Anyone who works in IT, whether it's supporting users, developing apps, or managing networks, will have plenty of stories to tell. We've asked a number of our readers to tell us their tales about life in the tech trenches.

Anyone who works in IT, whether it's supporting users, developing apps or managing networks, will have plenty of stories to tell.

They cover everything from unfortunate accidents, useless users and even unprofessionalism.

We've got a number of our readers to tell us their stories, so read on and find out just what goes on in the tech trenches.

The knowledge gap in the early days of PCs

During my years in IT, I've taught a variety of courses to users. Like many instructors, I encourage those taking the course to ask any question they have.

I expect a wide range of queries, from the basic to the advanced, but sometimes I'm taken aback by questions that are staggeringly naïve.

In the late 80s and 90s, I worked in the tech department of a large regional bank.

When I first started, I was in a department of about 12 who did everything there was to do with PCs: hardware, software, application development, training, and so on.

As a result, the position put me in contact with employees who had all ranges of computer competence, from the beginners to the highly experienced.

One of the things I did was to teach an introduction to DOS and the PC to bank employees. The class was available to all employees.

At the time, PCs were just being accepted as a serious, integral part of the IT landscape, so at every class we often had people with a wide variety of tech knowledge.

One particular day, I had eight people in class, ranging from a newly hired assistant to a couple of highly experienced tech support guys from the mainframe side.

The PCs we were buying at that time were IBM PS2s, which were designed to be taken apart without any tools.

As a break from the more intensive parts of the class, I had the students come up and observe while I took one apart and pointed out the various components.

The assistant, who had been asking questions nonstop throughout the class and obviously didn't know much at all about computers, pointed to the hard drive, which contained a dime-sized hole in the case.

"You see that hole?" she asked. "If your power went out, could you stick your finger in there and spin that disk around so you could still see the pictures on the screen?"

Needless to say, the tech support guys had tears of silent laughter streaming down their cheeks.

I, being the instructor, had to maintain a certain sense of decorum, which I did mostly by biting my tongue.

However, I was sure tempted to say something like, "Well, if you could get your finger in there, and spin it around at exactly the right speed ..."

The assistant listened as I explained that if the power is out, nothing on the computer would be working and why. She solemnly nodded her head in agreement.

Since at the time even an assistant position required a basic computer literacy, I wasn't surprised to hear a few weeks later that she had been fired.

It's a puzzle why she got the job in the first place.

No matter how long you've been in the business, someone can still ask a question that takes you completely by surprise.

We all know that, as geeks, we are a lot more technically oriented than most people, but don't always realise how wide that gap can be.

NEXT PAGE: Cleaning up after a networking vendor's bad behaviour

  1. Readers share their professional tech experiences
  2. Cleaning up after a networking vendor's bad behaviour
  3. Keyboards, condescension come together on a tech call
  4. The level of support really expected
  5. Troubleshooting a CFO's login problem
  6. Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment


Anyone who works in IT, whether it's supporting users, developing apps, or managing networks, will have plenty of stories to tell. We've asked a number of our readers to tell us their tales about life in the tech trenches.

Cleaning up after a networking vendor's bad behaviour

Back in the late 80s, I worked for a group specialising in Novell networks. Sharing network resources among PCs was a new and upcoming field, and the Novell operating system was quickly turning into the standard among small businesses.

We had a prospective new client in an upscale community: a law firm that wanted to replace its current vendor and its network.

The law office was located in a high-rise building downtown. The law firm did not have any formal IT staff, so the office manager took us around.

We were shown a serial-based network connecting all of the PCs in the office.

The previous vendor had used premade serial cables, so each office had a 2in hole drilled into the wall to accommodate the large 32 pin serial cable ends before passing them through the wall toward the server room.

We were finally taken to the server closet, where all of the serial cables led to a serial hub.

The cables terminating in this room formed a huge wiring bundle approximately 18in in diameter entering the closet through a large two foot hole in the wall.

It was obvious to us that the serial-based network provided little security and lacked many features; also, its performance was excessively slow.

In addition, the bulky cables were unsightly, obtrusive, and cumbersome, which was in stark contrast to the decor often found in a high-profile law firm.

(We heard later that the partners had been livid to discover the large holes that were cut into their expensive walls to accommodate the serial cables.)

Then we finally asked the question: Why are you changing vendors?

The office manager said that they had been unhappy with the level of service the previous vendor had provided and mentioned some of the performance problems we'd already pinpointed. He then added a juicy twist to the story.

Initially, the law partners did not know any better, so they had trusted a friend of one of the partners to provide a technology solution for their office environment.

This friend designed, installed, and supported the serial-based network. He was given keys and unlimited access to the luxurious office to perform installations after hours.

Late one Saturday night, the police department noticed that the lights were on and there was activity in one of the high-rise buildings downtown.

Since crime was virtually non-existent in this community, especially in a building that was normally dark after hours, the police converged on the office to check into what may be a possible burglary in progress.

