Podcast

Episode: 45 |
Roger Lee:
Remote IT Support:
Episode
45

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Roger Lee

Remote IT Support

Show Notes

Our guest today is Roger Lee, the owner of F1 Consulting.

Roger provides remote IT support for independent professionals, home offices, and small businesses.

He helps his clients with network design and installation, cloud services migration, remote monitoring, and offsite data backup and disaster recovery. Read full episode notes.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will: Roger welcome. It is great to have you on the show.
Roger: Thanks for having me Will. It’s great to be here.
Will: Roger, you just started working with me providing support, and I thought it was such a fabulous service, something that I’ve been wanting to get for a long time. And it was overdue for me, and I thought a lot of independent professionals should be working with someone like yourself who provides kind of remote information technology support.
I wanted to kind of walk our listeners through your service, so people can understand some things that they should be thinking about for their machine and potentially if they want to work with someone like yourself. Why don’t you talk to me a little bit about how you work with clients. Talk to me maybe, what’s the thing when you do your first session, and how do you work with them then over time?
Roger: Well the first session that I have with a new client is always a very important one because we go in and kind of assess their current situation. I need to know the condition of their machine, whether their machine has a lot of additional apps and customized apps or if they have malware that’s been installed in their machine unbeknownst to them or any viruses or anything like that.
It’s also important to know what kind of data they keep and where they keep it and whether it’s being securely backed up offsite or both offsite and onsite. Those are really the critical areas. There are other things that we can always talk about like we can talk about their local network security for their own network. And we can also talk about the quality of the passwords they keep on the various accounts and how they’re actually maintaining and managing their passwords.
Those seem to be the biggest things that I come across these days. Sometimes we talk about cloud services because everyone wants to use cloud services, and cloud services are great. I love them, but there are concerns sometimes about putting your data out there. What happens if the cloud servers goes down? How can you continue doing your business if you can’t get access to your most critical data? Those kinds of things are things that clients I think should be thinking about.
Will: Then kind of practically, since we live in the same neighborhood. You were actually able to stop by my house and work in person. But if that’s not feasible, talk to me about you will kind of remotely work with a client.
Roger: Through the miracle of remote access applications, which is something I’ve actually worked with for almost a decade now. But there are these great software packages that give me the ability to remote into a client’s desktop and basically behave like I’m just sitting in front of their desk.
I use a tool that a lot of computer consultants that run businesses that are called managed service providers use, which is a remote management tool. This tool gives me the ability to look at the processes that are being run on a computer, the CPU usage, what programs are installed, all in the background, while also giving me remote access to the desktop. It’s a great tool, and it really saves on the amount of time that a support technician has to put in.
Now the way most manage service providers work is they use this great tool that cuts down on the amount of time they have to put in on any given client. Then they tend to charge clients a fixed rate monthly rate per machine that they quote/unquote manage for them. I call this my stream of profits model.
I don’t do that. What I do is I use the same tools that give me the efficiency, but I pass that efficiency back to the client. And the client just pays me for the time that I spend working on their machine.
Will: So you’re installing some monitoring software, and it kind of runs in the background then. And you get an alert if one of your clients gets a virus or gets some kind of issue then.
Roger: Correct, or if their disk space is too low or if their CPU is racing for instance. Sometimes you get race conditions where there will be some program that will monopolize the CPU. And I can see all that stuff on the screen when I go into my management interface and drill down into a client’s computer, I can go and I can actually see what’s going on behind the scenes on that computer.
Will: Great. So Roger, let’s go through these topics one by one. One area that probably a lot of people struggle with is passwords, coming up with something that they can actually remember but is secure. A lot of us know it’s a problem. You helped me with a solution that you recommend. Talk to me about Last Pass.
Roger: Okay. Passwords are a funny topic. Recently the guy who’s responsible for the way we do passwords nowadays, the requirement that you change your password every three months and have it be a complex password including uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols. That guy recently came out and publicly apologized because he said, “Look I’m really sorry. It was a terrible idea. I’m sorry I ever did it.”
