Schiff immediately sent an apology to every user. This being 2012, he also blogged about the incident, drawing 25,000 hits and even more responses. Within a week, Fetchnotes had 500 new users, and the amount of activity on the site more than tripled.
Only two people canceled their accounts because of the profanity, he adds.
"I would never tell anyone that swearing at your users is a good idea," he says. "But having a conversational tone with our users is the right thing for a company at our stage. People appreciate the realness, if not necessarily the swearing."
True tech confession No. 2: Delete with extreme stupidity
Along with the oops email is another classic tech mistake nearly all of us have made at one time or another: the unintentional mass delete.
About five years ago Paul Unterberg, product manager for a financial services technology company, volunteered to help out a friend who ran a Web forum about electronic music. The forum was running out of disk space because his friend had configured his MySQL backup incorrectly. At the time Unterberg was working as a database administrator for Microsoft SQL Server, but figured he was familiar enough with MySQL to give it a go.
"I fixed the MySQL backup job easily enough, but he still had a ton of complete DB backups in a folder with several subfolders," he says. "My Unix was a bit rusty, and I knew I had to delete a whole folder, so I looked up the syntax on the RM command."
It seemed simple enough, so Unterberg confidently typed a command into his friend's server terminal:
rm -rf /
Then he watched in horror as every file on the server got recursively deleted.
"The good news was that his disk space problem was solved," he jokes. "That was definitely the dumbest thing I've ever done with a tech system."
Fortunately, the forum's Web hosting service had a recent backup on hand. The forum was only down for about three hours for "database maintenance," says Unterberg.
Apparently there are no hard feelings because Unterberg took over as sys admin for the forum until it shut down four years later. Lessons learned?
"Never run a command you don't fully understand at the root," he says. "And if you're doing something you don't really understand, read the documentation over a few times until you do."
Just ask Steve Silberberg, owner of Fitpacking/Fatpacking, a company that promotes weight loss through outdoor adventure. Back in the mid-'90s, Silberberg was working as a software developer for an asset management firm with just over 40 employees, all of whom were terrorized by a system administrator who was a security-obsessed control freak.
The problem? Almost nothing the sys admin did actually made anything more secure, says Silberberg. It just made things more difficult.
"Anyone could walk around the office and access your account or go into the unlocked computer room and get root access from any number of terminals," he says. "Still, this guy was relentless at blocking people from doing what they needed to do until he gave them permission."
In protest, Silberberg emailed his user name and password to everyone in the office.