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BOFH: State of a job, eh? Roll the Endless Requests for Further Information protocol

And let's see how long he takes to crack

BOFH logo telephone with devil's hornsEpisode 12 "I just want to check the state of a job," the Boss says, burbling away on the PFY's hands-free.

"A support call?" the PFY says. "It'll be in the system."

"I know it's in the system," the Boss snaps back. "It's got a job number. What I WANT to know is the state of the job."

"It's in the system," the PFY repeats. "That's the state."

"No, I want to know what you're doing about it."

"Well, nothing," the PFY says, as if to a simpleton. "It's in the system."

"So if it's in the system you... do nothing... about it?"

"We do ERFIs, obviously," I say. "The system takes care of the rest."


"Endless Requests for Further Information."

"Further Information?" the Boss asks.

"Yeah, you know: What Operating System are you running? Have you tried a reboot? What version of the software do you have? What patch level? How much RAM is in your computer..." I say.

"What happens if you run the app in safe mode?" the PFY adds. "Was there an error message? How long does it take to fail?"

"So you ask them all those questions?"

"Yes," I say. "Not all at once of course. No, you can string a problem like that out over several weeks if you play your cards right."


"Meaning always ask the questions last thing in the evening and then go home. That's one working day turnaround for each question."

"What if they give you all the information in the call?"

"They can't – the helpdesk software now only has a 200-character problem data field. Besides, they can't give us all the information because we can make up questions they don't know the answer to, like: Have any of the Group Policies that apply to you been changed?"

"Surely YOU would know that?"

"We'd establish that fact tomorrow, moments before I ask them if they know their Active Directory ID."

"So... you're actively trying to AVOID solving problems?" the Boss asks.

"Of course!" the PFY says, rolling his eyes.


"Because the longer you drag out a fix the lower your ranking in the helpdesk software. The lower the ranking, the fewer jobs you get assigned. At present the PFY and I are only one point behind the bloke that pumps out the grease trap in the cafeteria – and he only comes on site every three months! He made the mistake of telling one of the staff to reboot the cash register when it wouldn't work."

"Why don't you want to answer calls?"

"The more calls you resolve, the more calls you get."

"Well, what about this job?"

"Like we said. It's in the system."

"We've established that," the Boss counters drily.

"No, it's not in the helpdesk system, it's in THE system. There's a stub in the helpdesk system but the rest of the job is in THE system."

"What's THE system?"

"Well," the PFY says, looking around furtively. "You know those early computer Eliza programs?"


"They're an example of natural language processing. The basic idea is that you think you're talking to a real person but in reality you're talking to a program which will just solicit information without ever reaching an outcome."

"But it does sound interested," I add.

"Yes," the PFY continues. "So we get an emailed problem from the helpdesk system which is directed into THE system. THE system will grab the job number and reply to the user via the helpdesk system, typically triggering an ERFI, which will be answered through the helpdesk system.

"Back and forth it will go until the user does one of four things: Sends an email out of the blue without the job number in the subject line (which will open a new job and close and expunge any previous similar job by the same person, restarting the ERFI process again). Ring us (which does nothing because we don't answer the phone). Ring you (which does nothing because the job's in the system). Complains to someone higher up the food chain – which we normally counter by showing that they have failed to supply all the information. After which we 'review the call in detail' – which can't be done while the job is open – expunge the job – to prevent any job duplication issues – and open a new call."

"But what we're really waiting for is the abuse."

"The what now?" the Boss asks.

"The abuse. When they finally crack because it looks like no matter how many questions they answer they will never get the solution to their problem. When that happens we trigger the workplace harassment process off and because we're an involved party we are no longer able to work on that user's problems."

"It's a pretty sweet arrangement," the PFY says. "I may need to go on stress leave soon."

"Because of the harassment," I add.

"Look," the Boss sighs, "I just want to know where this job is at."

"Well, I suppose we could track it for you?"

"That would be great."

"OK, so if you just send us an email with the job information," the PFY says.

"Including the serial number of your PC, keyboard and mouse," I add.

"And your car registration number," the PFY continues. "To... THE system at >SLAM!< Oh, he's hung up. So I guess..."

"We file it as Waiting on Further Information."

"Perfect." ®

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