The power of observation -- and superglue

A tech student learns a real-world IT lesson about the values of everyday objects when the boss's computer goes down

While taking IT classes at night, I was employed at a non-IT job. As a result, the owner of the company sometimes asked me to fix technology that was causing problems at the office.

One day I was asked to take a look at the owner's computer. It had been working fine the day before but would not turn on anymore.

[ Test your mettle where it really counts with the 2011 InfoWorld geek IQ test. | Follow Off the Record on Twitter for tech's war stories, career takes, and off-the-wall news. ]

I began by pressing the power button. As soon as I pushed it, I noticed the cooling fan in the back started to turn but then stopped right away. I had completed my first computer hardware class the semester before and could hear the instructor's words: "If the computer is not getting through the POST, it means bad power." My brain immediately concluded that bad power meant a loose wire or a bad power supply.

Off the Record submissions

I didn't have a power supply tester, so I figured the best way to check for a bad connection was to unplug all the electrical connections off the motherboard and plug them back in. I took a picture of the "guts" of the computer to make sure I could put it back together again, then got started.

This computer was an older, custom-built gaming machine that the owner's son had given him and the owner had repurposed to use at his business. Midway through the task, I realized the wires I was pulling out were not the standard ones I saw in the computer lab -- it was custom wiring.

Horrified, I attempted to put the wires back but could not remember where they all went. I consulted the picture on my smartphone, but it didn't show the details I needed. After a few hours of frustrating work, I went to the owner and told him what I had done. He was gracious about it, but ended up calling a professional computer tech to fix both the original problem and the mess I had made. I felt sick as I watched the tech arrive and take the machine away.

The next day the tech dropped off the computer. I happened to be the one around to take the computer from him and inquired about the wiring. He told me it had been quite a job to repair it -- he had to pull the tech specs on the motherboard to get everything back together. After he left, I hooked the computer back up. It was the least I could do after making a royal mess.

I pushed the power button, and the same problem arose: The cooling fan turned and stopped, and the computer didn't power on. I'm not sure how the tech got the computer to actually turn on in his shop or if he even tested it before giving it back. Feeling slightly relieved, I asked the owner to take a look.

Very irritated, he called the tech right away. I left for the evening, and when I came back the next day he informed me what happened. The tech and the owner were both there for a few hours before the tech discovered that the small plastic piece behind the bezel assembly that connected the power button to the motherboard was cracked. They pasted the plastic piece back together with some superglue the owner had on hand, and the computer turned on.

There was no long-term damage to the computer as a result of my wiring mishap, except to my ego. My boss grumbled about having to spend extra time catching up on his paperwork, but that was about it.

I think the biggest takeaway for me is to remember the first step in computer troubleshooting: observation. If I had taken the time to actually observe the inside of the computer I would have a) seen that the wiring was nonstandard and b) hopefully noticed the broken plastic piece. Observing either one of those things would have saved much time and money.

That computer is still in my life. After my boss upgraded all of the computers in the shop about a year ago, he gave it to me. Its current function in my home is for watching SpongeBob videos online, much to the delight of my five-year old. The superglued plastic piece still works just fine.

Do you have a tech story to share? Send it to offtherecord@infoworld.com, and if we publish it, you'll receive a $50 American Express gift cheque.

This story, "The power of observation -- and superglue," 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.

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies