Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's Not My Job

I enjoyed this post over at Gizmodo about tech issues, "It's Not My Job".  I have some sympathy.  Fortunately, I managed to avoid the tech support job as a college student - partially because computers weren't as widely used (cough, dial up, cough, slow dial up) at the time - but I did serve as a jack of all trades where I did work. And I have a few stories since then, so here's my own minor list of tech encounters:

1.) when I was a jack of all trades, I did mail, tiling (yes, as in floor), janitorial work (bathrooms, polishing the board table), food service, interviewing, publications creation, and recording of minutes and surveys, just to name a few things.  The minutes and surveys were the tr/icky part because we had a rudimentary file share and sometimes a professional at the office would ask me to come find the document on the share for them.  They always got a print out with the file location on the bottom of the document, but after 25 years I've learned not everyone's brain sorts and organizes the same way and it creates blind spots, even when you're looking at a printed file path.  When they were sick, it was bad enough.  I had to eventually put my foot down and go home when other people came in sick because it impacted my health so frequently (if you collected enough sick time, you could trade it for vacation/payout, so it was in your best interest to never be sick).  But what I dreaded most was a coworker who liked to eat while she typed.  And she was not a tidy eater.  And she did not wipe down the keyboard when there was a spill.  So after a few years, when she'd ask me to come find a file or help with a software issue...sticky.  And not just a bit of old coffee or sugar on your fingers, but coffee or sugar that picked up a dusting of new and old food.  Eventually I told her - and I think this speaks well of the boss-subordinate interaction where I worked that I didn't get in trouble - that she had to wash her keyboard.  Our office manager was involved as well and had a can of compressed air, but it wasn't powerful enough to dislodge sticky.  Go figure.  So we conferred, and then told her to put it in the dishwasher.  She was initially very concerned.  What if it ruins the keyboard?  It will ruin the keyboard! How will I type? I'll just be sitting here all day.  My office manager affirmed we could afford a new one (which was certainly an option), but seeing as the professional liked her current keyboard, there was nothing to lose.  So we ran it through the dishwasher on hot/scrubber and crossed our fingers.  It didn't melt, didn't lose its keys and, after it dried, it worked like a charm.  It was sticky again only a month later, but at least there was a respite.

2.) The converted document experience.  This one isn't h/w.  When I started with my company in the long ago eons, our website used a document converted to take Office docs and text files and pdfs and turn them into a combination of HTML and images so that they could be read by anyone without the need to purchase software.  A big win for our demographic who were spending all their money on school.  Very shortly after joining my team, I get a call.  It's customer support and they have a call they can't answer and want a developer.  I'm a developer.  Excellent.  Hold on.  A woman comes on the phone who's very reasonable but a bit frazzled and she tells me the document is completely wrong.  I ask if it's not converting and start to check some of the logs.  She says it's not converting at all.  I've got nothing in the logs for her in terms of an error (pre security concerns days and we could map user to documents easily).  So I dig a bit and find the actual document which has successfully uploaded and the converted file which we kept for performance, although it could be regenerated.  I open both up to take a look, letting her know what I'm doing, and she continues to talk telling me how critical the issue is and how it invalidates everything she's doing.  I look at it for a while and respond, it looks as though it's converted properly.  The content is there and the formatting looks good.  She loses it.  The lines are completely off because the margins are off by a character or two and so the pagination is completely different and the document is not the same.  AND WE SHOULD SHUT DOWN THE SITE COMPLETELY BEFORE IT HAPPENS TO ANYONE ELSE!  We serviced thousands of users and tens of millions of calls a day.  That seemed excessive.  So I walk her through my fairly new knowledge of the system and try to explain that converters aren't perfect and that our converter was selected with the intent to capture the widest variety of documents, so the fidelity for any single document type was less than 100% (and this was in the late 90s, coming up on a human generation ago, which is like 1000 computer generations as I understand it) and combined with late-90s HTML, it was just that much less likely to be perfect.  And she just keeps getting louder, and louder, and louder.  At the time, my programmer knowledge of customer interaction was a.) it should never happen and b.) if it does, you're not the one to hang up.  So for an hour, she harangued me while I explained I could modify the HTML directly in the system if she didn't reupload it, but we couldn't manually change it ever time, or she could use the original binary if the individuals needing access to her document had the appropriate software. No, shut it down.  No, shut it down.  No, shut it down.  No, shut it down.  Louder.  Louder.  Louder.  She finally got frustrated that I didn't have a button to shut the site down next to me and wouldn't call the person with that power, and huffed that she was done with me and hung up.  Almost 20 years later and I've been through half a dozen rounds of document conversion, some of them enormous systems using the exact same software I used in 1998 to convert at an enterprise level.  I worry she's still unhappy with the fidelity of her documents.

3.) My own embarrassing story.  I was riding my bike trainer in the computer room, watching a program on my computer with wireless headphones on.  I'm spinning away when I swear I see movement out of the corner of my eye.  I shrug it off, but it bothers me.  So I stop, sweating everywhere, and look around the desk.  Nothing.  But a few weeks earlier I had popped the side off the desktop to do a repair and hadn't felt the need to reattach it.  I touched it to move it for a better look near the desk and out comes a mouse.  Not a computer mouse.  A flesh and blood, furry mouse.  I grabbed a container and he (or she) scurried back into the computer to hide in the far corner in the beginnings of a mouse house.  I don't understand how the noise couldn't have driven the thing insane, although I bet it was nice and toasty given I seldom shut it down.  I'd say that trying to dislodge a mouse from a corner inside a computer next to circuitboards and chips without breaking anything is a serious challenge.  But eventually I slowly tilted him (or her) out (don't grab the chips with your claws, don't grab the board with your claws...) and bucketed the critter.  We set it lose in the woodpile far from the house to terrorize someone else's machine.

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