Stupid user tricks 5: IT's weakest link

Flaming laptops, nosy mothers, and server racks sent tumbling down stairs -- seven more real-world tales of IT brain fail

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They're in germination meetings for about a week, coming out with huge schematics and wireframes for the first rev. The CTO decided a messaging bus platform is absolutely required and proceeded to do a deal with the leader in that space at the time (name withheld), for -- wait for it -- $5 million.

The CTO is not a Java programmer, but a self-styled "application architect." Deal's done, money's spent. He hired a Java architect and a lead developer. Both of them went over the wireframes and announced they need a functional spec. That's about three weeks' worth of work. They got that and pumped out a technical spec in under a week. Nowhere does it mention a messaging bus. The CTO had some yelling matches with them, but they're right -- no need for the $5 million hobbyhorse.

To "save his job," the CTO hired a separate small team of developers to build a separate module for the overall application that no one needed or asked for, but it ran the messaging bus.

I never found out whether the startup sold anything.

Fallout: The CTO did in fact save his job, but only because he was "kernel DNA" to the enterprise. When the boss found out about the extra team he hired to hide his mistakes, the CTO got kicked to a sideline "analysis" role.

Moral: If you've screwed up that bad, better to fall on your sword early than crawl deeper into an already dark hole.

Stupid user trick No. 7: Lying to ITIncident: Even the whitest of lies can sap productivity from the more underappreciated, overworked members of your company: the IT pros left to shift through the rubble to find out what really went wrong.

Users lie. I hate it when users lie, usually because I don't understand why they lie.

Case in point: I got called to a branch office for unspecified "printer problems." It's a small branch office, with three users, each in his own office. The firewall/router on a bookshelf in one room connected them and provided the way back to headquarters and the Web. One guy had a big HP LaserJet in his office, and he complained that suddenly his coworkers can't print "off my printer anymore." I did the due diligence and found that while the printer had an Ethernet port: (a) it wasn't configured, (b) it was hooked only to his desktop with a USB cable, and (c) his wall jack only had a single Ethernet port available and that was being used by his PC. I checked his desktop, and no, Windows XP was not set up to share his printer. I knew he's lying, but I can't resist:

Me: "So you were all sharing this printer?"

Lying liar: "Yup. It was working fine until the other day, and then it just stopped."

Me: "You know, there's nothing wrong with requesting that you be able to share the printer. If you'd have just said that on the phone, I'd have driven out here with a mini-hub and we'd be all set right now."

Lying liar: "But it was working. It just suddenly stopped. That's why I called."

Me [eyes rolling]: "Fine. I can share the printer. Hang on."

Now I could have told him that print sharing his PC was going to slow down performance a bit, but I was annoyed so I just did it, had his coworkers test it out and then left.

Skip forward a week. The same guy called and my boss kicked it to me. Once again, the ticket said "printer problems," but now it added "Internet down." The bastard was snickering when he gave it to me, too. This time I grabbed a mini hub and some spare patch cables before I drove over.

I got there and for some reason they'd switched offices. The moved desks, bookshelves .. and their PCs, as well as the big printer. Again, the same guy got up and said, "Everything was working until yesterday, and then the printer just stopped working."

Me: "Uh-huh. Yesterday wouldn't happen to be the day you moved offices, would it?"

Lying liar: "No, no. That was over the weekend." [This is Wednesday.]

Me: [Sigh.]

Again I checked the PCs. His coworkers were fine; their PCs had power and the Ethernet cables were plugged into the correct wall jacks. They hadn't moved the router, so everything was working for those guys. Lying liar, however, had lost the USB cable. Instead, he'd plugged his Ethernet cable into both his PC and the printer.

Me: "And this was working for two days before it died?"

Lying liar: "Oh yeah. Just the way you had it."

Me: [Thinking: why are you such a lying twit? You just cost three people two days of work!]

The mini hub, patch cables, and printer shared via direct network are all good. I haven't heard from the guy again, but if I do I'm bringing a polygraph and Dr. Phil.

Fallout: Several days of lost or impeded productivity that could have easily been avoided.

Moral: Users lie to IT staff. It's a fact of life. Take the time to get friendly with these folks and the likelihood of those instances goes way down.

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This story, "Stupid user tricks 5: IT's weakest link" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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