One person's trash is another's treasure

A user thinks he has a clever trick on where to store his files -- until he runs out of space

One thing I've noticed about working in IT is that it seems like those with the know-it-all attitude about technology are the ones who are the most ignorant about computers. They also get into all kinds of scrapes because they haven't taken the time to learn otherwise or they've resisted any help.

I've seen this attitude in many end-users, but one of the most memorable experiences I've encountered happened about 10 years ago. I was working as IT support for a training firm in Scotland.

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The job was a mix of duties: supporting the trainers and salesmen at that particular site, while maintaining PCs from other locations. By far, the biggest challenge of the job was dealing with the attitude of the end-users.

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Some of them believed they knew everything about computers; they never asked tech support about anything until it became such a problem it stopped them from working. Tech training or similar suggestions were met with much resistance and hostility. One of the worst of these was a trainer we'll call "Bob."

One day, Bob demanded help with what appeared to be a simple problem: His PC wouldn't let him save a document. It turned out his hard drive was full. It was a 200MB drive, but only a couple dozen kilobytes were available. As I started troubleshooting, he walked away.

I quickly discovered that his trash bin was taking up about 80 percent of his drive. It appeared that Bob hadn't bothered to empty his trash or perhaps didn't know how. I emptied the trash, and the document saved successfully. Problem solved.

Before I got back to my desk, Bob returned and screamed, "Where have all my documents gone?!"

Apparently, some two years earlier (before I was working there), he'd figured out that if he stored his really important documents in his trash bin, they didn't show up in the totals for the space used, as reported by the backup application. Thus, he concluded that if he stored them there, they magically didn't take up any space. And it turned out that he kept all his master copies and versions so may not have understood what it meant to throw anything away.

Not only that, he had given this "secret, clever" tip to many of his colleagues.

So two years' worth of his work had been deleted. And the only thing his trash bin trick had achieved was to make sure they were stored in the only place on his hard drive that wasn't imaged by the automated nightly backups. And because of security concerns, every machine was set up to securely erase the trash.

Luckily, we were able to correct Bob's "misinformation" with the other employees who used his trick, and we avoided other such incidents. And I became more careful in double-checking details with end-users -- especially if the details seem obvious.

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