The problem with passwords, of course, is that people are just not good at remembering a lot of different complex passwords. So a solution I found for this is Last Pass. Now there are other password managers, such as Key Pass or One Pass. But I like Last Pass because it’s been vetted by third party security professionals, and the way they maintain passwords are very secure.
Even if the Last Pass company is hacked, your passwords will not be compromised. A lot of people worry, you know, I got all my passwords in this one basket, and if it ever gets compromised, there goes my entire life.
Well it’s something you pretty much don’t have to worry about because of the way Last Pass is configured. All your passwords are kept in encrypted format, on your phone, on your computer. And Last Pass itself does not receive the un-encrypted passwords at any time.
So even if Last Pass is hacked, and the hackers get ahold of their files, they won’t be able to decrypt them without your personal master password and also to factor authentication if you’re using them.
Will: So you get an app for your phone, so that if you’re on your phone, and you’re trying to go onto some website on your Safari browser on your iPhone or on your Android phone, you have Last Pass installed, and it will sync up with your Last Pass on your web browser, so you can access websites either on Chrome on your desktop or your laptop as well as your phone. Is that kind of how it works?
Roger: Exactly. Exactly. The app does … Whenever you go to somewhere, a screen or something that requires a password, the app is running in the background either on your browser or on your phone. And it will sense the fact that you’re on a site that needs a password, and it will pop up and offer you your saved passwords. Now you have to be logged into Last Pass. If you’re not logged into Last Pass, then that doesn’t work.
And does it work every single time? No. There some sites that just don’t work out. But in that case, what you just do is you go into the Last Pass app. You can go in and find the site that you’re looking for manually, copy the password and paste it in.
Now the beautiful thing about Last Pass is you never have to think of another password once you’ve installed it. You have to remember basically three complex passwords. One would be your master Last Pass password. One would be your password for your primary email. I don’t recommend that people put that in Last Pass. I recommend that you keep that separate and in your head and written on a piece of paper in the bottom of a drawer somewhere at home.
And also, the password for your secondary used mail account. It’s very important for you to have a primary mail account and a secondary mail account. And both the primary and secondary should be considered recovery accounts for you know if you … Just generally anything. If you have a banking account or something like that, you want to have two recovery accounts in case you ever lose your password and need to get access, that kind of thing.
With Last Pass then, what you would just do is after you set up your primary, you can just generate basically random strings of text as passwords from thereon in. Last Pass will generate random 18 character mixed alpha numeric passwords for you and save them for you. And you never have to remember those.
Will: Fantastic. Great. So get Last Pass installed on your phone, on your browser, and then just remember three passwords for the rest of your life. Your Last Pass and your two emails.
Roger: The Last Pass, I do recommend that you get the premium version rather than the free version because it synchronizes everywhere. It has all the best features, and I think they charge a buck a month, so really it’s worth doing.
Will: Sounds worth it. Let’s talk about another topic. One thing that you recommended and that you helped do for my machine is I think system restore DVD. I actually had to go out and buy some DVDs because I didn’t have any. Talk to me about what that is, and why that’s important.
Roger: Yeah, basically what happens is Windows gives you this mechanism called their system restore and system image process. It’s something you have to do. After you install all your applications and get your machine humming the way you want it to, you go in, and it’s a native Microsoft part of Windows built right into the control panel. You go in, I think it’s called backup and restore under the control panel.
It allows you to create a recovery disk, which is on DVD and an image of your drive, which you probably have to store on an external drive that is large enough. You have to have a couple, few hundred gigabytes of free space on it.
What this gives you is it gives you an ability to quickly recover the configuration of your machine in case your operating system ever becomes corrupted or if you get some sort of malware installed. It’s an additional tool so you don’t have to just use the malware repair thing where it goes and tries to rip out the pieces of malware from the operating system.
What you can actually do is say, oh, I have this image of when my system was operating fine. So now you can use that as a reference, and just basically rebuild the operating system from it.
Will: Great. You mentioned security and malware. Let’s talk about that a little bit. What do you recommend? Are there any particular antivirus softwares that you recommend? Any that you don’t recommend?
Roger: Antivirus and anti-malware, it’s a funny topic because what it is is it’s a constant arms race between the people who are writing malware and the people who are writing antivirus and anti-malware. The quality goes up and down in a kind of unpredictable way sometimes. What I do find is that certain companies tend to write packages that are very bloated. Packages that use a lot of resources and basically slow down your computer just from the fact that you’re running it.