With guns drawn, they entered the law office suite - only to find the vendor and his girlfriend disrobed on the couch in the senior partner's office.

Needless to say, the law firm wanted a new technology partner and a new network.

We were in the right place at the right time, we impressed them with our professionalism and experience, and we got the job.

NEXT PAGE: Keyboards, condescension come together on a tech call

  1. Readers share their professional tech experiences
  2. Cleaning up after a networking vendor's bad behaviour
  3. Keyboards, condescension come together on a tech call
  4. The level of support really expected
  5. Troubleshooting a CFO's login problem
  6. Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment


Anyone who works in IT, whether it's supporting users, developing apps, or managing networks, will have plenty of stories to tell. We've asked a number of our readers to tell us their tales about life in the tech trenches.

Keyboards, condescension come together on a tech call

For a year I worked at an upscale law firm as a help desk analyst.

During my first week at the job, we got a call from a difficult attorney who was always having problems, so one of the senior analysts and I headed to her office to fix the problem of the moment.

This particular issue was that every so often when she was reading emails, the email would close; when she tried to open the email again, the message would pop up, then close again very quickly.

We finally got to her top-floor office. Her assistant called the attorney to announce our arrival and, after a few minutes, allowed us to enter the office.

The attorney was not having the problem anymore and could not show us anything that even resembled the reported issue.

I did notice that she had an L-shaped desk, and that under her desk the keyboard swivelled left and right and up and down.

This got me to thinking that she was probably trapping the upper-left part of her keyboard under the left portion of the L-shaped desk and constantly depressing the Esc key.

Since I was new, I quietly mentioned this possibility to the senior tech who escorted me up.

The tech said "that's interesting" but didn't mention anything to the attorney, who was brusquely waving us to the door.

About an hour later, the same attorney called in again - this time very upset that the same issue had restarted and that she was in the middle of reading a very important email that she couldn't reopen.

The senior tech that escorted me up was on another call, so I went to the attorney's office alone.

Sure enough, the keyboard tray was swivelled under the L portion of the attorney's desk and depressing the Esc key.

NEXT PAGE: The level of support really expected

  1. Readers share their professional tech experiences
  2. Cleaning up after a networking vendor's bad behaviour
  3. Keyboards, condescension come together on a tech call
  4. The level of support really expected
  5. Troubleshooting a CFO's login problem
  6. Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment


Anyone who works in IT, whether it's supporting users, developing apps, or managing networks, will have plenty of stories to tell. We've asked a number of our readers to tell us their tales about life in the tech trenches.

I very politely pointed out that the tray was in this position and depressing the Esc key, and I explained how that would cause the problem she was experiencing.

The attorney looked down, moved the keyboard out from under the desk, and tried to open another email. The email opened fine and she got back to her work.

I started to walk away, but she stopped me by saying: "Wait a minute, I might need you to fix this again!"

"The swivel keyboard is just too far under the desk to your left. If you lower it just a tiny fraction or raise it so the keyboard can't fit under the desk, you won't have this problem again," I said.

The attorney stared at me with the most exasperated look and, in the most condescending tone I have ever heard, said: "I'm not in IT, so I don't adjust keyboards".

I then realised the level of support she was expecting and asked if I could adjust her keyboard. She stepped away from the desk and allowed me to fix it.

I adjusted the keyboard tray just a fraction of an inch downward so that the keyboard did not touch the desk anymore.

Then at her request, I sat in her assistant's area until she was satisfied that I had properly adjusted it.

After 30 minutes she called me back in and said I had fixed the problem; however, the new adjustment to the keyboard tray hurt her wrists.

I offered to adjust the tray upward and experiment with moving it to one side or the other, but she quickly said there was no need - she would suffer through for now.

I guess you can never underestimate the level of support some people want, need, or are looking for.

NEXT PAGE: Troubleshooting a CFO's login problem

  1. Readers share their professional tech experiences
  2. Cleaning up after a networking vendor's bad behaviour
  3. Keyboards, condescension come together on a tech call
  4. The level of support really expected
  5. Troubleshooting a CFO's login problem
  6. Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment


Anyone who works in IT, whether it's supporting users, developing apps, or managing networks, will have plenty of stories to tell. We've asked a number of our readers to tell us their tales about life in the tech trenches.

Troubleshooting a CFO's login problem

An old supervisor of mine once told me that patience is a virtue and the customer is always right.

On occasion, it has helped to remember this advice; however, nine times out of 10, I had to rely on my patience in situations where the customer was, in fact, wrong.

When I worked on the help desk as a desktop support tech, I had a myriad of different quick-fix calls that I would get done without leaving my station.

Most of the calls were password resets, keyboard/mouse issues, and the good old 'check the nut behind the keyboard' fixes.

Unless they were a high-ranking executives with deadlines breathing down their necks, the customers often laughed at their little mistakes.

One day, I received a call from the CFO (chief financial officer)'s assistant, who needed me upstairs ASAP to help the CFO with a login issue.

