A tech tale of operator error

The 2 a.m. tech support call turned out to be less than an emergency

I work for the department in my company that provides computer hardware support. Operators work in shifts around the clock, so we provide 24/7, 365-day support for the company's production equipment. The daily support includes everything from PCs, mice, and keyboards to servers, bar code printers, and schedule lineup printers. After-hours support calls are for emergencies only.

I received a call at 2 a.m. on a cold winter Saturday morning from an operator who said he couldn't print out his production lineup. I asked if he could get the lineup printed from another station and have someone fax or deliver it to him. No, he insisted that I come in.

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I reminded him about office procedures: The shift supervisor had to authorize the call-in, as we bill the business units for the overtime incurred.

He called me back and said the manager had authorized the call-in.

I wasn't thrilled at having to get out of my warm bed to come to work, but that is the nature of the job. I came onsite and went to the location.

Upon inspection of the printer, the LCD was flashing "Load Legal," meaning to manually load legal-sized paper. The laser printer only had a tray for 8.5-by-11-inch paper. In my mind, this was pretty straightforward, but some people are not "technically" inclined.

I found some legal-sized paper and put it into the manual feed slot, then watched to make sure it was working. The operator was printing out a hockey pool schedule for the upcoming playoff games. This is where people pay to put their name on a square and have a chance to win the pooled money, depending on the scores. It was the only print job in the queue.

I asked him about the production lineup. He told me the hockey sheet was it and asked if I wanted to get in on the pool. I believe that in his mind he was doing nothing wrong, and I'd be a hypocrite to say I'd never printed anything that wasn't work-related. But this certainly wasn't an emergency situation.

Upset at having been called in on a cold winter night for such a useless purpose that wasted company resources -- not the least of which was overtime and travel pay -- I didn't feel obliged to cover for this person's indulgence. Also, at the time, I'd been led to believe that the supervisor had authorized the call so was concerned that such a flagrant violation of call-in procedure would happen again. I'm very forgiving of honest errors or someone's lack of skills, but in my book, this fellow stepped over the line. As required, I wrote up the information in the call-in notes and went home.

On Monday morning, I was called into my manager's office regarding this incident. I explained what had transpired, as I had written in my notes. Further investigation revealed the shift supervisor had never been contacted about the call. The offending operator was given some days off without pay.

The approval process has since been updated. No longer is approval taken on the operator's word; the shift operator must now talk directly to the support technician.

Having had his wrists slapped, this employee isn't likely to pull a stunt like that again, I imagine. But it goes to show that sometimes users will go to any length to get what they want, when they want it.