IT & The Layman.

Sitting in the office today, was manually configuring a Windows 7 machine (no standard images yet) when a girl pipped up that most IT problems wouldn’t exist if we allowed the users to change the settings and install apps on their machines, because most problems could be solved by the users themselves.

My knee-jerk reaction was to tell her that most of our problems before we stripped away the local admin privileges was to do WITH the users changing the settings and installing applications on their machines, and for the most part this is true. I have a plethora of stories about people calling our Helpdesk to ask why Star Wars Battlefield 2 won’t work on their office laptop, or installing BitTorrent and then demanding that we allow it through the proxy. One of my favourite tales is a particularly “quick-to-blame-the-IT-department” user stripping his new desktop apart to prove that we had forgotten to install his P:\ drive (the P:\ drive actually being a mapped drive to a network share on the office server) then demanding an engineer come to the office to put his PC back together.

However. My all-time favourite story was told to me by a Principal engineer working for a local authority IT department whilst I was on a Server 2008 course. It shows how completely awful, abusive, and disrespectful lay users can be, yet the engineer stuck his heels in and won the day. Eventually.

The engineer – let’s call him Alan – was approached by a head teacher for a technology college in Bristol, laptop in hand, spitting fire and brimstone about her laptop not working. She proceeded to let Alan have both barrels about how dire the service, software, hardware, and technical abilities of the IT department was – in front of students, parents, other teachers, visitors and staff. Biting his tongue, somehow, Alan took her laptop back to his desk, booted it up, and was greeted with a login screen for Server 2003. Strange, he thought, most – nay, all – teacher’s laptops should be running the standard Windows XP image. Now Alan is a bit like me when dealing with most IT problems and users; shit happens, deal with it, and if everyone is mutually friendly, understanding, and respectful, then any mistakes and goofs can be amicably solved without anyone losing too much face. After all, who needs extra stress when IT equipment is already stopping you doing a job? There’ll be times when the user will drop a bollock, and they’ll be times when the IT department puts their foot in their own ass. That’s half the fun of IT support.

Back to the slimline Acer server; considering the public verbal flaying Alan had received in front of 99% of the entire college community, he decided to suspend his “we help all” MO and instead delivered the laptop back to the head teacher, with a message that neither he – or any of the IT department – will be fixing the laptop until she admitted that someone had been messing with it. So the head-teacher went berzerk and got Alan’s director involved. Alan explained his reasons to his director, who then took his side. In Alan’s own words, “I told the school that the head needed to publically apologise to me and the IT department, and admit that someone had messed with the laptop. Then I would fix it.” So commenced 3 weeks of the head teacher calling in every bit of power to do with the school – other faculty heads, the Governing Board, she even wrote to the MP for the area asking for intervention, yet the IT department did not back down, until the Governors asked how the IT department knew that the laptop had been changed by an unauthorised person. Alan wrote them a letter explaining the server version of Windows appearing on the laptop “by magic”. The next day, a tearful head appeared in the IT department office asking for Alan’s director. She gave him the laptop and explained that a few weeks back she had complained to her husband that her laptop wasn’t as fast as it used to be, so her husband – an enthusiastic IT “fiddler” – had tried to speed things up. He eventually made matters worse by deleting some system files, which resulted in Windows not booting. So, he followed some Google’d instructions about fixing boot-up problems using a Server 2003 disk – the last option being to reinstall the operating system, which in this case was with a Windows Server 2003 disk. At this point, the head teacher and her hubby had a complete panic attack about turning her school laptop into a portable office, and so decided to wing it and blame the IT department’s lack of meh etc.

With this open and honest admittance of guilt, she then handed the director two written apologies, one for the department and one for Alan, and also printed a fairly glowing recommendation of the IT department in the college’s monthly newsletter. According to Alan, he had her laptop reimaged and back with her the next day, and they are both now pretty good friends.

Quite touching, although the whole sorry episode could have been avoided by a private word, a smile, and maybe even a couple of 4-packs. JD, as they say.

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