Button it! A tiny detail snags a system setup

A tech team wishes it could hit the Reset button -- in more ways than one -- when a hasty system install doesn't go as planned

"What could go wrong?" These infamous words have prefaced the downfall of many a best-laid tech plan. But there was a time when I didn't know any better.

In the early '80s, I worked for a small startup division of a legacy electronics company producing one of the first interactive 3D graphics systems. Though these systems were sold as commercial products, they were handmade prototypes -- wire-wrapped instead of soldered -- on the inside, and each was slightly different.

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I managed the customer support tasks, such as installing systems at customer sites and training them on how to use it. But a combination of a Wild West environment and an understaffed team meant I was able to assign myself to other jobs as well -- whatever needed to be done to gain a good standing with our customers, which happened to be aerospace companies. After one too many customer service fiascos, I stepped in to fill the gaps dotting our workflow.

For example, when an existing customer site was sent the wrong software upgrade tape, I appointed myself software librarian. And when a system was delivered to a customer facility dead on arrival, I became the quality assurance manager in charge of final outgoing inspection.

One small part, one big decision

This worked for a while, but the day arrived when I got the better of myself.

The parts buyer, who also wore the hardware operations hat, came to me and explained we had an order ready to go, but the system lacked a Reset button. It was the end of the month and the end of the quarter, and we needed to put the system on the truck so that we could book the revenue.

This wasn't great news, but not necessarily a game-changer. I went to see if there was anything else wrong with the system. I was able to test it without the button: When I wanted to reset it, I grabbed two wires sticking out of the square hole where the button would mount and touched their stripped copper ends together. Everything else on the system was OK. We were just lacking one simple analog 12-volt press-to-connect single pole button.

The parts buyer implored me, "The button will be here Monday, which is when you're going to do the installation anyway. Let me ship the system now, so the company can book the revenue this quarter. I'll come with you to the customer's site on Monday, bring the button, and install it myself."

I agreed, glad he was willing to fix the problem and thinking to myself, "What could go wrong?" We shipped the system that day and met our accounting deadline.

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