They don't wear capes nor do they have any magic powers, but some IT execs may think of them as superheroes. Identical twins Chris and Greg Tinker, master technologists at Hewlett-Packard, thrive in the heat of the moment, excel in quelling frayed nerves and resolve the toughest, most unexpected IT problems.
As HP's "master technologists"—also known as "enterprise technical escalation engineers"—IT execs turn to the Tinkers when their systems suffer an incapacitating blow that their own IT department and other experts can't fix. Sometimes this means identifying a single string of defective code, detecting a faulty patch or discovering a malfunctioning chip.
"The more difficult a situation, the more exciting it is," Greg says. "Each day brings a whole new cup of tea. Rarely do we see the same thing twice."
The way the Tinkers arrived at HP together and in the same role is just as unique as the IT problems they solve.
After attending Southern Polytechnic State University, the Tinkers made a pact: They would take jobs at separate companies, then join each other after a year at the job they liked best.
Twelve months later, Greg joined Chris at HP where, over the span of 10 years, they climbed the ranks serving in proactive roles, reactive roles and roles related to storage and Unix.
"Tech advances at a very fast pace," Chris says. "A great deal of our time was spent learning material and keeping up with the pace of technology."
Their diverse knowledge in many areas of IT, he says, is a huge contributor to their success as enterprise technical escalation engineers.
In their role, Chris and Greg are on call 24/7. When the phone rings, they know it's urgent and that the issue is likely complicated. When a business experiences a mission-critical problem, it's sent through two levels of HP experts who try to assess and fix the problem. When that fails, the situation is sent to the Tinkers, who are the highest level of defense.
"When it gets to our level, the situation is very hot, very bad and has made a major business impact. We're tasked with driving the solution and getting the necessary engineers on call or on the site," Greg says.
Once their team is assembled, the Tinkers get to work on both finding the solution and calming tense execs.
"It puts the customer at ease when they have someone they can hand the keyboard to and troubleshoot with them in real-time," Greg says. "It's essential to assure them we're making progress and that a solution will be found. If you're not confident in your skill set, the customer will see right through it."
One of the most arduous assignments they faced was for a client whose business systems would sporadically crash—sometimes it would run for a month, sometimes only an hour, the Tinkers say. The problem, they found, was a hardware defect on a particular chip. The chip came from a bad batch of about 800 chips that the manufacturer had produced.
"It took us about five months to find it," Greg says. "Some escalations take a long time. The customer understood the complexity of it, and they understood the battle we were facing."
That moment when they do detect the problem and enact a solution is the most rewarding part of their job, the Tinkers say.
"On a day-to-day basis, we work to turn doubt into trust and replace chaos with order," Greg says. "We love having the daily challenge of being thrown into a situation with little prep and having to rise to the occasion."
Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org