User ignorance wreaks havoc on company's computer files

In this IT tale, a techie discovers that the day's puzzling tech issues can all be traced to one user

It was the '90s, and Windows was just beginning to make inroads into the PCs at our company. We were in the very early stages of the migration to Windows, so most users still used our old DOS menu system.

Prior to Windows, all of our DOS-based software ran off of a text menu system sitting on the network, eliminating the need for our users to understand such things as command prompts, PATH commands, or environment variables. This saved some time on training new users -- a good thing in an understaffed and underfunded department.

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One morning I got a call from Accounting saying that the job-costing system was broken, and there was a "weird message" on the screen. It had been a busy morning; I'd already received three separate requests to restore files from the public folder on the network.

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I went to investigate. When I got to the accountant's desk I could see an error message in an ugly black block of text over the normally colorful text interface -- something about a missing database on the network drive. Uh-oh, not good! I headed back to my desk to troubleshoot.

En route, I was paged to the label-printing system in the factory. Since any shipments of our products required printed labels, problems with this system had always been a high priority for me. I detoured to the warehouse. The foreman told me that he'd started a run of labels and halfway through, the labels stopped and the computer wasn't working.

I rebooted it, logged in using the warehouse ID, and tried to restart the label system. I selected it from the menu, the screen went black for a second, then the menu returned. I tried again and this time caught the "Bad command or filename" message as it flashed on the screen just before the menu returned. I tried one more time, same result. I tried another menu option, also same result. I tried one more option and an error message flashed on the screen, followed by a DOS prompt. I tried to restart the menu system, but it didn't seem to exist.

I ran back to my desk. Several people stopped me on the way to tell me that the menu system didn't work. At my desk I discovered that large portions of the various network drives had been deleted. Using some network utilities I discovered that the files appeared to have been deleted by our general manager, "Ed."

I went to Ed's office, where he was hard at work on his new laptop. Just a week before, he had been given this top-of-the-line unit along with some basic Windows training (how to use the mouse, what the icons meant, and so on).

I found that on the advice of his teenage son, he was deleting any extra files to make his laptop run faster and give him more storage space. After deleting anything he didn't recognize on the C: drive, he had moved on to the P: drive (his personal network storage location), the G: drive (general public storage of shared documents), and the F: drive (the accounting system, the label system, the menu system). Overall, he had deleted almost 300MB off of his 20MB hard drive.

I gave him a 5-minute training session on the difference between local and network drive letters and went back to my desk to undo the mess. Between the network's unerase ability and backups from the night before, I was able to recover most of the files.

Needless to say, we had upper management's backing when we started offering computer training classes not long after.

This story, "User ignorance wreaks havoc on company's computer files," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com.

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