So, you find yourself On-Call

So, you find yourself on-call.  Your life was just interrupted.  You realize it is an issue that you ‘have to’ deal with.  Are you ready?  What are you missing to accomplish your task?  In the heat of the moment, you may not have everything on hand that is needed, much less recall all the needed items.   I will create a list of items (both physical and electronic), thoughts, ideas, etc. that you may need to successfully complete an on-call rotation.  Every environment and company culture will be different, and some of these things may not apply.  However, the purpose of this article is to get your creative juices flowing and list out the things you will need to have on-hand when you are on-call, so you are not caught unawares. 

When it’s your turn to be on-call, you need to make sure that you have all the needed items handy to accomplish your task.  Some of these items, which are ever present at your office,  may not be present when you are away from the office.  Connectivity can become an issue.  Lists of information you reference, that exist on your network, may be inaccessible remotely.  Your printed list of favorite phone numbers stuck to the wall by your phone, no longer present when you are away.  What about mail access?  Do you have it on your phone/blackberry?  What about on the web?  Have you practiced getting your mail from the multiple locations?  Have you practiced gaining successful access to all needed servers remotely?

As I prepare to go on-call, I sit in the office and think of all the items I could use to help me out.  I’ll list these out now and explain them as we go.  Some of these items are physical items you need to carry with you.  Others will be processes that you need to practice.  Practice them at the office, but more importantly, you need to practice them remotely, to ensure you can successfully complete them.

Key fob
If you have any security processes you must go through to gain access to your network, make sure that you bring these with you.  It won’t do to report to your boss that you left it at the office and cannot fix problem X until tomorrow.

VPN or other secure access
Make sure you practice this connectivity from home.  On as many computers as you can.  From as many locations as you can.  Once I found myself unable to connect at home to the internet.  I ended up hijacking the wireless signal of a neighbor, sitting on their steps and connecting.  I’m glad that I had tested it on the laptop I was using, so that the scene of me sitting next door troubleshooting my database wasn’t any more stressful than it needed to be.

If you have a company issued laptop, make sure you have the means to carry it with you to all your favorite haunts.  I purchased a waterproof bag for mine so that I can take it on a boat.  I have a small messenger bag that I use to quickly haul the laptop around in my car.  This bag doesn’t have any of the excess items I normally carry with me to and from work.  Having multiple means of transporting this laptop makes it easier for me to bring it along wherever I go.

I also configure another machine or 2 from home to be able to connect.  My personal laptop or desktop are configured, in case my work laptop is not present.  I practice often connecting with these machines to ensure success.  Just last night I connected with my personal laptop, even though my work laptop was with me.  I just needed to know I could do it.

List of Servers
What are all the servers you need to access?  Do you have them all memorized in your head?  If not, you may want to simply jot these down somewhere to help you remember them.  I will often have a list of these servers in a spreadsheet with other pertinent information that is associated with them.  But do I remember to print it out and carry with me?

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