Seeing pink: The tale of an IT help desk call

An IT support staff member learns something about the pitfalls of remote operation

I work at a large manufacturing plant in the IT department. The plant operates 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Our IT department mainly works the normal daytime hours, but we also have staff on call evenings, weekends, and holidays to provide support for the computer production equipment.

For after-hours support, the employee calls the IT help desk, which is located in the main office. The difference between the help desk staff and the rest of the computer support staff is that the help desk staff cannot leave the main office. It's their job to diagnose and fix problems remotely, then call us in if needed. The plant is 800 acres, and the non-help desk staff has been trained to know the dangers and layout of the plant and have access to spare hardware equipment. For the most part, it's a pretty efficient computer support system.

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On this day, I received a call from the help desk operator, who said that a call had come in where the person claimed he couldn't read the monitor display because the screen was all pink. The help desk operator stated that he didn't see a problem, but the person who made the request insisted he couldn't perform his job because he couldn't read the screen.

I came onsite and went to the location. Indeed, the screen was all pink and the display was mostly illegible. To determine if the problem was the monitor or video card, I found another monitor nearby and plugged it in. Sure enough, it was the monitor that was failing, as the display with the new monitor was fine. Once I'd gotten a replacement, I installed the new monitor, replaced the one I'd borrowed, and took the defective one to the scrap area.

I called the help desk to report what I had found and done.

The operator was puzzled. "I didn't see anything wrong with his monitor," he explained to me.

"How did you determine that?" I asked.

"Well, I remotely logged into his PC, and the display looked fine to me," he answered.

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I gave the operator the benefit of the doubt that he'd had a "d'oh!" moment, and we continued talking about it for a few minutes. Then I realized that he truly didn't understand what had happened, so I backed up and explained to him that when he logged in remotely, what he was viewing was his monitor, not the remote monitor.

He believed that what he was seeing in front of him was what the remote operator was seeing a half mile away. With a remote connection, what he was seeing displayed was the remote PC video output -- and, of course, that looked fine on his monitor. However, the remote monitor was failing and, thus, didn't display the video output correctly.

It took a few explanations, but he finally got what I was saying, and I'd had another "colorful" experience in the world of IT.

I was reminded that just because someone works in IT does not mean they know IT. Even with years of experience, the operator could not differentiate between what he was seeing remotely and what the remote operator was telling him was wrong. We all have gaps in IT knowledge and skills and can learn from each other.