug it and plug it back in.

SAY WHAT?!?!?!

Yep, that is my biggest secret. After 10 years of professional sound work, I am convinced that 90% of the world technical problems can be solved by just unplugging the gear, counting to 10, then plugging it back in. I don’t know WHY it works so often, it just does. There is a reason why your internet, cable, cell phone, computer, and other tech support calls start with you unplugging and plugging in your gear. It is called a “hard reboot”. A “soft reboot” is when you reboot a system from the interface, you don’t completely unplug it, this MAY work but when it doesn’t just unplug!

Disclaimer: The reason why this is a “secret” is because it likely won’t solve the problem in the long run, but how I work with a client is more personable and less technical. Just because I know why something does or doesn’t work doesn’t mean they want you to explain it to them… just make it work. THAT IS WHY THEY HIRED YOU!

When I hard reboot a system (9 times out of 10) it temporarily resolves the problem and that is why you do it. They want it to work and you want to to make a permanent fix. The hope of the hard reboot is that it will make the client happy and give you the time to research the underlying issue. I may not know how to fix something right away, but when I make it work for a little while longer and can buy the time to FIND the solution, the client is happy, I am less stressed, and my good name as an engineer continues. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there are tons of engineers that are smarter than myself, I think that is true for most people, but problem solving skills also require people skills and efficiency.

It is more comfortable and more efficient for the client if the system is temporarily working while you find a solution, than to just take the system down and beat your head against the wall… it is a mystery to me when I see engineers do this.

So when you have a system go down: Unplug it from the wall, count to 10 (this gives you a moment to calm down too… and maybe say a prayer), plug it back in and turn it on. If it does indeed work, don’t stop there, start digging to find a solution as to why it went down and fix it permanently when you have one. Your client will LOVE you for it and think you’re really super smart! :)

-Lee Kebler

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