Crazy but true tech support stories

An IT support specialist remembers the calls that made him push the mute button while he pulled himself together

I'm one of the people who answers your call or e-mail when you have a computer or software problem. I've been doing it for years at a range of organizations. And there's a reason that I sound like a 911 operator when you call, with that oddly dispassionate demeanor: Some of your calls and e-mails are real doozies, and if it weren't for the Mute button, I'd have gotten fired years ago for my laughter or exclamations in response to some of the stuff I hear.

All of us in tech support rely on the Mute button to hide our reactions when one of those calls comes in, and on IM to chatter about them quietly, for the need to share as well as to get possible answers from each other. Think about it: I'm on the phone and can't see what you're calling about, yet I have to figure it out and then walk you through the fix. Now that takes some skill, focus, and perhaps obsession!

[ Every week, InfoWorld serves anonymous but true stories of IT shenanigans in our Off the Record blog. | Follow the craziness of the tech industry in Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog three times a week. ]

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But I have to admit that even the crazy cases usually reveal some new insight on how to solve the next person's problem -- or even my own.

After all, even tech support folks like me run into issues: I'm reminded of an incident from childhood, where my family had just gotten its first PC, a hulking AT-style machine, and -- budding geek that I was -- I decided to use autoexec.bat to automate access to apps by pressing numbers in a text menu that appeared at startup. However, I managed to create two autoexec.bat files in different directories and cross-link them, so the PCs simply got stuck in an endless cycle of menu loads. After hours of trying to figure out the problem, I went to my parents tearfully and told them I broke their computer. "You broke it, you fix it -- and fast," was the gist of their response, so the next day at school I told the computer expert there what I had done. "Press and hold Ctrl-C to abort it," he advised. "That's so simple. Why didn't I know that?" I thought.

That's why today, when even the smartest people have the silliest lapses -- like not realizing that the power is down in their building and that's why the computer won't start -- I can share these crazy support stories with humility and a straight face (at least, as far as you can tell).

"The ball is bouncing ... and exploding!"
I used to work for a tech-support company with many small-business clients. One client was notorious for an Indian gentleman who would call with extremely naïve questions and who clearly had little familiarity with computers. If he called at the end of a shift, support staff tended to save the call for someone on the next shift to handle.

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