8 feel-good tales of life in IT

A techie's life isn't all needy users, clueless execs, and balky machines. At times you can enjoy and give thanks for a job well done

careers 38 100314189 orig
Triumph for the IT pro

Working in the IT trenches is often a demanding and thankless job, and weekly we publish anonymous tales from you, the readers, of staring down challenges that range from personnel problems to tech puzzles.

But once in a while a story shares an IT pro’s triumphs -- when everything comes together and the success far overshadows any roadblocks that may have popped up. We've searched through the InfoWorld Off the Record archives to uncover such gems. For a few minutes ignore the to-do list, grab a cup of coffee, and relive moments when the IT job seems worth it.

[ Discover the career hacks for becoming the developer everyone wants in InfoWorld's Deep Dive. | Follow InfoWorld's Off the Record on Twitter and subscribe to the newsletter. ]

IT pros, if you have an on-the-job experience about personal blunders, coping with poor managers, trying to communicate with users, and resolving tech problems, send your story to offtherecord@infoworld.com. If we publish it we’ll keep you anonymous -- and send you a $50 American Express gift cheque.

Boo-yah! Problem solved -- MacGyver style
Credit: Wenger
Your average office MacGyver at your service

Use your ingenuity to take on an unexpected challenge and see it play out as planned? All in a day's work!

A tech team is told to set up networking in a warehouse that’s 350 feet away from a new office they’re rewiring. Fine -- but the conduit buried between the buildings follows a serpentine route, adds 50 feet to the distance, and never had a pull rope put into it.

They make a plan, along with a trip to a building supply store for an unusual purchase order: a Shop-Vac, a ball of kite string, and caps for the conduits.

Back at the site, they get back to the highly technical order of business. One team member blows a small amount of air into a baggie, ties the kite string to it, and lowers it into the conduit. The other tech starts the Shop-Vac in hopes of propelling the string through the conduit. Voilà -- it works!

The next steps are slightly more taxing: Attach a pull rope to the string and lay it out through the pipes, then a rope, and finally the cabling. Two days later, two weary techs bask in the glow of success.

Word on the street says you're hired
Credit: iStockphoto
Word on the street says you're hired

Do good work, and it could get noticed -- even years later. 

One IT pro takes on a three-week contract between bigger jobs. While working through a backlog of help desk tickets, the tech notices suspicious behavior that points to an Autostart virus on the loose. The tech raises the alarm along the chain of command but is told everything is fine. 

The third and final week, the tech is surprised when the help desk manager pulls him into a large company meeting to explain troubling developments on the Mac servers. Forget the help desk tickets -- the new job is to eliminate and clean up from the virus. The tech completes the project on time, says good-bye, and moves on. 

Fast-forward a few years. After returning to the original location, the tech applies for a job at the company where he’d done the contract work and gets hired on the spot. Why? The divisional IT director remembered how the tech had handled the virus incident and told HR to “snap him up” due to his past performance.

Grace under pressure
Grace under pressure

Opportunity doth knock. And hooray if you’re able to take advantage of it.

One tech student takes a menial job at a company to earn money for tuition. The company has no formalized tech department, so the student takes note of many areas for improvement and bides time until the next semester begins.

Then disaster strikes in the form of a stuck Zip drive with such important information on it that even the company president is involved. The tech is pulled away from packing boxes to see if he has any ideas on how to fix the problem.

With many eyes watching, the tech takes a paperclip, inserts it into the drive, ejects the disk, and is able to recover the information from it using another system. Crisis averted!

The next day, the student is inundated with all tech-related questions -- and gets a new job as the company’s network administrator. Within one week, the former low-level employee goes from packing boxes to making strategic decisions involving five-figure-plus price tags for a business with an eight-figure annual revenue.

Behind-the scenes rock star
Credit: Thinkstock
Behind-the scenes rock star

It’s not easy keeping sight of the ultimate goal through a long project that, in the end, remains invisible to most of the company. But you can take personal pride in your achievement.

At one firm, IT staffers realize that their current ERP system is no longer adequate. Because of extensive white-box modifications, the systems are far out of step with any licensing agreements.

