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New comics every Tuesday & Thursday

Tales from the Trenches


The worst job I ever had paid well and had good hours - but it was set up so that it was impossible to do a good job. Somehow that can just crush the life out of you.

I was first-level support in a massive organisation that had a lot of custom, in-house software. The folk in charge of spending money, however, were very comfortable with cutting all funding once the application was in beta. If there were work-arounds, it wasn’t a bug.

One example: we had field officers who could be an eight hour drive away from the office for weeks at a time. One of their critical applications had a “change password” button that wasn’t necessary - the application read your password from your login. All the button did was to lock your entire account, and the only way to unlock the account was to take the computer back to the office. Eight hours away…

We couldn’t afford to fix the button. We couldn’t even afford to take it off or put a warning on it.

My team supported these bug-ridden applications, but we didn’t have access to them, and consequently had NEVER SEEN them. They wouldn’t even give us screenshots, and there was no way we’d be able to remote into users’ accounts. We developed a massive tree of possible faults, with questions and sub-questions to force the users to correctly describe the problems (one actual entry: ‘if they continue to insist that there’s no error code, ask them to read the entire error message. The number they read at the end, after the words “error code”, is the error code’). We had vague, hand-drawn pirate maps of what we thought the UIs looked like.

My job consisted largely of apologizing. Any time we could actually solve something, it was cause for great celebration and immortality in our solutions database. Mostly we just stuck to the 5 R’s of support: retry -> restart -> reinstall -> reimage -> run.

But once, I was able to give direct support. Someone in my own building had a problem with her account logon: as she started typing her password the field filled up all the way. There was nothing for that issue in our vast stock of errors, so I said I’d be right over. Leaving the IT dungeon and going up into the heady space of “corporate” (my god, they have PLANTS!) I found the right desk. Ten seconds later, I’d fixed the problem.

When I got back, I wrote it up in our database of errors:

Password field filling up with stars: ask user to check if their magazine is resting on their space bar.