We all make mistakes. But when you work in IT, those errors can quickly go public.
If you've never emailed profanities to 2,500 of your customers or sent a love note to colleagues at a dozen companies, consider yourself lucky.
[ For more real-world tales of brain fail, see "Stupid user tricks 6: IT idiocy loves company." | Find out which of our eight classic IT personality types best suit your temperament by taking the InfoWorld IT personality type quiz. | Get a $50 American Express gift cheque if we publish your tech tale from the trenches. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. ]
You might have deleted the entire contents of a server by accident or wiped out three months' worth of government agency data without a reliable backup on hand. You may have pulled a youthful prank that cut off Net access for thousands of your employer's customers. You could have deliberately shared your log-ons with everyone else in the company in order to make a point or unplugged network servers willy-nilly, just to see what would happen.
And when caught in a mistake, you might have invented an explanation so ingenious that it earned you a bonus at the end of the year.
Here are seven true tales of IT screwups. Some names have been changed to protect the guilty. Don't laugh. One day, you may find yourself in eerily similar circumstances.
True tech confession No. 1: Email is a bitch
It's the classic oops moment. Compose an email, hit Send, then realize you've made a horrible mistake by sending it to the wrong person.
It happened to Joel Postman, a senior communications executive for a major networking company. Back in '99, he was in market development for Sun Microsystems when he composed a romantic email to his girlfriend -- then promptly sent it to the vice presidents of strategic alliances at a handful of companies.
"My hand slipped on the mouse button, and I chose the wrong email list," he admits. "One of them replied, 'We love you, too, Joel, but we weren't looking for that level of service.' It's one of those mistakes you usually only do once."
Sometimes, though, a screwup like that can help by demonstrating to the world there's a human being on the other side of the screen. That's what happened to Alex Schiff and Chase Lee, co-founders of Fetchnotes, a cloud-based notepad for recording small scraps of unstructured information.
Last January they were getting ready to announce the company's public launch. First, though, Lee decided to send a test email to his partner to make sure the formatting looked right. So he wrote an email -- "This is my test, bitches" -- and hit Send.
But Lee didn't just send that message to Schiff; he sent it to all 2,500 users of the Fetchnotes private beta. When they realized what had happened, Schiff says he began screaming at his computer.
"I thought we'd just screwed the company," he says. "We got 100 responses within the first five minutes. But when we looked at them, 99 percent said our email had made their day. My favorite ones were from users who said they had signed up for Fetchnotes and then forgot about it, but my email made them take another look."