Examples of this are some of the well-known consumer brands, such as Norton and McAfee. What I actually recommend is a tool that a lot of enterprises use called Webroot. It’s one of those things. If you’re currently running Norton or McAfee, and you have a subscription, that’s fine. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that we throw it away and put Webroot in.
But if you’re running out of subscription, and you don’t want to renew it, then I would consider using Webroot. Kaspersky we do not use anymore. Ever since it basically came out that Kaspersky is a tool of the Russian government, basically a backdoor into any system it’s installed on. So we try not to use Kaspersky anymore.
Will: Talk to me about backups. What are the different systems that you recommend to make sure that your data is saved in case your machine gets a cup of coffee spilled on it or a sledgehammer smashed into it or just stolen or lost. Talk to me about data backup.
Roger: There are a lot of different cases when it comes to how your data can be lost. Different kinds of backup protect you in different ways. One of the most popular backup solutions is people get an external hard drive, and they put it next to their computer. And every so often, whenever they remember, they just do a copy of their files onto it.
The slightly more sophisticated version of that is you can get a piece of automated software, for instance something like Carbon Copy on a Mac or Second Copy on a PC, that automatically, periodically copies your stuff over. This is better than nothing, but it doesn’t protect you if something bad happens to the locality that your computer and your backup is in, a fire or a flood or something like that.
Will: Hurricane.
Roger: It often doesn’t protect you from theft. If someone comes in and steals your laptop, they often take the backup drive. It happened to Francis Ford Coppola. He lost a large section of a movie. That’s one of the more common ones.
Another thing that people often do is they say, okay, my stuff is all backed up because it all exists in Dropbox. That’s good because if you lose your computer, you’ve got all your files in Dropbox, but it doesn’t protect you from another kind of data loss, which is user error. I accidentally overwrote one of my files. I had a very important file, but then I made some changes to the file that were wrong, and then I saved it back to that file location. Well, now you’re backup is gone too.
The thing I recommend is I always recommend that you have both a local and a true offsite backup, which is something provided by one of the backup companies like Mozy or Crashplan or Backblaze. The one I recommend now is Backblaze because they have a great deal. It’s $5 a month on one machine. You can have unlimited backup of anything that’s attached to that machine. If you have an external drive, you can back the whole thing up to Backblaze.
Will: That’s amazing.
Roger: Yep. It’s a sweet deal. If you have lots of concerns about the … If you have compliance issues, you know, [SARBOX 00:16:06], HIPAA compliance, that kind of stuff, then I would recommend Mozy. It is a lot more expensive. It’s like 50 cents a gig a month or something like that plus a $5, $4 workstation charge. But they will give you a business associate agreement. They certify that they’re HIPAA compliant, SARBOX compliant, all that stuff.
Will: I’ve heard some places talk about you should make sure that you encrypt your local hard drive. What does that actually mean, and how do you do that?
Roger: A couple of ways to do that. Encryption actually comes built into Windows Operating Systems now. There’s something called bit locker encryption. It’s not hard to do, but you should always be very cautious when you do it because if you are to lose your password and your file is encrypted, nobody will be able to help you. There will be no power on Earth, short of the NSA if they’re interested, that will be able to break that encryption and get your files back.
Most people don’t encrypt their data on their hard drive because it’s just too dangerous. If you are required to encrypt your data by some regulation, HIPAA high-tech for instance require encryption in place. Then I would strongly recommend that you have a professional work with you on the encryption, and that you know because you have to make backups of the encrypted keys so that if you ever lose it, you can recover it. There’s a whole host of things that you need to do.
Will: What about just overall health of your computer? The defragmenting the hard drive and is the CPU running optimally? Is there stuff weighting it down? Are there things that you do, or that you recommend people do to remove unnecessary programs or find programs that are sort of running the background when they shouldn’t be. Talk me about that whole health issue.
Roger: Fortunately … Now you’re talking about defragmentation, that is a little bit of a giveaway as to how old you are because-
Will: Old school.
