They say that a poor craftsman blames their tools, but anyone who has ever tried to crimp a cable with a dull punch-down tool knows that you can only do so much with what you are given. It won’t fit on a coffee mug, but a less pithy way of putting it is “a fine craftsman knows the limitations of their tools and plans accordingly.”
What does that mean? It means knowing what you’re going to need onsite and planning accordingly. It also means keeping your work bag and vehicle stocked with things that you *might* need. It means keeping your equipment in good working order. In my case, it also means making sure that you have snack on hand (more on that later).
First things first, my work bag. I go to job sites using planes, trains, and automobiles, so all of the essentials have to fit in one bag. I also want to be able to walk without pain, so I can’t overload myself too much. This is what I carry:
- My laptop and power supply. That power supply is mission critical, so I have a spare that I use in my home office. That way, I never forget to grab it when I’m on my way out the door.
- A big-ass iPad. I use this as a mobile hot-spot, for filling out job paperwork, and as a second monitor when I’m stuck writing code while sitting on an over-turned paint bucket. I use a $10 app called Duet that lets me extend my screen onto my iPad. It was the best $10 I ever spent (big-ass iPad not included)
- Phone charging cable, charging brick, and a little batter pack that doubles as small Wi-Fi router. Nothing kills a phone battery like keeping it inside an electrical closet. I need to be able to charge my phone six ways from Sunday. I like gear that can pull double duty, so I got a battery pack that I can use for some temporary Wi-Fi if I need it.
- Extra-long USB cable and about eleventy-billion adapter cables for it. All of the different USB cables I needed were weighing me down, so I got one long one and then bought a box of adapters for it.
- Assorted proprietary cables, remotes, etc. This is all going to vary depending on what your job duties are.
- I’m a programmer, so I have the joy of carrying around an RS232 to USB adapter. I also do a lot of commercial lighting, so I carry Crestron remotes for setting up occupancy sensors and power packs.
- An extra-long Ethernet cable, as well as a coupler for attaching it to another cable.
Tweaker, multi-tool (if the TSA hasn’t found it and taken it away from me), lipstick (I am a girl, after all).
The goal in loading up my bag is to never get to a job site and say “oh shit, I can’t do anything else until I find [random cable]. Everything that goes into my bag lives there, unless I’m getting on a plane and it’s pointy.
In my car, I keep a box of spare equipment (mostly older remotes, proprietary batteries, and occasionally a spare processor). I also have all the PPE I might need if I have to work on a construction site (hard hat, high viz vest, boots, safety glasses). I also keep a spare company polo in case of wardrobe malfunctions or last-minute service calls.
My car is also where I keep all of the bigger/sharper/heavier tools that I’m not likely to need on a basic job, but which might come in handy in a pinch. This is where I store my multi-meter, punch-down tools, wire-strippers, etc.
And, most importantly, I have a box with snacks, non-perishable lunch packs and juice boxes. The juice boxes are technically for my young daughter, but they have worked in a pinch when I stuck in the middle of nowhere and getting increasingly thirsty/hungry and needed that little bit of sugar water.
Why do I consider snacks to be an essential job tool? Well, you wouldn’t like me if I’m hangry. My job often takes me to places where lunch isn’t readily available. I need to be able to keep my blood sugar at a decent level, or I’m never going to get any work done.
Everything in my car (theoretically) lives in a couple of crates that can be pulled out and stored if we’re going on a family trip and I need the cargo space. Although, if you ask my husband, it tends to take over the entire trunk of my car.
So, there you have it, my essential tools list. Is there anything you think I’ve missed? What’s in your tool bag?