He had to access some emails for a meeting that was to occur in 10 minutes, and he was getting highly irritable and panicked about being unable to log in.

From my desk I checked Active Directory to ensure his password was not locked out and found no incorrect logins.

I advised changing the password, but the assistant said there wasn't time for that and to come up. I ran to the elevators and went to the executive areas to help.

Once I arrived, the CFO berated me with questions: "Why isn't this like my access at home? When will this be fixed? BLAH BLAH BLAH Hurry up."

I attempted to give him some quick answers while walking toward his computer, but he brushed me off and said: "Just fix it."

I sat down and made sure there was an active connection on the LAN, and once assured, I logged in as myself, accessed emails and the internet, and then logged off. I then suggested that the CFO try.

He sat down and entered his information and was denied access.

He was impatient and wanted me to fix this problem. I sat down again and logged in as myself without an issue. I was perplexed by the problem. I then had him try again.

I watched as he typed and looked away for a minute.

That was when I noticed it as I looked at his pictures on the wall and saw his MBA diploma.

That's when I asked him to stop typing his password and compared the last names: He was misspelling his last name.
I pointed this out, to which he replied: "It couldn't be that easy."

After correcting the spelling of his name, he logged in and was prompted to change his password.

His face turned a crimson shade, and he graciously apologised for being belligerent.

As I walked out of his office, his assistant stopped me and asked me what the problem was.

I told her that he forgot who he was and explained, to which she burst out laughing.

All in a day's work.

NEXT PAGE: Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment

  1. Readers share their professional tech experiences
  2. Cleaning up after a networking vendor's bad behaviour
  3. Keyboards, condescension come together on a tech call
  4. The level of support really expected
  5. Troubleshooting a CFO's login problem
  6. Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment


Anyone who works in IT, whether it's supporting users, developing apps, or managing networks, will have plenty of stories to tell. We've asked a number of our readers to tell us their tales about life in the tech trenches.

Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment

My story takes place back in the late 1980s, when people were still having problems understanding the necessity of a hardware-friendly environment, such as temperature control, power, and grounding.

My company dealt in large, very sensitive computerised hardware that required the environment be correctly established.

We knew there was going to be a learning curve for customers.

However, we continually ran into those who would dismiss the hardware-friendly environment concept as irrelevant, simply because they didn't understand its importance.

Case in point: one day I was assigned an out-of-town job site to begin an installation.

As usual, we had sent all of the necessary environmental specs and checklists to the customer several weeks before, so I anticipated no problems as I arrived to begin.

When I arrived, our customer, the business manager of the company, greeted me and asked how quickly the installation would be completed.

I told him I needed to make sure the environmental requirements had been met and then I'd get started.

I was shown the room where the equipment was to reside and was immediately struck by the fact that the temperature was in the low 90s, there was about an inch of dust and grime on the floor, and no power or specialised grounds had yet been installed.

The only nod to the requirements we had sent was the site manager's verification that the A/C contractor was due onsite that morning to give a quote on the job.

Soon I was back on the plane headed home with a new installation date scheduled a week later, at which time I was assured all would be well.

The following week I was pleased to see a clean floor, but the brand-new air conditioner was mounted to the ceiling with a condensation drip pan hanging right over where my equipment had to go.

We called the contractor back onsite to remedy the problem, and I turned my attention to the power, which consisted of bare wires coming out of a four-way box on the wall.

The building tech claimed he couldn't find the 'strange' NEMA connector we had specified.

I solved that problem by taking a quick look though the yellow pages and walking to a supplier two blocks away.

While the building tech installed the connector, I looked for where the specialised ground was.

After seeing no sign of it, I asked the electrician. "It's right there," he said, pointing to an inch-wide braided copper cable in the corner that came from a hole in the ceiling and exited through a hole in the floor.

I asked where the hole in the floor went and was told it went to the building's steel and ground rods under the foundation. I then asked where the hole in the ceiling went.

"To the lightning rods on the roof," I was told.

We re-scheduled the actual installation yet again, and I spent the rest of the visit going through the requirements step by step.

I literally walked the engineer down to the electrical room and showed him where to attach the grounds and how to route them to my equipment (and I ever so gently explained to him why connecting to the lightning rods is considered a bad thing).

We also got them to move the condensation drain somewhere else. It took them another week to get the contractors out and get the site ready, but we finally got the equipment installed and the staff trained on its use.

The experience prompted us to change some of our procedures and to not assume anything.

For instance, it taught us to be extremely clear not only about the specifications and document them thoroughly, but also to make it very clear to the clients that their installations would not go forward if the site environment specifications were not met.

It also taught my peers and I to always double-check with the onsite techs - not their management - and verify exactly what had been done before we ever made the trip out to the site.

See also: It shouldn't happen to an IT admin: 6 daft support calls

  1. Readers share their professional tech experiences
  2. Cleaning up after a networking vendor's bad behaviour
  3. Keyboards, condescension come together on a tech call
  4. The level of support really expected
  5. Troubleshooting a CFO's login problem
  6. Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment