|Somewhere in this building a Skippy has been doing his computer thing|
On the last few occasions I've updated my blog I always seem to start with an apology for the time in between this post and my last post. This beginning is no exception, but I say my apologies with hesitation, because I am very much overjoyed with the fact it has been a long time.
The reason? I've been busy fixing the IT infrastructure at an entire school.
St John Vianney’s Primary School, Hartlepool. One of the best run schools in the area, always scoring high in inspection results, and home of some of the committed, hard working people you are ever likely to meet. And I’m not merely saying that to gain favour with them for writing this blog (they don’t even know I'm writing this), I mention it because a successful reputation doesn't just happen. It requires commitment and everyone singing from the same Hymn sheet, something which the school can demonstrate as a fine art form.
Some of you will recall the school name from a few months back when it inspired a national debate in the press about tattoos in a strict Catholic school. Whatever your opinion on this subject, having been in the school at the time this happened, apart from a couple of days of conversations between staff you would never have known anything happened within the school walls. It shows the determination and commitment of all the staff in continuing to keep the school running smoothly even through the eyes of the public.
One thing that hadn’t been running as smoothly as it could was the IT equipment dotted around the school. From intermittent, slow internet, to projectors that would switch themselves off for no apparent reason, there was always something iffy with the technology at St John’s.
Around 18 months ago I was invited to discuss with a group of teachers an idea for a website. Whilst there I apparently made an impression, not only demonstrating an amazing website (of course I would say that haha), but fixing the projector while I was there. The headteacher of the school attended this presentation, and shortly after my pitch was over I was whisked to the school for the first time to see for myself what problems they were having.
The school put a lot of faith in me, something at the time I had only been granted by people who I had built a strong relationship with. No one in the school, apart from a friend I knew from my days at school, knew who I was, and why I was sat in the Headteacher’s office discussing the day to day running of the school, something which is normally reserved for high ranking members of staff only.
A few weeks went by. I started by making a website for the school, but the main topics of conversation I kept having was how to make the IT system in the school better. Originally I was dismissive of the problems they were having apart from the website I was making for them – the school had large contracts with several external IT organisations, and they should be able to sort out any issues the school was having. Including me in the mix wasn’t cost effective for the school, and I was worried these contracts would hinder the level of control I would be able to have in fixing any problems.
It was only in February 2014, 3 months after I had met the headteacher of the school that my views changed. I’d recently been discharged form hospital again due to my own health issues (which has already been documented on this blog). I’d been invited back to the school to discuss the running of an online teacher assessment tool, and a team of people were going to be there to demonstrate how it all works, along with an IT technician from one of the IT organisations the school had a contract with.
This event changed everything. I wasn't sure if the technician was nervous, but he made mistake after mistake after mistake. He even unplugged the schools server from the internet to switch on a camera, something which caused the teachers computers (registers, school work, presentations etc) to go into meltdown, with temporary profile’s appearing everywhere and nothing saving.
That was my first official job at the school. To plug the server back in. The other technical already looked nervous.
The next day I met with the headteacher and the deputy headteacher, and they wrote down everything that needed addressing. I had a walk around the school and was introduced to each class and staff member, with my list of issues growing longer as I met more people. I started work immediately.
What I didn’t tell the school at the time was that I had absolutely no real world experience of doing around 90% of the things they wanted me to do. They needed a new server, I’d only ever read about running a server. They needed new laptops and projectors – I’d never sourced equipment for people before, only set up existing equipment. I’d never worked with other organisations before, and I was one person compared to some companies that had 100’s of employees.
It’s fair to say I was very much out of my comfort zone. The school needed my help though, and I’d purposely set up The Legend of Skippy to help people with their IT problems. I’d said on several occasions that I was game for a challenge, and this was certainly it. Up until that point I’d purposefully stuck to making websites and software, this was the opportunity I needed to start my IT support part of my business. Talk about jumping in at the deep end!
Below is a list of some of the things I have had to deal with over the last 14 months. This list could have gone on for much longer, but these are just some of the things that stuck in my memory.
- Granted admin rights for the schools old server – this cost £60 to get from one of the external IT companies. £60 for 2 minutes work! It was alarming to see that no one in the school could actually get access to their own server. It was expensive, but was an absolute necessity.
- Wrangle with an Interactive Board manufacture for 3 months to prove that the board they supplied us with was faulty – Ever since the touchscreen board had been fitted, before I started working there, it kept switching off every 15 minutes. The company who built the board wouldn’t believe me. It took 3 months to get them to come back into the school, and the only reason they came is because I agreed if they couldn’t find a fault they would charge me, personally, £750 for an unnecessary call out. The board broke. I skipped like a kangaroo. They took the board and fixed it. Job done.
