Newbies, nerves, and networking: Lessons for IT rookies

You have to start somewhere, and when you're the new tech in the office, those early days can be full of surprises and discoveries

Welcome to the working world
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Welcome to the working world

The new job, whether it’s the first or the 50th, brings promise, opportunity, and excitement (hopefully) -- as well as stress and disorientation. In those early days, it's hard to prepare for the office culture, the new technologies, or the mistakes newbies inevitably face.

Published in the anonymous InfoWorld Off the Record blog, here are some real-life stories from IT pros who survived mishaps and surprises as the fresh-faced techie in the office.

[ Have a tech story to share? If we publish it, we'll send you a $50 American Express gift card -- and keep you Anonymous. Send it to offtherecord@infoworld.com. | Follow InfoWorld's Off the Record on Twitter and subscribe to the newsletter. ]

It's not exactly broken, so don't fix it
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It's not exactly broken, so don't fix it

Who hasn't gone through on-the-job training? That's how you know you're expanding your skill set. It's no sweat for a network admin who's never worked with Macs before, but arrives on the scene to find a file server with storage maxed out, a new file server on the way, and a mix of PCs and Macs to support.

As the admin settles in, he discovers both PC and Mac users have to go through a cumbersome process to access, save, and move data around the network. Taking the initiative, he sets out to solve the dilemma. The execs love his plan, and he implements the changes.

The next day, the admin arrives at work, eager to hear from ecstatic users and congratulating himself on being smarter than his predecessor.

But pride goeth before a fall: Mac users can’t save to the new file server, and it turns out the new setup won’t work with Macs. Thus, he spends hours reverting to the original configuration -- and realizes the old way was the right way all along.

Check your work again and again
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Check your work again and again

For an IT rookie who lands his first corporate job, settling for less pay, putting up with a tough CEO, and assuming extra duties are the least of his problems. Instead, a wonky SQL production server tests his mettle -- but proves his worth.

The challenge: A SQL production server goes on the fritz at a location an hour away. When a third-party tech can't fix it, the rookie is forced to travel to the site and take care of it himself.

There follows a long, laborious night nearly undone by one tiny detail: The newbie selected RAID 0 when it should've been RAID 1.

Night turns to day as the rookie attempts to bring the server back up and minimize the damage. When all is said and done, the rookie still has a job and will never forget to double-check his work.

Panic -- then laugh
Panic -- then laugh

A junior programmer joins a small, busy staff with the opportunity to broaden his skill set and work his way up the ladder. But before he can leave for a career advancement course, he has to attend to a list of tasks, including defragmenting the system disk.

He completes the task during lunch hour, but the disk doesn’t reboot, and the programmer can’t figure out why. Though his co-workers inquire about their computers not working, the programmer reluctantly departs to get to his destination.

Upon return, the programmer is greeted with lighthearted teasing from the rest of the IT staff who had fixed the problem in the interim. It was simple: The programmer had made one input error.

All's well that ends well -- even better, your co-workers are good company.

It takes a village
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It takes a village

Nothing brings colleagues together like a crisis -- preferably one they can resolve.

A busy, frustrating day takes a turn for the worse when a newbie and a more experienced co-worker can't get into the server room. The door is locked, and the entry code can't get them in.

Before long, their quest brings in the wife of one of the workers, as well as the maintenance crew. They go through what feels like a million keys before uncovering the crucial piece of hardware. Finally -- the server room is theirs!

More important, they make a couple of crucial discoveries and enact necessary changes. For one, they figure out a better way to keep track of the keys. Second, they replace the corroded battery in the lock. They correct both mistakes for the benefit of the whole team.

Hands-on tech repair
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Hands-on tech repair

A newbie travels on his first-ever team assignment to upgrade a company’s networking equipment. During a break, the newbie happily accepts an employee's request to check out a faulty printer.

An initial look reveals the USB cable is connected, but the software doesn’t recognize the printer. Then the employee mentions Internet connection problems as well.

The techie pulls out the computer for closer examination and beholds a puzzling sight: The USB cable for the printer is plugged into the Ethernet port, and the Ethernet cable is in an open docking area (for added PCI cards in the rear of the case). The guard has been forcibly removed, and the Ethernet cord is resting in the open area, dangling inside the case.

The user explains: He needed more USB slots in the back and noticed an opening, so he changed connections. It didn't work at first, so he grabbed a hammer and pliers and made it fit. In his telling, he also reveals that he violated several company policies in the process.

The user gets fired and fined for his work, and the newbie learns that you can never guess where some people are coming from.

Learn the lingo
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Learn the lingo

A junior system administrator new to the job hopes to tend to some tasks over the weekend, when he won't disrupt the rest of the office.

One problem: The sys admin had never hit the data center during off hours and hadn’t considered how to get inside. Luckily, a big, red button labeled "Open" sits next to the entrance. The sys admin makes the logical move.

Everything comes to a screeching halt -- the sound of a data center gone dead.

What follows are calls to the site manager and site administrator, as well as a mad dash to get the systems -- including power, cooling, lights, mainframes, disk drives, communications controllers -- back up and running. Several hours later, when the data center returns to normal, the sys admin ponders the logic of placing an Open button that really means “Open all power circuits in case of emergency only” next to a data center door.

Scout out the scumbags
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Scout out the scumbags

Not everyone can be trusted to do the right thing, and you might as well learn it at your first job.

This marketing firm has a habit of identifying companies that might be interested in topics for upcoming conferences, sends them an email, then adds the unsolicited email addresses to the mailing list. This practice qualifies as spam, and the ISP contacts the techie to break the news, noting the contract does not permit such dealings. Though nobody in the company claims to know the terms of the agreement, the techie locates the contract and confirms the ISP's complaints.

The techie discusses an opt-in system with the execs, but they kill the idea based on cost and say they’re not spammers at all -- what they’re doing is fine. Over time, the ISP issues more warnings, but the execs ignore them. When the ISP disconnects the company email, the execs find an ISP that allows spam -- and it's back to business as usual.

The disgusted techie eventually leaves, a little wiser about how some people do business.

What's your story?
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What's your story?

Share your true IT tale of personal blunders, coping with poor managers, communicating with users, resolving tech problems, or other memorable experiences from the tech job.

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

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