Roger: Yeah, you and I, both of us, old school. Right? The thing about most modern operating systems now is that they handle defragmentation automatically and in the background. So it’s not something you really have to worry about too often. I don’t come across … I mean it used to be one of those things that oh, it’s the first thing we do. Let’s defrag your hard drive because it’s gonna be terrible.
It doesn’t come up so much anymore. My strongest recommendation for professionals is this. A lot of the problems that we have with computers are based on one simple thing. The thing is that computers are general purpose devices. Right? You can do all kinds of things on a computer. You can talk to your far away relations with video calls. You can play games. You can simulate a jumbo jet. And you can also do your business.
I strongly recommend that professionals have a computer that they use to do their business and nothing else. They should then also have another computer with which they do everything else. And the reason for this is because the more complicated your computing environment is, the more problems will occur. And the place you don’t problems to occur is on your work computer.
Please do not let your children use your work computer. There is nothing worse than that.
Will: No kids games on the computer. I wanted to turn to a site that you talked to me about called Ninite. There’s a bunch of apps on there that some of which you recommend for different purposes, different utilities and so forth. This is ninite.com, N-I-N-I-T-E dot com. I think we’re both looking at it right now. Talk to me about some of the apps on this website that some people find helpful.
Roger: All right. The nice thing about Ninite is it is a kind of one-click installer for a tremendous number of utilities and pieces of opensource software that are incredibly useful. All things that you want. Now the really nice part of it, what we used to call the killer app of this thing is that you go through and you checkbox select a bunch of programs that you want on the page, and then you click download. It downloads a single installer to your machine.
When you run that installer, that installer automatically goes and downloads all the most recent versions of the applications that you’ve selected and installs them all in one shot. If you leave that downloaded program on your computer, anytime you want you can double-click it, and it will go and it will update all the utilities that you selected. It’s really a great thing.
Nowadays with modern browsers, Chrome, Firefox, they keep themselves up-to-date. You don’t have to worry about that. But if you’re going up to a new machine, and you don’t already have Chrome or Firefox installed, you can go through and you can check Chrome, Opera, Firefox. I like the Foxit Reader PDF reader because it allows you to read multiple PDFs at one time. It opens it up in a tabbed interface, which is great.
PDF Creator is also terrific if you just want to do quick PDFs. And let’s see. What else is here that I would take. VLC is an opensource video viewing and decoding package, which is a terrific thing to have. The Runtimes, Java 8, Net 4.7, Silverlight, Air, Shockwave, this is a one-click way of keeping all those things up-to-date if you use them. If you don’t go to sites where they use them, it’s best not to have them. But if you do use them, they’re right there.
Dropbox, Google Backup, Mozy, OneDrive, those are all useful to have. ImgBurn is great if you ever have to burn or rip an optical disc, which people do less these days, but it’s a nice tool. WinDirStat is beautiful for looking at things on your hard drive and seeing visually what’s taking up all the space.
Will: I’ll just mention Roger, that one is WinDirStat, W-I-N like windows, D-I-R like directory, and stat, I guess status. That one I find hugely helpful when you have 20 gigabytes left on your hard drive or 10, and it’s saying “warning”, and you’re trying to find up some space. That gives you this really nice visual of all the different folders, so you can kind of dive in and find out where you can free up some space. It’s a super helpful tool.
Roger: Right, it’s a great tool. Classic Start is nice for anyone who hates the way Windows 10 looks. Basically, Classic Start is a little utility that makes your Windows 10 machine look very much like a Windows 7 machine. It gives you a start button, desktop and all that other stuff. Nice, I like it because I hate the new interface, but then I’m a dinosaur.
7-Zip, also great. Basically you just install that, and then you never have to worry about opening compressed … What you’re using to open compressed files. There’s a program here called GIMP, G-I-M-P, GIMP. That is an opensource free Photoshop replacement. If you ever need to touch-up photos or any kind of image manipulation, it has a kind of steep learning curve, very much like Photoshop does, but it is free. That’s awesome.
IrfanView, I-R-F-A-N view is great as a … It’s an opensource utility that allows you to look at all kinds of different pictures without using the cumbersome kind of Microsoft Photo Viewer gallery tools.
