Everyday Carry Essentials for the NetAdmin on the Go:

Ben Pingleton

               Working in the tech industry offers unique challenges no matter what position you hold. Often, the problems that arise require tools to fix. Of course, there are tools of the trade such as your standard cable crimper or toner, but people sometimes forget the little things that make life easier. I’m talking about that one thing that causes you to think to yourself, “If I had just had an extra one of these, I wouldn’t have to leave (or come back another time)”. Working for a smaller company creates more of these opportunities because you will find yourself wearing many hats and doing things that a different department would normally do at a larger company.  Ninestar offers IT services to local businesses who aren’t big enough for their own IT department but need assistance as well. I think it’s the combination of these qualities that requires me to carry a slew of tools and I’d like to discuss a few of the essentials that I carry every day.

               On the network side of things, it’s simple. You’ve got your cable crimper, used to make Cat5/6/7 cables, tips, and scissors/wire cutters. Making cables is an essential part of being a network administrator. I prefer to use pull-through tips with a crimper that cuts the wire ends while crimping. This makes it easier and produces a much cleaner product. I recommend keeping at least one or two copper optics on hand. It’s also handy to have a fiber optic cleaner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally put an optic without a plug into my pocket, exposing it to pocket lint. I carry a device called a toner and probe that allows me to follow a wire and locate where it comes out, which is very handy for messy network closets and poorly designed cable runs.

               On the network side of equipment, what’s a network admins tool bag without a patch (network) cable? I like to carry a few spare standard Cat5e cables for any business that may be one short. I also carry a high quality Cat7 cable for testing purposes when I know I need to count on it. I also carry a console cable; in case I need to make some last-minute configuration changes. I carry a spare USB to Ethernet adapter and a small 5 port Unifi, POE capable, programmable switch. The switch is USB C powered so I can power it straight from my laptop if there are no outlets around. Speaking of POE, I also find it useful to carry a spare POE injector in case I encounter and AP or camera that might not be getting enough power from a switch.

               Other cables come in handy too. I carry a VGA cable along with a DVI to VGA adapter for computers or servers that I need to plug a monitor into. I carry a USB A-B cable, lightning cable, HDMI cable, USB extension cable, micro-USB cable, and a power (d) plug. I carry a few adapters as well, including a PS2 for those old mice/keyboards, USB C-B, USB C-VGA, and a USB OTG cable for android devices. For servers or computers that need re-imaged (reset to factory settings), I carry a device called a Zalman that allows me to mount any iso I store on it as a virtual CD. This way, I can keep multiple versions of Windows, Linux, and Windows Server distributions on a hard drive. I can then mount these files so the computer/server sees them as if they were a CD drive attached and we all know CD drives are becoming more and more rare.

               Some things that we carry every day now seem insignificant but matter a lot as a tech person. I keep a fast 600Mb/s 128GB USB C flash drive on my keys with a folder filled with offline installers for software that I use every day in case I find myself in front a computer that doesn’t have them. I carry AirPod Pros and frequently use them when making calls from the server room. It’s usually hard to hear anyone on the phone and hard to hold the phone and type at the same time. The Airpods have a noise isolation mode that drowns out the sound of the servers and having a hands-free method of talking to someone helps immensely when working with support techs that need me to type quickly. Of course, I always have a flashlight on me because I often find myself in the network closet of a business with poor lighting. I even carry a flashlight on the strap of my backpack, for hands free operation, with a magnetic end times that I find myself in a place with something metal nearby.

               And for all these items, you must have an organized way to carry them. Just typing “cable organizer” into Amazon brings up many great choices. You really want to choose a bag with the correct number of pockets for the items that you will be carrying every day. Start with what items you’ll need then go from there. I carry a GoRuck backpack that I put the cable organizer inside of, along with a medical kit but that discussion is for another time. Eventually you will find peace of mind in knowing that whatever the situation, whatever the problem or task at hand, you are prepared and ready with the right tools, at the right time. As the author Louis Pasteur once wrote, “Fortune favors the prepared mind”.

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