3 terrible tales from the tech cleanup crew

Turnabout is fair play as a veteran techie shares stories of slackers, liars, and amateurs in IT

career lies

You know there will be bad apples in any given profession, but it’s still disappointing to come across one of your own. It’s no fun to clean up their mess, either, though on the flip side, at least you look good.

Brace yourself, and don't be surprised when your paths cross.

Customer confusion

We got a call from a new customer asking us to come out and look over a problematic network set up by a rival company. Another technician and I went to check it out, and we were astounded at the shoddy job before us.

The other networking crew had messed up every detail possible. The cable ends had been improperly crimped. The patch cables were shorter than the spec allowed for. The drivers weren't installed properly.

The phone company had even piled on with its own mistakes and added DSL service to the wrong line. While line 5 hummed uselessly, the DSL line was dead.

We quoted the client a price for the number of estimated hours and parts required to fix everything and offered to talk to the phone company to correct the DSL issue. The customer was shocked at the expense, and said it had already spent half that trying to get everything running in the first place.

We reminded the customer that it had been fighting with the problems for a month, and we were talking about fixing it in one or two working days (not including the phone company's part). We offered a simple explanation: "You get what you pay for. The other company provided a $25-per-hour service. We charge three times that because we're that much better than our competition." We were -- and we proved it.

It took us one day to make our repairs, and I patched around the phone company's mistake until the customer called me a week later to move the wires back where they belonged; the phone company had finally fixed the problems it had made.

We exceeded the customer’s expectations, which in truth wasn’t hard to do with the bad techs setting the bar so low. I still wonder how on earth the other networking techs could in good conscience do such poor work and walk away with the customer’s money.

Training fiasco

When the company pays good money to offer a training course, you should realistically expect to learn something from it. Alas, such is not always the case.

Our team was gearing up for a new brand of modem to support. We were told that we’d be brought up to speed in no time, since a really good “modem technician” from the prominent manufacturer would be coming to teach us all about the newest product and how to support it.

The day arrived, and the instructor was introduced with much fanfare. However, it didn’t take long to see that he had no idea what he was talking about. He couldn’t explain any concepts clearly. He couldn’t answer questions, though he tried with much bravado. To add insult to injury, he wrote on the whiteboard in permanent marker.

It was obvious that the instructor had been hired as a warm body by the manufacturer and was not qualified for the job he’d been hired to do. Eventually, he gave up and left.

We grabbed the manuals he’d kept close by his side, read them, and held a class among ourselves. It took half the time the instructor was allotted, and we became the best modem support team for that company.

Eventually, we learned that the “modem technician” turned out to be an infamous individual known for applying for jobs he wasn’t qualified for and falsifying his resume. You have to wonder who vetted him, yet didn’t think to double-check and see if the person was ready to go out into the field and represent the company.

The tech call came from inside the office

Then there are the bad techs in your very own office, like the one who spent three days fighting with a computer he was supposed to be building.

The parts were brand new, complete with printed notes on the circuit board – right in front of him – on how to assemble it. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why the computer wouldn't boot. He tried the same moves over and over, and nothing worked.

We could see the problem: He had put the RAM in slots 3 and 4, not in slots 1 and 2, and back in those days it made a difference. We mentioned this and even offered to help, but he told us to go away and ignored anything we had to say.

On day four, we had had enough. The tech had spent three days on one computer and work was piling up. I walked over, reached past him, and plugged in his speakers to the motherboard so that he could hear the diagnostic beeps that told him the memory wasn't properly inserted.

He looked surprised and angry, but didn’t say anything. Not much time passed before he was again fighting with the equipment and doing it all wrong. For example, there was the time he worked on a computer someone had brought in for repair. It used a very specific and very common case from a well-known manufacturer. You took the screws out of the back, slid the cover forward until it stopped, and lifted it clear of the case.

Not this tech -- no. He took the screws out, slid the cover forward until it stopped, cursed for five minutes, then grabbed a few tools and started prying and bending the metal into new shapes before we could stop him.

Eventually, he was fired, much to the relief of the rest of us.

It’s true that nobody’s perfect, and we all make mistakes along the way. But we need to support and help each other, not be a hindrance. I guess that running into such techs shows us -- and the customer -- how bad it really could be.