Why we love being on-call

Software developer pilot fish works at a university teaching hospital, and part of his job is to provide third-tier support -- that's for problems the help desk and support analysts can't handle. And, lucky him, he has the pager for Labor Day weekend.

"I was really looking forward to a quiet weekend, but was sorely disappointed," says fish. "Not only was I woken up at 5 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday and at midnight between the two days, but I then also got a ticket at 2 a.m. on Labor Day itself: A user was unable to log into our website, this had been going on for a year, and the priority was urgent, which is our highest possible priority."

Unfortunately, the help desk has skipped over second-tier support and didn't include any further information -- such as whether this nurse was ever able to log in, what the error messages are and what computer she's using, home or work.

When fish calls the phone number on the ticket, he gets a message that the number has been disconnected. He uses the online address book to find another number, but at 2:45 a.m. the call is forwarded to the answering service, which has never heard of this user.

All fish can do is send an email with his questions. An hour later there's still no reply, so he goes back to bed.

But at 8 a.m. there's a response from the user: She has never been able to log in. And the reason this is suddenly urgent is that she's soon going to be transferring to another location where she'll be the only nurse and so can't rely on coworkers to get the information she needs.

Fish checks the system. There's absolutely no record of her in the database -- she may have an account to log on to the computers but not to use any of the tools.

"I sighed, reassigned it to the second-tier support folks who actually have the permission to set security rights and called it a day," fish says.

"Then, several hours later, I received a very gratifying message. The second-tier support person who picked up the ticket sent an email to the help desk tech and copied me. She made three points in her harshly worded note.

"First, since this had been going on for a year, there is no way this was suddenly urgent now. Second, there was no reason to submit the request at 2 a.m. when it could have waited until 7 or 8 in the morning. Finally, the ticket should have gone to her team first and not mine.

"Suddenly, my Labor Day weekend looked a whole lot better."

Sharky is spending Labor Day burning dead cow on the patio, which is why you're enjoying a classic story from the Sharkives. Send your own true tale of IT life to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You can also comment on today's tale at Sharky's Google+ community, and read thousands of great old tales in the Sharkives.

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