Mumble jumble

It's the mid-1980's, but this company's mainframe is already an antique running an obsolete operating system, reports a pilot fish on the scene.

"Some sort of a failure every week was not atypical," says fish. "The company also scrimped on support personnel. There were only two of us supporting the operating system and we had to respond to all software and hardware problems."

Fish is more senior than his support co-worker, so he gets most of the calls by far. That's not a big deal, because he can handle many of the issues immediately over of the phone, and he gets along well with the operations staff.

Then one of the operators, Fred, is promoted to shift leader for the midnight-to-8-a.m. shift. The problem: Fred speaks very quietly in a barely audible mumble, and every phone conversation with him requires fish to repeatedly request, "Say it again."

And then a mandate comes from the IT operations manager: During the night shifts, only the shift leader will be allowed to call in support problems.

"One night I received a phone call from Fred," fish says. "What he was telling me did not make sense. So I asked him if the problem was one particular thing. No, he said, it was a different thing.

"This still wasn't making sense, so I asked him to spell out the error message. What he gave me was the message for something else. OK, Fred, you've done it, I told him. You've caused me to get up, get dressed and drive into the office."

When fish arrives, Fred is nowhere to be seen, but the other operator shows fish the problem -- and it isn't even close to anything fish heard from Fred over the phone.

Next day, fish tells the ops manager that he will not accept phone calls from Fred again. Ops manager insists that she won't allow the non-leads to call. OK, fish says, then don't call me!

Ops manager agrees that fish will no longer get phone calls from Fred.

Three nights later, fish's phone rings. It's the ops manager, who tells fish that there's such-and-such a problem in the computer room.

"Her explanation was not making sense," says fish. "I asked how she knew about this. She told me that since I would not accept phone calls from Fred, she had Fred call her and she relayed the message to me!

"I hung up, went into the office and fixed the problem. The next morning, I was in our common boss's office. From that time on, one of the non-leads called me with any problems."

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