Spills and misunderstandings: The mystery of the help desk ticket

Troubleshooting user problems is always an adventure, and tech pros never know what they're going to get

stack of envelopes 123215443
Credit: Thinkstock

Opening a help desk ticket is always a surprise. Who knows what the cause of the tech problem will be or what kind of interaction you'll have with the user? And sometimes, certain interactions stick in your mind.

Where I work, there's a good rapport overall between the tech team and the employees, which is helpful when troubleshooting unearths surprising reasons behind tech problems.

A literal coffee break

One day, a work order came in for a laptop that had a keyboard that wasn't working. I picked up said laptop for repair and put it in the queue.  

It was a busy day and we were running behind. Usually, I confirm the problem before ordering parts, but this time I was too overloaded. From the description of the problem and a quick look I assumed it was a bad keyboard and just ordered a new one since that was covered under the warranty. (And yes, I learned my lesson and ever since have made sure to always investigate first before placing an order.)

The part arrived, and when I removed the old keyboard, I saw what looked like a dried coffee spill stain. Further investigation found it was just that. And in addition to the keyboard, the system board was also damaged.

I placed yet another order. When it arrived, I made the necessary repairs and filled out the required paperwork, since of course spilled coffee damage is definitely not covered under warranty. It would come out of her department's budget.

I returned the now-working laptop to the user and explained that the problems were because coffee had been spilled on the keyboard. She looked at me with an air of defensiveness masked by a look of surprise and said, "I don't drink coffee."  

To make conversation since placing blame really wouldn't have gotten us anywhere, I said that we were going to run tests to find out if there was cream or sugar involved. She immediately replied, "I don't take cream or sugar in my coffee."

Then there was a moment of silence as what she'd just said sunk in. When she realized her two statements contradicted themselves and she'd basically just admitted she'd done it, she smiled and shrugged. By the time I left, we'd had a good chuckle over the situation.  

The power of magnets

Years ago, a user called me every day for a couple of days with the same problem: He would back up his files to a floppy disk before going to lunch. However, when he returned and tried to access his disk, his data would be gone.

Over the phone we went through the steps he'd taken to do the backup and all seemed to be correct. But the problem persisted, so I decided to visit his cube to determine the cause or to see if perhaps he was overlooking a detail I hadn't picked up on over the phone.

I arrived and asked him to go ahead and run a backup, which he did. All looked good and I still wasn't sure what the problem was. I then asked him to confirm his data was there -- which it was.

He had taken my request to demonstrate the steps he took to back the data up every day because he then removed the disk, took a large magnet, and stuck the disk using the magnet to the metal part of his cube, saying with frustration, "And that disk will be blank when I get back from lunch."  

I explained to him that the disk was already empty due to the magnet, and why.

All he could say was, "Then what's the metal plate for?"

I ended up explaining more computer basics than I'd expected to. But in the end the problem was solved, and he no longer had trouble with backups.

Even though I sometimes long for days that are straightforward and predictable, the unexpected does keep the job interesting.