If it ain't broke, don't touch it

A data center operator spends spare time on the day shift trying to increase operational efficiency -- but one day goes too far

Before I became a programmer, I was an operator at a Fortune 500 company that had multiple locations. The office where I worked housed a small data center.

I worked the day shift, which wasn't nearly as busy as the night shift. Unless emergencies came up, I found I had good amounts of spare time. I wanted to become a programmer, so I spent my free time learning languages and writing programs, many of them automating tasks and freeing up even more time.

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I automated a variety of tasks. Some were simple, like labeling and erasing tapes. Some were more involved, like checking users' trouble reports and sending them a message about issues that were open for too long. And some were complex, like the shutdown and initial program load of the mainframe.

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The shutdown of the mainframe was the most interesting task. My program could shut down the system in 5 minutes, when it would take an operator 20 minutes or more. However, after seeing my code run, one of the operators brought the system down in a little over 10 minutes.

One day, my tinkering went too far.

At the entrance to the data center, located right near the door, was an emergency power off button underneath a piece of glass. (Can you see where this is going?)

Standing at the data center entrance talking with a colleague, I happened to notice that the ring holding the glass on was loose. Without thinking much about it, I turned the ring a tiny bit.

Apparently, the ring was very loose. And the button was on a spring.

A small turn to the ring caused the glass cover to open, which triggered the spring to pop the button out, sending the data center into darkness and a previously unheard-of eerie quiet.

After the initial surprised silence (even the phones didn't work), the stillness was broken by cries of panic and people rushing around trying to figure out what had happened.

It was a long couple of hours as we scrambled to get power restored and the systems brought back up. Luckily, there was no harm done -- at least nothing significant enough for me to hear about.

Fortunately for me, I had a witness who saw what had happened, and people were initially focused only on bringing everything back up. When the systems were running again, I got some teasing about what I'd done. Even though I did not get into trouble, I still felt very small.

I learned some lessons here. Not only "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but also, "don't touch it!" In fact, don't even look at it.

This story, "If it ain't broke, don't touch it," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.