Fatal distraction: 7 IT mistakes that will get you fired

True tales of IT pros who screwed up big and got fired quick

It's hard to get a good job in IT these days, but it's all too easy to lose one.

There are lots of reasons for instant termination. Failure to fulfill your obligation to protect your employer's digital assets or abusing your vast powers for your own nefarious ends are two sure ways to end up on the unemployment line. You could be fired for opening your mouth at the wrong time or not opening your mouth at the right one. Spying on the boss, lying to your superiors, or being directly responsible for the loss of millions of dollars in downtime through your own negligence are all excellent ways to end up on the chopping block.

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Everyone messes up at some point. But some screwups are almost always fatal -- to jobs, if not entire careers.

Here are seven true tales of IT pros who screwed up big and got fired quick -- even if some were terminated for the right reasons. The names have been withheld to protect the guilty. Don't let their fatal mistakes become yours.

Fatal IT mistake No. 1: Slacking on backup

It was 10:30 on a Thursday night when Eric Schlissel's phone rang. On the line was the chief operating officer of a midsize clothing manufacturer with whom Schlissel had never spoken before. The COO, who found his company's phone number via Google, was frantic. His plant's ERP system had been wiped out by a virus, and they had a major deadline in the morning.

Schlissel, CEO of managed service provider GeekTek IT Services, hopped in his car and headed down to the L.A. garment district to handle the situation personally.

"Within three minutes of logging in, I realized there was nothing on the server," says Schlissel. "All the data files were gone, the database was gone, and the ERP software was nowhere to be found. I told him this was no virus. Someone had purged the system."

It turned out a disgruntled IT contractor had enacted revenge by wiping the garment maker's servers. But worse news was yet to come. The backups, which were supposed to run every night, hadn't been working for a very long time. The most recent data Schlissel could find was a year old, making it virtually worthless.

The company only survived because someone in accounting, who did not trust technology, had kept paper copies of everything. It took Schlissel and his team six months to restore all the data by hand.

"It was a $10 or $12 million company, and they probably lost $2 million as a result of this," he says. "It was the most catastrophic IT disaster I've ever seen."

The factory's general-purpose IT guy, who was responsible for ensuring backups were made, had simply forgotten about them. He was on the unemployment lines the next day.

Failure to maintain backups is an all too common screwup, and the mistake is often fatal to one's job security, Schlissel says.

"The first thing we do when we visit a new client is to check the backups," Schlissel says. "This is a classic IT horror story, one we often tell clients. We're not trying to scare them, we just want to make sure their assets are protected."

Moral of the story: A backup in hand is worth two bushels of paper.

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