Back in the late '80s, Johanna Rothman was director of development for a small, distributed process systems maker in the Boston area. Company management insisted on mandatory overtime for everyone, Rothman included. After three months of this, Rothman and her team were cranky and exhausted -- a recipe for disaster.
[ More manager mishaps when meddling in IT can be found in "More stupider user tricks: IT horror stories redux" ]
"One night at 9 p.m., I realize we have a bunch of files to be deleted," she says. "I'm on a Unix system, and the system won't let me delete them -- I'm not root. Well, I'm the Director. I have the root password. I log in as root. I start rm -r -- the recursive delete -- from the directory I know is the right directory. I know this."
After a few minutes, the rm command stops working. Rothman, still busy deleting all the applications, kills the job, calls the IT manager, and explains what she's done.
"He says, 'Move away from the keyboard. I'm coming in to start the restore.' I say, 'I can help. Where are the tapes?' He says, 'Go away. Just leave. I don't need more of your help.'"
The restore takes two days. Rothman says she slept in late on both days and told everyone else on her team to do the same. She also left voicemail apologies to all the developers.
"I think the only reason I didn't get fired is because management was too busy with the crisis to realize what a mess I'd made," says Rothman, who now runs her own IT consulting group and keeps a safe distance from Unix root directories.
Lesson learned? 1. There is no reason for anyone higher than the level of manager to have the root password, says Rothman. 2. Too much overtime makes people tired and stupid. The more tired they are, the stupider they get.
True IT confession No. 4: What can Brown do for you?
Here's one of those rare backup mishaps in which data did in fact get backed up. But what it got backed up to is where things goes sour.
Twenty-seven years ago, David Guggenheim had just gotten his first "real job" as biological data manager at an environmental consulting firm in Southern California. At that time, the firm's hardware consisted of a PDP-11 and a time-share IBM 360 mainframe in Los Angeles, accessed via dial-up.
"It was time to archive an important project from the IBM mainframe, so I cracked my knuckles and began pounding out the JCL [Job Control Language] necessary to write our data to tapes that would then be shipped to our office," he says. "I submitted the job, satisfied that our data would be safely backed up."
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A few days later a UPS driver poked his head in the door at the firm's office and shouted, "Is there a David Guggenheim here?"
The UPS truck was filled floor to ceiling with boxes, all of them addressed to Guggenheim. He opened the first one. It was full of punch cards. And so were all the rest of them.