Life Without an IT Team

It was all going along swimmingly; I was slashing through my overstuffed inbox and composing what felt like a tome on the structure of our new website. Then I started to get warnings from Microsoft that they had done a critical update and wanted to shut down my laptop. Okay, I thought, I’ll just wait until I’m done with the last email of the night. Later that night, I sent off my tome and thought I had better go ahead and restart. I made the selection, the screen flicked off, and I dragged myself off to bed. The next morning, as I stumbled over to retrieve my Blackberry and check on the latest and greatest from the East Coast, I noticed that the screen on the laptop was stuck on the very first screen in its startup process. I powered it off and on. I got the same thing.

At this point I started muttering and swearing to myself. (My toddler was in the room). The dialogue went something like this:

“Fricking Microsoft update. I get sucked in thinking I’m doing something good and now you’ve screwed up my whole day.” This as I was powering the laptop off and on, tying to get into, “Safe Mode.” This is not the first time this has happened and since leaving the confines of a large company and doing most of my personal and professional work on one computer, I’m well acquainted with the usual steps I need to take to fix things. But usually I would at least get the Windows welcome screen. This seemed new and different, not in a good way.

After a futile attempt to find the “Emergency Boot Disk” (Did I ever really have one of these?), I packed up the computer, dumped it in the car, and sped off to take my toddler to preschool with the vain hope that the computer repair shop might open before 10am and I could get this all resolved before noon. Ha! A quick search on the Blackberry revealed that, no, of course, the shop wasn’t open before 10am. And neither, was the shop near my son’s school. Sigh.

Once I finally got to the shop, within seconds the tech determines, with “99% certainty”, that the hard drive is toast and the crash was just coincidental to the Microsoft update. As I leave the store with an assurance that they will call me tomorrow my inner dialogue went something like this:

“Great. Just fricking great. This will not be a quick ‘stick a boot disk in fix.’ This will be expensive. Perhaps very expensive. And I may or may not get all my data back. Even with the repair guys helping this will be a giant time suck. Great.”

I could have kicked myself for not backing things up on my external hard drive since sometime last month. Or to beat myself up for not listening to that louder voice (and that of they guy in the computer repair shop) that suggested that I just replace the whole damn laptop rather than spend $400 on a new screen last summer. (A whole different IT saga I won’t bore you with). But now I was looking at several days without a computer and the prospect of lost data. I started missing the IT group at my old firm. No, all the blocked sites and blocks on personal email wasn’t very fun but it really was nice to have an IT team down the hall ready to swap out a hard drive, give me a loaner PC, or even when I was in a remote office across the country talk me through a crisis and overnight me a new machine.

I’m typing this now on my shiny new computer. The old one is getting a new hard drive and will serve as my “loaner.” I continue on for the time being as my own IT team of one. In my daylong, deep dive researching a new computer, involving lots of articles and even more informal queries of friends and acquaintances I got a loads and loads of suggestions for better ways to back up.

The conversations mostly started with “My god, please tell me you back up!?”

“Yes, yes I do just not as frequently as I should”. (It’s kind of like cleaning out my freezer and exfoliating). I do backup, but just not as frequently as I should.

Then the suggestions start. “Well, next time you should use this new kind of hard drive. Its great I just got it. I’ll forward you the name when I get home. ”

“Apple has Time Machine. You should use that if you get a Mac.”

“Oh there’s a great app, it uses the Cloud so there’s nothing to hook up” This person correctly intuits that part of the reason I don’t back up quite so often is that I have to go get the external hard drive. It is usually in another room or a closet. And before you ask why it isn’t just sitting next to the computer I will refer you to a different acquaintance. She was robbed of her computer and the external backup which was…you guessed it sitting right next to the computer when the thief took them.

Now that I have a brand new Mac and stayed up very late loading up MS Office for Macintosh and getting my e-mails all synched to Outlook I can start researching all those wonderful suggestions my friends and acquaintances made. But since I don’t have David Pogue from the New York Times, or Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal, much less my old IT team (they shut down our whole division) on speed dial I’m left wondering what is the best way to stay on top of all the latest and greatest as an IT team of one? I read the personal technology sections from the guys above but apparently I should be doing more. What do you do? And what systems do you use to help avert disaster?

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