The boss agrees to handle it, but provides no updates -- then leaves the company (while promising to be available for any questions at the bargain price of $80 per hour). A team of two -- one techie and one extremely competent electrician -- is left with the responsibilities. After taking a meeting with a service provider who assures them they can’t do the ERP upgrade themselves and offers its services for $125 per hour, the duo vows to do it on their own.

It takes two years to replace all the Novell servers with Windows 2000 servers and 250 DOS workstations with Windows 98 desktops, as well as roll the ERP software to the new package. The time-keeping, payroll, and HR packages are moved. For this massive undertaking, the team tackles one location at a time, spending two months on each site.

The transition goes smoothly. The rest of the company doesn’t know the full effect of the miracle the techs pull off, but they have every reason to celebrate a job very well done.

Start at the beginning
Start at the beginning

Don’t overlook mundane tasks! 

An important corporate customer, with its staff of 15 administrators, can't configure a new server and blame the vendor for selling a bad product. As tensions rise, the customer threatens to close the account.

Guess who gets assigned to go to the site and smooth over hard feelings? The newbie tech, who runs through all possible scenarios en route to the site. Once there, he notices the quick-start guide taped to the side of the server but obviously ignored. Starting at the beginning, he runs through the preconfiguration steps and in an hour gets the server up and running.

The client’s IT director is shocked and apologizes for the trouble. The newbie’s boss is thrilled, calls him a hero, and gives him the rest of the day off -- pretty good for simply doing the job.

Determination pays off
Credit: Thinkstock
Determination pays off

Surprise! Finding solutions isn't the end-all and be-all of job satisfaction. The discovery process can be almost as important.

In the first week of a newbie's networking job, the early days proceed without incident. But when the boss goes out of town, an important application used by everyone in the company crashes. The pressure is on.

The rookie traces the problem back to the server, but the exact issue remains elusive. The newbie reboots, changes out electrical cords and cables, scans the hard drives, reseats boards, and even reconfigures the application -- nothing. The week wears on.

When the boss returns, they spend a long weekend tearing apart the server. The culprit turns out to be a failing power supply. Question answered, but the greenhorn braces for a pink slip for not figuring out the issue.

But no! The boss lavishes praise for not giving up, working late, and sticking with it. That, the newbie realizes, is the making of an IT professional.

Let your skills do the talking
Credit: Thinkstock
Let your skills do the talking

Don’t underestimate the value of getting in and simply doing the job. It's what techs are trained to do, after all. 

One IT pro tells of the rewards of showing and not telling when you're looking for work. In between jobs and not finding any promising leads, the IT pro goes out on a limb, walks into a computer repair shop, and makes a deal with the amused owner: "I'm sure you have a machine in the back that nobody can fix -- every shop has one. How about a deal? If I can fix it, you give me a job. If not, I leave." 

Years of experience pay off as the IT pro recognizes an obscure problem, fixes it in minutes, and presents the amazed owner with a working machine. Yep, there was a job offer on the spot.

Make the extra effort
Credit: Thinkstock
Make the extra effort

One trick to job satisfaction is deciding for yourself what makes your effort worthwhile. 

An IT pro decides to go an extra step with an eye on aiding a company’s bottom line. At an early job, that step was writing a program to automate data input. The IT pro finished the job and had fun with it -- and delved even more deeply into the company’s inventory problems to offer a money-saving solution. It often meant working late hours, but the payoff was worth it both to the company and to the IT pro looking for more experience and a greater challenge.

The IT pro offers these words of wisdom: “Take a risk every now and then! Go where your heart leads you, learn to sell what you believe in, work as a team, work fast, and make your idea succeed. And if you get kicked in the butt, take a few days off and start over again. There’s nothing like getting into your car after a great day at work, closing the door, pulling out onto the highway, and yelling ‘YES!!’ at the top of your lungs.”

What's your story?
Credit: Shutterstock
What's your story?

Share your true IT tale of personal blunders, coping with poor managers, trying to communicate with users, and resolving tech problems. 

Send your submission to offtherecord@infoworld.com. If we publish your story -- anonymously, of course -- you’ll receive a $50 American Express gift cheque.