Gross! Unsanitized tales from tech support

PC troubleshooter? Check. Server skills? Check. Disinfectant? Double check. You'll need them all when working the help desk

As an IT professional, you generally like to give people the benefit of the doubt and hope they have at least a marginal degree of common sense and good personal hygiene. They come through most of the time, but there are always glaring exceptions. Over the span of my IT career, I ran into three notable examples.

My eyes!

One comes from early in my career when working at the computer repair desk at a tech retailer. At this place, the repair desk was right out on the sales floor. We'd voiced concerns about this arrangement because anyone passing by could see what was on the computers, opening the door for serious privacy and security issues. But upper management had made up their mind, and that was that.

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One day, a gentleman brought us a laptop that had been experiencing "weird problems." I filled out the work order and entered his information in the computer system. As the customer signed the forms and walked away, I secured the laptop with a locking arm and pressed the power button. Then I too walked away for a couple of minutes to help another customer.

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It was a slow day in the summer season, and hardly a soul stirred in the store. This was fortunate -- upon returning to the repair desk, I discovered that the laptop's background picture was horribly, pornographically disgusting. It took me a moment to register in my mind what I was looking at, and in a panic I went for the power button.

The five seconds from when I pressed the button to when the machine actually powered off felt like an eternity. When it did shut down, I pulled the laptop out of the security arm, took it to the back room, and changed the desktop background to the Windows XP standard.

After some quick diagnostics, I discovered that the machine was eaten alive with so much malware that it was unfixable, so we had to ask the customer to bring in the restore disks and set it back to the factory image. When he came to pick up the laptop, staying polite with a good customer service smile was very difficult -- but I did it.

Smartphone etiquette 101

Later in my career, I was working at a relatively small company that had several dozen employees and a couple of SQL servers that lived onsite. One server had died on a Friday night. On Saturday morning, myself, the IT manager, the CEO, a couple of developers, a project manager, a SQL DBA, and Microsoft support were on a conference call trying to sort out the mess.

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