A common joke about IT support is about the question “Have you tried turning it off then on again?”. The truth is it’s not as much of a joke as you may think.
Part of the “secret” to solving IT related problems is it’s mostly a process of elimination. Working through an issue involves the following types of steps & questions:
– Is the problem something that can be replicated?
– Is this affecting only you or multiple people?
– Is there a pattern to the problem?
– Have you tried turning it off and then on again?
It’s that last one that gets people almost every time. So why is this an important question and why do we ask it?
A system restart allows us to start with a steady or known state of operation. Let’s consider your computer is like a sandpit at a kindergarten. As you install new programs you’re introducing new kids into the sandpit, all of whom will play by slightly different rules. And they bring their own toys in with them too (buckets, spades, forks, trucks – different drivers, software libraries, requirements for differing versions of other components etc) and sometimes these toys can clash with one another – the tines of a fork will get caught in the blade of a spade (for example).
When the sandpit gets too full, or if someone brings a cat into the sandpit (shock horror!), you can get unwanted results – toys clash or bits fall off, kids get sand in their eyes, bodies bump into each other, the cat thinks it’s sitting in kitty litter – you get the idea.
In order to have a nice play area once again it’s necessary to get everybody out of the sandpit, remove all the toys (and the cat deposits), run a rake through the sand to make sure there’s nothing hiding underneath the surface, and then let the kids get back into the sandpit in a controlled manner to start to play nicely once again.
The problem isn’t so much the sandpit – it’s the various kids, toys and pets that are in the sandpit. With only a few in there you’re not likely to have problems, but as you add more, over time, things can get a bit messy and you’re more likely to have issues.
So the next time you’re asked “have you tried turning it off and on again?”, it’s simply our way of working the problem from a relatively clean starting position.
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