On-the-Job Stories From One IT Desk to Another

The IT profession is anything but dull, as these tales of missteps, miscues, and micromanagers show.


From one IT desk to another

Obstinate bosses, embarrassing mix-ups, a coping strategy or two, confused end-users, a heroic moment -- they're all here in Off the Record, InfoWorld's blog powered by real-life, on-the-job experiences as told from tech's front line. Under the cover of an anonymous byline, IT pros vent over their jobs, share their wisdom, and sometimes even get a laugh over their workplace adventures.

At the end of the day there may even be a story worth telling. Here's a look back at techies' storybook from 2013.

If you have an IT job story to tell, send it to offtherecord@infoworld.com. We'll send you a $50 American Express gift cheque if we publish it -- anonymously, of course.

Wavebreakmedia Ltd

A day in the life

Any programmer, admin, or technician knows you have to start with the basics. For example, how to market your skills in a tight job market? One IT pro decides to show, don't tell, once through fixing a problematic machine and on another occasion via acing an aptitude test. "If you know how to do something, back it up by proving you can. If you don't, say so but also emphasize how you're willing to learn -- then prove that, too."

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Techie, trust thyself and respect will follow
In case of IT emergency, break out the chocolate


Who you gonna call?

Tech pros put out fires and save the day over and over again, often without recognition. But sometimes a tricky problem comes together, or quick thinking averts a catastrophe. Things click -- like in the movies.

A couple of IT pros go to a remote site and discover their challenge: Lay fiber cables between an office and a warehouse standing 350 feet apart through a serpentine conduit route. They get creative and go to work with a Shop-Vac, a ball of kite string, and a baggie. It's MacGyver time! And success feels great.

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The office is on fire – get the IT guy!

bahri altay

What's that again?

To paraphrase an old saying, IT and end-users are two groups often separated by a common language. The IT pro assumes one thing, and the user another -- even if both are speaking the same words. It takes a finely tuned ear to break through.

One techie could've used a decoder ring when receiving a few help desk calls. For one user, "lockout" didn't mean she couldn't log on to her computer -- she had a much more literal interpretation in mind. With another, "storage" and "space" had nothing to do with disk capacity; instead, it came down to desktop real estate and enough room for more icons.

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Say what? Three unfortunate users in need of a tech translator


Dealing with users' egos and attitudes

Techies have heard it all , from the new exec who supposedly knows everything about tech to the employee in Cubicle B who claims they absolutely must have an iPad to the user who lies about why the laptop is cracked.

One tech pro deals with execs who love but don't necessarily understand technology. One boasts that he never contacts tech support and even turned down a job as CIO -- then calls for help with one of the most basic VPN problems you could encounter. Somehow, it's all the tech department's fault ...

More stories:
Sorry, IT still doesn't do attitude adjustments
Laptops don't lie: Filthy tales of tech repair
Even road warriors can spin out and crash


The 'uh-oh' moment

An overlooked detail, a missed cue, a wrong question -- ah, the stuff of comedy.

Like the time when a $1 resistor brings down a data center and fingers point at the mainframe operators. The problem begins during a tour when a high-level tech is showing off expensive equipment to Very Important People, closes the mainframe door, and the power goes out. When an electrician and an IBM tech are called in but can't solve the puzzle, they insist the operators must be at fault -- then are humbled when the same issue plagues them. Who's laughing now?

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Look out below! A young techie is coming through
Button it: A tiny detail snags a system setup


Oh yeah, that'll end well

Some projects barely stand a chance.

At one company, the new owner decides it's time to streamline internal processes such as the accounting system. Sounds good -- but the in-house rivalries and an ingrained emphasis on getting something done fast rather than getting it done right spell bad news. Two years and more than 20 upgrades later, they're thinking of starting over from scratch. They didn't see this coming?

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Secrets and lies: A coding cover-up
You can't spell office politics without 'IT'
At a family business, nepotism trumps common sense


You can do your job, as long as you do it my way

Micromanagers are miserable to work for. In the end it's either you or them. In the meantime, good luck.

A blowhard CEO refuses to listen to IT about making necessary improvements to the data center. Who cares if the server's crashing? But then the CEO sees a chance to show off as an early adopter. IT finally gets a new data center -- and much, much more. The over-the-top upgrade eventually prompts the board to fire the CEO. (At least the ventilation problem was finally fixed.)

More stories:
A tale of one manager: Good for projects, bad for personnel
The job is 'IT manager,' but in title only


Mediocrity gets you only so far

There will always be those who cover the basics and don't care about doing a good job. And they will always be a drain on the coworkers who do take pride in the work. Let the clashes commence.

A tech consultant is sent to a company that develops educational software -- and is aghast at the lax attitude from the top down about deadlines, bug fixes, and the overall quality of the product. Any bets on how long the company lasts?

More stories:
• If you want a job done right, don’t send this boss
• When no employee is better than a new employee

Ivan Bliznetsov

What price for those savings?

The mandate to trim expenses always means problems lie ahead, so buckle up for a wild ride.

A CFO is full of ideas on how to save money, but all of his plans backfire stupendously. When he orders the company get by with subpar servers,  performance issues prompt him to finally approve upgrades. When he contracts a cheap electrician to run cabling to new cubicles, the job has to be redone -- and the company pays twice. The list goes on. That sound you hear? That's IT muttering, "I told you so."

More stories:
• Cheapskate execs pay the price for outsourcing IT
• Good job! You just got yourself fired
• When it comes to IT hires, you get what you paid for


Dukes up! It's tech against tech

High-level execs aren't always the ones causing problems. Tech teams can complicate many a project all by themselves (as if the job needed more drama).

It's developers vs. testers for one app project -- or it would be if the developers' managers have any say. The testers aren't allowed to talk to users, and they run into one roadblock after another. However, both teams' "worker bees" take pride in their work and come together to create a decent product in spite of it all. Was that turf war really necessary? 

More stories:
Ops to dev: It's your fault, and here's proof
It's on -- cool heads meet fiery tempers in an IT turf war


Want more IT stories?

Off the Record archives are full of tales from the IT trenches, such as the best from 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

And write up your own crazy-but-true tale about managing IT, developing apps, or supporting users. Send your submission to offtherecord@infoworld.com. If we publish your story -- anonymously, of course -- you'll receive a $50 American Express gift cheque.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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