Finally, Greenshot. Greenshot is terrific if you ever need to do screenshots of things because once you install Greenshot, it sits in your taskbar, and then all you have to do is hit print screen. It gives you a crosshair on the screen. You click/drag to wherever you want. It drops another crosshair there, and it snaps that, whatever image you’ve got to a file, which then you can then insert into whatever you need.
Will: Greenshot. Very nice.
Roger: Greenshot, yeah it’s terrific.
Will: Roger, let’s talk a little bit about some of the maybe most common mistakes that you see clients making with their machines. If there was a sort of Roger’s Top Two or Top Five Things Not To Do other than having your kids play on your work computer. Are there-
Roger: That’s number one through five I think.
Will: What would be any others that would be on your list?
Roger: Let’s see. Well no matter how good your security software is, your antivirus is up-to-date. You’ve got everything all squared away. The one thing you should always remember when you’re using your work computer is that you really only want to go to things that you really know about on it.
When you get an email from someone, you really need to scrutinize it carefully to make sure that it is something that you’re expecting from that person. Right? There are things that, because the whole malware/antivirus thing is an arms race. Sometimes the bad guys get ahead of the good guys. So you have to additionally protect yourself by being really vigilant about where you go, what you open up on your computer, all that other stuff.
If you even have a hint of suspicion that the email you received is not 100% kosher, don’t open it. Call the person up, and say, “Hey, did you just send me this thing?” Right?. Don’t go randomly web browsing on your work computer.
Will: Roger, for someone who’s looking for outsourced, remote IT support like you provide, what are some of the questions that someone should ask of someone like you when you’re evaluating different providers?
Roger: You should get a sense of when you are working with that company, who exactly you will be talking to. There are a lot of companies which someone will come in, and they will sell you a package for support. But then when you call them, you find that you are actually talking to someone completely different. And that person could in some cases even be in India.
This does happen, where they have basically a help-desk service for you, and they say, oh we’ll manage your machine. It’ll cost you $70 a month per machine you have plus there’s a network fee or whatever. And then when you actually go and call for support, you’ll find that 9:00-5:00, you probably get the guy who works in the local office. But after 5:00, all of a sudden, you’re calling some remote desk in India or something like that.
Question one is who will actually be providing the support, and what kind of experience does that person have? Right? The second question is what kind of response time can I expect from support? A lot of places will promise you a four-hour response or something like that. You want to know when you have a problem, how quickly you’re gonna have a truly qualified person talk to you because often at the first level, you have a level one where they basically just go and try to eliminate things that are user errors or-
Will: Ask you to reboot your computer.
Roger: Right. Yeah. Those are things I would look at. Also, I’d like to know if they’re charging me a monthly fee because I don’t believe in those things.
Will: So who’s gonna provide the service, what’s the response time, what are the fees, maybe what kind of security does the provider use because if they can log into your machine, then obviously, you want to make sure that their pretty tightly secure.
Roger: When you go with a larger company, security becomes more porous the more people there are involved in it. Right? When you have a rotating help desk, where you call up, and you never know exactly who you’re gonna be talking to on any given day. That means all those people have to have password access to your system. Personally, I don’t think that’s great.
Will: Awesome. Well Roger, this has been a really helpful overview for me. I have a bunch of apps that I’ll followup on here. I think a lot of our listeners, helpful to kind of get this view of what it’d be like to work with someone like yourself, and people can decide if they want to do this themselves or not. But I think for a lot of independent professionals who aren’t experts at computer security and running the machine, it might make a lot of sense to get someone who’s doing that every day to be their support person.
Roger: I would say that it was mandatory. Really.
Will: Well fair enough. Anyway, if you’re an independent professional, and you’re currently being your own help desk, think about finding someone like Roger to be your remote monitoring and support. Save you time and get an expert to do that job.
Roger thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it, and thanks for sharing all these lessons learned and advice.
Roger: My pleasure, and also, extra bonus. I can also help your mom and dad, so you don’t have to.
Will: That’s even better. Not just your home business, but you will no longer be IT support for your mom and dad when they have a problem. Roger thanks a lot. Really appreciate your time.
Roger: My pleasure.
Will: All right.
Roger: Thanks for having me Will.

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