Dirty IT jobs: Partners in slime

Carcasses, garter belts, and anthrax -- techs get nasty in the name of IT

You think your job is bad? You ain't seen nothing until you've had to pick moldy food and cockroaches out of a dead PC or been asked to find out what your coworkers have been up to online when they were supposedly working. You definitely haven't earned your IT creds until you've stood in two feet of water holding a plugged-in server while trying not to get electrocuted, found yourself inside a sniper's crosshairs while you're attempting to install a communications link, or had to worry about bombs going off while you're futzing with network protocols.

[ Also on InfoWorld: For more dirty IT jobs, see "The 7 dirtiest jobs in IT," "Even dirtier IT jobs: The muck stops here," and "The dirt locker: Dirty duty on the front lines of IT" | Find out which of our eight classic IT personality types best suit your temperament by taking the InfoWorld IT personality type quiz. ]

In our fourth installment of the Dirty Jobs series, we visit with the dedicated geeks who hold jobs like these and ask how they managed to survive or, in some cases, thrive under difficult conditions.

Next time you're hating your job, remember: It could be worse.

Off the Record submissions
Dirty job No. 1: Systems sanitation engineer Beer cans. Food wrappers. Cigarette butts. Moldy bread. Cockroaches . Things you'd typically find in the bottom of your average dumpster -- only in this case, the dumpster is the shell of a discarded computer.

Beer cans. Food wrappers. Cigarette butts. Moldy bread. Cockroaches. Things you'd typically find in the bottom of your average dumpster -- only in this case, the dumpster is the shell of a discarded computer.

It's all part of the job at Redemtech, an IT asset disposition firm that processes the aging hardware Fortune 500 companies no longer want. Somebody has to go through each piece and muck it out, decide what can be saved and what must be discarded, says Chomroeun "C-Ron" Sith, technical supervisor for Redemtech's Grove City, Ohio, facility (and no relation to the Dark Lord).

Though it varies widely, Sith says approximately half of the systems he sees can be refurbished and resold. The other half gets recycled in an environmentally responsible way. Before that happens, they have to be inspected and cleaned  -- and that's where things can get nasty.

"Some of these things look like they've been sitting the back of a warehouse for years," he says. "They come in covered in dust, with cobwebs, rat droppings, and roaches inside. Sometimes they're so rusted that when you pick them up your hands turn orange. One of the systems we got in was covered in makeup. Every time my guys touched it, they got all glittery."

Then there was the time they opened up a desktop CPU and found a dead animal.

"It may have been a rodent or a bird," he says. "We couldn't tell for sure. But it was definitely dead."

Sith estimates less than 5 percent of the 6,000 to 10,000 items his facility processes each week arrive in such bad shape they have to be wrapped in plastic to avoid infecting his staff or causing allergic reactions. Still, that's plenty.

"Every other week some associate comes to me and says, 'I don't want to touch that system, I can't take these cockroaches any more, this is ridiculous.' I get that complaint a lot."

Dirty job survival tip: Don't wear your Sunday best.

"I tell my guys, 'You can wear whatever you want, but don't get mad if you come home dirty,'" Sith says. "That happens about 99 percent of the time."

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