Order up! One fried motherboard with an extra server on the side

A techie has no one to blame but himself when a service call hits him where it hurts the most: His own wallet

Tech pros by the nature of the job want to solve problems, not make them. But we're all human, and errors arise. Still, this knowledge offers scant comfort when you're cleaning up after your own snafu. D'oh!

I was self-employed as an IT services provider back in the 1990s. Much of my work was conducted at customer sites, and some jobs needed to be scheduled during off-hours to minimize the disruption.

[ For more stories about the IT job, check out InfoWorld's "7 blowhard bosses bollix up IT." | Pick up a $50 American Express gift cheque if we publish your tech story: Send it to offtherecord@infoworld.com. | Get your weekly dose of workplace shenanigans by following Off the Record on Twitter and subscribing to the Off the Record newsletter. ]

One weekend I needed to troubleshoot a client's server that seemed to be having a hard disk controller or cable problem. It was a business of about 50 employees that had approximately 10 workstations and one server.

A routine procedure goes awry

This server was a Wyse 386 -- a beautiful, white machine worth approximately $4,000. That's when a 386 was so awesome that people would pay that much just to get the speed jump from the 286.

I let myself in to the building and made my way to the server. The client's office space was quite small, and for security purposes the server was in the CFO's office -- under lock and key. However, the office furniture filled the room, so there really wasn't any space for it. The server sat on the floor under the desk and off to the side so that the CFO wouldn't kick it (stupid, I know).

I turned on the lights and moved the chair out of the way. Then I pulled the server out from under the desk, took off the cover, and located the hard disk controller card. It was all routine -- until the next step. When I pulled out the card from the slot on the motherboard, I heard an ominous click.

I looked closer to see what had happened, and my heart stopped. A rookie mistake: I'd forgotten to first turn off the power and unplug it!

Hoping for the best, I assessed the damage. I put the card back in and powered the machine back on, but no luck. It was deader than the proverbial doornail.

I calmed down enough to think through what to do next. It was a proprietary computer, so I needed a Wyse HD controller card. But it was on the weekend. Where would I get one?

It just so happened that I was working on a different Wyse 386 -- complete with controller card -- back in my office for another client. I drove to my office, picked up the Wyse, brought it back to the site, and swapped parts to determine the state of the HD controller, motherboard, RAM, and the rest. My heart sank as I discovered that the motherboard was fried.

The upside was that when I swapped the parts, the first server was up and running and the initial problem I'd come to troubleshoot was fixed. But the downside was that the fixed server was now made up of parts from another client's machine. How would I handle that?

A fix is found -- at a price

I came up with a plan, albeit a painful one. I had recently purchased a brand-new 386 server for myself. It was beautiful, without a scratch and hardly used. I had many plans for it. But I'd made a big mistake, and the responsibility was mine to fix it in the easiest way possible for the customers.

I offered the second client -- whose machine I'd used for parts -- the option of taking my server in exchange for his. Since my server was somewhat faster and brand new, he readily agreed to the plan. I put on a brave face, packed up the machine, and set it up for him.

As for me, I ended up with a really nice-looking boat anchor since the motherboard was too expensive to fix. I readily admit the mistake was mine, but that one still hurt -- a lot.

Send your own IT tale of managing IT, personal bloopers, supporting users, or dealing with bureaucratic nonsense to offtherecord@infoworld.com. If we publish it, we'll send you a $50 American Express gift cheque.

This story, "Order up! One fried motherboard with an extra server on the side," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.