Documentation is a necessity, not a luxury

“Documentation? We don’t need no stinkin’ documentation!”

That seems to be the approach of many IT departments to keeping a record of how things work. It’s an unfortunate attitude, really. Sure, not taking the time to create documentation may save a few minutes today, but a year from now when you’re trying to recall what setting you had to change to get some piece of software to work as desired, or when you’re trying to figure out which cable end in the rat’s nest in your network closet provides connectivity to the vice president’s office, you just might find yourself wishing you had written something down.

With that in mind, I propose the following: documentation isn’t just something that’s nice to have. It’s a necessity. Skip it—or get into a job where it’s not available—and you will be pulling your hair out.

Documentation vs. no documentation

In my previous gig, we created how-to guides on how to install specialized accounting software. I worked up an “if I get hit by a bus” document explaining each of the little processes and duties I had to handle on a regular basis. We even had a map of the building with each set of network ports labeled, and on the network switches in the server room? Each of those ports was numbered to identify how it matched up with the labels on the map.

When I started my current job, however, I was in for a bit of culture shock. Documentation consisted of a couple of OneNote files, a few user manuals that had for the most part not been updated for the current versions of the various pieces of software used by the company, and a lot of, “Go ask _____, he might know how that works.”

That approach might work for a while if you’re running a one-man shop, or if your company has exceptionally low turnover, but someday someone—maybe even you—may need to know how to do something again. Why make life more difficult for your successor—or yourself—by not creating some documentation?

Thankfully, things have improved some where I work. There’s always room for further growth, of course, but the tech support group at least has a Wiki now, and I’ve been adding things to it no matter how mundane or commonplace they seem. It may not be something I need tomorrow, but a year from now, or when someone new starts, I would much rather have spent five minutes writing a how-to than have to figure it all out from scratch. And as the new guy, I would have loved to have had that kind of resource available to me.

What you can do

Chances are that you too have run into a lack of documentation. That’s not something that can be fixed overnight, especially if it has been neglected for a long time, but you can start fixing the problem now. Here are a couple of suggestions to make life easier for future you and those who follow:

  1. If your employer has an internal knowledge base of some sort, ask if you can add material. Even if it hasn’t been updated in the last five years, start squirreling away information. Post existing manuals that aren’t already there. Ask your colleagues for suggestions of things to add; even if they’re not willing to do any writing themselves, maybe they’ll at least give you some ideas of things that would be useful.
  2. Create your own knowledge base, especially when you discover things that aren’t specific to a particular workplace. That could be a blog like this one, or a Wiki, or even a bunch of Word documents stored in a folder on your computer. The exact structure is less important than making sure that information is stored somewhere that you can find it. Oh, and make sure you back it up, too. All the documentation in the world will do you no good if your hard drive goes belly up.

Creating documentation may seem like a waste of time, but I speak from experience when I say it’s worth it. Do it. Your future self will thank you, and anyone who follows in your footsteps will thank you as well.

If you want to work in tech support, you need your own website (and if you’re already there, you should have one too)

I’ve been working in tech support for more than a decade now, but it’s not necessarily what I intended to end up doing. Instead, I kind of backed into the job.

When I started thinking in 2007 that I wanted a change from the crazy hours of working at a radio station, I didn’t have much other professional experience. What I did have was experience creating some personal websites, a familiarity with HTML and CSS, and it was that background along with a general knowledge of computers that landed me a position as webmaster for a small non-profit organization, and that ultimately led to my career in tech support.

I tell you this story because I believe that if you want to work in tech support, you need your own website. Moreover, if you’re already working in tech support but don’t have your own site, you need to start moving in that direction.

Want to work here? Where’s your website?

My experience with websites was indisputably a major factor in me getting my first computer-related job even though my background was almost entirely on personal projects, the only exception being a moderately lengthy stint maintaining the student newspaper’s website during my college days.

Could I have gotten that first job without knowing a thing or two about HTML and CSS? Maybe, but it would have been a lot more difficult to argue that I deserved the opportunity. My new boss gave me the chance, though, and I not only ended up maintaining and doing a lot of development work on the company’s website, my role gradually morphed into doing at least as much tech support as website work!

10 years down the road, I’m doing tech support for a different company. Instead of a non-profit, I now work for a company that manufactures fuel control terminals and the website used to manage the system. Yes, even now that I’m a “Technical Support Specialist,” I still deal with websites.

Now, I’m not saying that having a bit of experience working with your own website is going to guarantee you an IT job—far from it. I do think that not having that experience could hurt your chances of getting a job in tech support, though, especially if the next guy or girl does have that experience. Even the CompTIA A+ exam has website-related questions on it. The industry expects you to have that experience.

It’s not just for kids

But what if you’ve already been doing tech support for a couple of years? Do you still need to bother creating your own website? I say yes.

As I mentioned, in my current position, I have to provide support for users of the software (website) used to manage our hardware products. Although I’m not actively involved in development of the website, it certainly doesn’t hurt that I know my way around IIS, to be able to set up a local site for testing and so forth.

Furthermore, keeping up my personal website work is helping me develop additional skills and discover tools that are directly applicable to my job. For example, earlier this year I configured my own virtual Web server, and in the process discovered Linux’s tail command; since then, I’ve used that more times than I can count at work to monitor logs while troubleshooting. Sure, I might have eventually run across that bit of information, but I discovered it a lot more quickly simply because I have my own website.


If you want to work in tech support, having experience managing a website, even on a personal level, will at the very least put you on even ground with other folks trying to get hired for the same positions. If you’re already working in the industry, managing your own website (and maybe even a Web server) will give you valuable experience and might just lead you to make a discovery or two that will help in some other facet of your job.

If you don’t have a website, it’s time to get started.