Troubleshooting Computer Chaos
Problems usually await David Fraser each day at 7 a.m., when he sits down at his computer in Hinds Hall. A consultant with Computing and Media Services (CMS), Fraser may find a number of requests queued up on his help-desk program—reports from some of the thousands of users across campus who depend on him and his colleagues to bail them out when their machines turn against them. “Trouble calls can range from a simple e-mail problem, to a crashed hard drive, to no network access,” he says. “The computing environment is quite substantial here and many things can go wrong.”
schmitt shoots!! |
David Fraser, a Computing and Media Services consultant, is a computer troubleshooter, answering calls from all over campus.
Fraser has worked as a computer troubleshooter since the early ’80s, when the personal computer was in its infancy and SU’s students, staff, and faculty had to rely on operators like him to handle their computing chores on the University’s mainframe. “Today’s personal computers probably have a thousand times the processing power of one of the huge boxes we worked on back then,” he says. “The technology was so unsophisticated. To actually do anything you had to learn programming languages—no point and click. Everything was command-driven. I remember when the first Apple computer came out, we thought, ‘This is so cool!’”
Computers, however, weren’t always part of Fraser’s world. He came to SU in 1980 as an architecture student, but soon decided the field was not for him. Having been an avid photographer and artist at L.A. Webber High School in his hometown of Lyndonville, New York, he transferred to the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). At VPA, he took courses in computer graphics and began a work-study job with CMS. He discovered he liked working with computers best of all, so when a full-time job opened up in operations in 1983, he took it. During the next 10 years he moved up the ranks from operator to supervisor, and eventually CMS put him in charge of ResNET, the residence hall computer network that gives students direct access to the Internet. “Thousands of people use the ResNET program today,” he says. “The first year I ran it, we had maybe 60 people. And the next year we had 300.” The network is much faster and more robust today, and offers services—like online registration—that could only be imagined in the early ’90s.
After two years with ResNET, Fraser moved into office technologies, working with staff members rather than students. “I enjoy working with both staff and students, but you handle them much differently,” he says. “At that time, we had office technologies, student services, and the help desk, all working independently. A few years ago they pulled everybody together into one group, so now we’re dealing with students, staff, and to some extent faculty. It’s a lot of work, supporting thousands of people. Sometimes it can be a logistical nightmare, but we get it done as best as we can.” Fraser and other staff members also help decide on future upgrades, and on how to support new software.
Computer applications are becoming increasingly complex, he says, providing a fresh challenge with each update or new piece of software. “You install something, and either it won’t work or it works and then breaks, and you have to figure out why,” he says. “Or it works fine on one machine, and then it doesn’t work on an identical machine. You have to figure out the difference.” Fraser and his colleagues spend much of their time testing applications over and over again. Few things are worse than handing software over to a user, he says, then receiving a trouble call on it a few days later. “Working with new technologies is challenging,” he says. “It can sometimes be a little daunting, and that’s not going to change. New technologies are always coming out, and they all have to be investigated in one form or another. It’s progress.”
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