Got pliers? IT ninja attempts delicate operation

It never hurts to be a jack-of-all-trades in IT, but you can't plan for some job skills

When I worked for a family-owned company some time ago, everyone was expected to do whatever it took to keep the company profitable. It was a laudable goal, but it sometimes presented us with unexpected situations.

Our IT shop was small but very efficient. We supported multiple branches in about eight different industry sectors. Most corporations would have a staff three times our size, but when your efficient and capable practices keep things running, cries for additional staff generally fall on deaf ears.

Because the company was shorthanded, we were expected to fill in wherever we were needed, even if it was outside the realm of the IT job description. We soon learned which person in the office had which skills or would at least give a problem a go, regardless of title.

What are your qualifications?

For me, I had experience with several vocations before obtaining a degree in computer science, so I found myself often called on to do many jobs, including (but not limited to) the following: light the boiler if the heat was out, check out the AC unit on the roof that wasn't functioning, replace light bulbs, and even repair broken flappers in toilets.

I was getting used to odd requests that were far from my IT expertise, but one was especially surprising. Early one morning, I was in my cubicle when a co-worker buzzed me. I had seen her scurry into her office a bit late and looking agitated, but I figured it wasn't my concern. Now she had buzzed and asked for help. I went to her office wondering what new tech task or calamity would present itself.

When I arrived at her desk, she said, "I know you were once an EMT, and I need your help." Intrigued, I replied, "What do you need?"

She told me to get my flashlight and return, but she didn't offer any other details. Now I was really wondering.

A delicate procedure

Once I came back she laid her head down with her left ear up. "Look in there," she said, pointing to her ear. I shined  the light into her ear and saw clearly what was plaguing her: the broken end of a Q-tip. It was very damp, and I could see that water still remained in the ear canal.

She explained that the Q-tip had broken off while she was getting ready for work and she had tried everything, including going to the drugstore and getting her ear flushed to dislodge it. Nothing had worked and she didn't want to go to the ER or a doctor.

I looked at the ear and told her I would make one and only one attempt. If it didn't work she would have to choose the ER or a doctor.

I returned to my toolbox and got my longest set of needle-nose pliers. I gently inserted the pliers into the ear canal, careful not to push the Q-tip deeper. Grabbing the end of the shaft I pulled it out. Momentary thoughts of being a surgeon sped through my brain, which I quickly dismissed.

With her hearing restored, my co-worker was able to return to her work after making me swear not to reveal this story to any of the other staff. Thankfully, they don't read this publication!

The company's culture of doing what needed to be done to keep the place humming did get frustrating at times. But the upside was that as a staff we learned to really work together. And the environment brought new meaning to the idea that in IT we are always ready for any catastrophe -- no matter how big or how small.


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