- Set up 35 iPad’s one by one, only for them to be unusable until a few days ago because the internet was terrible – The wireless internet was a running joke in the school. At 1.15pm every day, for 15 minutes, it would always go off. I was so proud of setting up those iPad’s manually, and was so frustrated when they couldn’t be used.
- Set up an online homework system so kids could do their homework and schoolwork online, anywhere in the world - The first system the school gave me total control over, with no interference from the other IT contractors. Needless to say, it continues to work brilliantly to this day.
- Installing antivirus on 100+ computers, one at a time because the internet kept cutting out – You would think a large IT contract would include antivirus software. Apparently it didn’t. This needed to be addressed, at a time when the internet was so bad I couldn’t do it via the server. So I did it the old fashioned way.
- Sourced and installed 4 new interactive projectors – A few of the projectors the teachers used had seen better days. During half terms some had to be replaced as they suddenly broke. This was a headache at first, but I soon found a reliable company that could provide the projectors I wanted at a reasonable price for the school.
- Replaced the school’s old server with a new model, creating 250 brand new user accounts, copying everyone’s data over into their new profiles, reinstalling the school printer, printer accounts, replace the network cabinet with a larger one to increase ventilation, and having total control over the school’s IT infrastructure – This was the longest week of my entire life. Doing a full server to server migration and setting literally everything up again as if it was brand new was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. As a rough estimate I’d say such a task would normally take between 4-6 months. This was done, because it had to be, in a 5 day half term in February.
Of course I am completely lying and doing others an injustice by saying I did this all by myself. None of this would have been possible without the fantastic help and support provided by PC Trends, a fellow IT business based in Hartlepool.
As mentioned earlier setting a server up was something I’d never done, let alone have to set it up and have it working perfectly in 5 days. Getting PC Trends in to get everything set up is single-handedly the best decision I’ve ever been responsible for to date. Not only did they not baulk at the almost ridiculous task I put on the table for them, but they had everything up and running within 2 days. This gave me 3 days to copy everyone’s data over and get all the schools computers back up and running again. I had no time to test anything, and didn’t know if anything would work until the staff arrived back at work at 8am on Monday morning.
Suffice to say PC Trends didn’t let me down, and everything worked perfectly, and continues to work perfectly to this day. Thank you to both Phill and Simon, the brains behind PC Trends. As of right now you are my favourite new people in the entire world.
Having the new server in place and actually having full control over it also paved the way for a lot of the unnecessary contracts the school had with external IT companies to come to an end. Because of this the investment the school made in installing the new server will be recouped in savings within 6 months. Essentially the server will practically paid for itself.
Now, back to the list. I’ve only got a few more to go!
- Upgraded the school’s internet from 10MB to 100MB – You read that right folks. A school with 80 members of staff only had a 10MB internet connection. This was identified to be the main reason behind the very intermittent wireless connection. The system just couldn’t cope with such a high volume of staff and students on the same network. Yes the jump up to 100MB isn’t massive in today’s modern standards (a 1GB connection was available but was somewhat expensive) but it was invaluable in getting the IT infrastructure. The iPad’s can finally be used effectively!
- Retire the school’s old server – The problem with the old server was that it was only 600GB in size. For 300+ user accounts and hosting thousands of documents, images and videos, until the new 4TB server (potentially increasing to 16TB if required) staff were saving things on various external hard drives, which was a security and logistical nightmare. As of last week the old sever was switched off, and I will shortly be donating it to a charity I support who will find 600GB of server space a God send. This follows my mantra of no tech left behind!
- Train staff on basic IT skills and have a backup in place – With the new school curriculum focusing very much on IT, it was imperative these changes were made before the end of the school year. I can now finally support the staff without worry that something will go wrong, and even spend time showing them how to do basic troubleshooting. An internal backup procedure is now in place too, meaning that if problems do happen there is a strong process in place to ensure it’s not the end of the world.
A lot of planning went into getting all of these things sorted, and it’s fair to say that the last 14 months have been the longest in my professional career. Longest, but also the best.
I want to thank everyone at St John Vianney’s for putting up with my random visits and frustrations since I officially started my work in February 2014. It has been a journey…a long, difficult, fun and perplexing journey. I now believe the difficult times with the IT are behind them, and they can now start planning for the future. Yes there will still be some minor annoyances along the way (the printer is undoubtedly next on the list to get sorted, it’s only designed to print 50,000 sheets a year and the data shows it prints a lot more, so it’s very rapidly getting worn out), but let’s hope we can all look back and laugh at the time the computers were very misbehaving.
Bring on the next challenge! Oh wait, it’s already happened, the Community Centre over the road from my house is having similar problems…
Looks like another adventure for Skippy!
Keep Smilin’ peeps