"We're going to laugh about this someday." That's the classic phrase used by people in bad situations. In Mike Bedford's IT world, this optimistic but darkly humorous take on a disaster is called the User Effect. It hurts now, the IT folks say, but think of the great user horror story we'll have to tell!
In Mike Bedford's case, his encounter with the User Effect led to a surprising and romantic conclusion. The whole tale delighted the SearchEnterpriseLinux.com staff. In fact, it won the $50 gift certificate prize in our contest to find IT pros' most unforgettable user bloopers. There's another round, and you can enter by sending your story to User Bloopers.
Honorable mention goes to IT pro Andy Canfied's user horror story. It happened in the days of MS-DOS, and he's still laughing about it. Back then, someone taught a user that any problem with the computer would be fixed by the command 'del *.*' "After a couple of disasters, we managed to convince her to stop doing it," he said. Canfield wins an IT book.
Now, let's get back to Bedford and the User Effect. "I think all seasoned vets of the industry have had their fair share of stories to tell around the camp fire," said Bedford, senior systems architect for Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. "Most of the time it is with good natured humor that we like to remember these folks, because it is difficult to realize that some people really don't live and breathe technology like I do!"
In Bedford's User Effect story, a user debunked his belief that basic computing fundamentals are "common knowledge."
Bedford first memorable encounter with the User Effect happened when he was doing desktop support. He placed a PC on the desk of a new employee one afternoon. He didn't hook anything up and planned to do it the next morning.
Bedford started his rounds early the next morning by checking help desk tickets, looking over backup tape logs, checking e-mail and so on. While he was doing those routine chores, he got a call from the previously-mentioned new employee's manager, saying that they were having issues with the new computer.
"Well, I felt the obvious was in order and told her that the system was not even hooked up yet, so 'issues' were to be expected," said Bedford. "The manager shot back with one of those 'are you calling me stupid?' type of responses and claimed that it was hooked up."
At this point, Bedford was puzzled. He was solely responsible for the desktop support at this location, so there was nobody else who would have set up the computer. He quickly walked over to the new hire's cubicle and found that indeed the system had been hooked up.
Well, it was kind of, sort of hooked up. When Bedford met the new employee he discovered that, eager to please, she had arrived early and took the initiative to set it up herself. The trouble is, the PC would not boot. So, her eagerness to please was backfiring. She was rather apologetic for causing an alarm early in the morning, Bedford said.
Bedford took a look at the cables and did a double-take. "I have never seen cables plugged in that way in my entire life," he said. "In fact, if I did not see it with my own two eyes, I would have never believed it."
The new employee had jammed the phone into the network drop and inserted the PS/2 mouse cable an S-Video on the VGA card. She'd put KB where the mouse connector goes. The SVGA cable was jammed into the Serial connection port.
Not everything was misconnected; the power cable was in the right place. Bedford said: "God knows where that might have gone!"
He tried not to laugh, out of kindness to the new employee, but he couldn't keep it in. The poor woman was blushing and kept saying that she was just trying to help.
It took a while, but Bedford got the PC set up correctly, He also taught her where the cables should go, just in case she ever decided to "help" again.
"I felt bad afterwards, but I simply could not believe that the seemingly obvious was not apparent," Bedford said. He realized that explaining to some people how a computer works could be as fruitless as an interior designer instructing him about how to 'fung shway' (as Bedford says it) his home.
This same user later proved to be equally inept at other technical issues. She intrigued Bedford with how different people we were.
Bedford is still intrigued by this user, and the User Effect has lingered. "We have now been dating for years, and to this day I get a laugh out of some of the crazy things she comes up with," he said. "She, of course, keeps my works space 'feng shwaid'."
Tell us about your most unforgettable user. You could win a $50 gift certificate or an IT book. Write to us at User Bloopers.