Do you speak tech? Communication breaks down at the help desk

'Lockout' and 'storage' take on new meaning for an IT pro responding to help desk calls around the office

"D'oh!" We've all had those moments, and we techies would be rich if we could charge for every time we witnessed one -- either by us or someone else. But helping stressed-out users in unfamiliar situations does make us think outside the box and revisit our most basic skills. Here are a few incidents that still give me a chuckle.

Extreme lockout

One day, a user from a remote office called the IT department in a panic: She was locked out. Of course, I immediately assumed she was locked out of her laptop. I started asking her general questions about the message she was seeing on the screen, what she had been doing before the computer locked her out, and so on.

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"No," she said, "I'm locked out from my computer!"

I replied that I understood and was working to help her get logged back in.

"No, not that," she said, going on to explain that she was locked out in a different sense. Her laptop was locked in a break room. She'd left for a moment and couldn't get back in.

Oh. I deleted the help desk ticket I had been starting and, since she sounded quite upset, told her we'd call someone in the building who had a key to let her in. I placed the call, hung up, had a chuckle, and moved on to the next item.

The story didn't end there. According to the security guard who arrived with key in hand, she wasn't locked out of the room after all. It seems that this was a sliding door, and she'd been trying to push it open -- understandably without success.

Hopefully her day got better after that incident.

Yes, you are hearing things

Another time, a user called about an odd buzzing sound coming from the computer. They had no idea what it was and needed help figuring it out.

I arrived at their office and started checking out the computer, playing with the volume, and looking for CDs in the drive. I didn't hear anything at first. But then I too heard an odd, muffled buzzing sound. It seemed to come from underneath the user's desk. I waited a bit longer; sure enough, I heard it again -- and once more, it seemed to come from underneath the desk.

There was nothing else to do but crawl under the desk to figure it out. When the sound came again, it seemed to originate from the drawer next to my ear. I opened the drawer and found a pile of pocket pagers. This user was the admin for the employees' pagers, and one of them was in buzz mode.

We joked about one of the gizmos getting paged and got a good laugh out of it.

How about more storage, please

We got a ticket one day that was quite puzzling: The user was running out of -- get this -- monitor storage space. I looked at the ticket again and figured they meant storage capacity. But according to the user's record, there was plenty of unused disk space.

Confused, I walked over to the user and asked what was going on. She turned on her computer, and I was astounded to see her 20-inch monitor packed with icons -- wall to wall, edge to edge. She showed me how she had no space to add more.

Apparently, she'd decided to store all of her music on the desktop. Why not? According to her thought process, that was the easiest place to put it. Thus, she had run out of "storage" on the monitor and was asking for a bigger, 24-inch monitor so that she could "store" more stuff.

I had to work hard to keep a straight face after that last request. But I pulled it together and walked her through the basics of the desktop, folders, and how storage works. Of course, I explained the policy about not storing music on the company's machines and helped her remove the MP3 files, thus freeing up disk -- and monitor -- space.

To her credit, she seemed to grasp the concept of storage and how to organize her files, and she thanked me for explaining it. Her desktop was remarkably uncluttered from then on.

After a certain number of calls in a day from demanding or panicked users, it's easy to start getting stressed out yourself. When there's a completely unexpected reason for a problem, it can sure liven up a long workday -- and many to come.

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