Techies take turns at shut-down top trumps

There's more than one way to accidentally power-down a workplace, you know

157 Reg comments Got Tips?

Who, Me? Welcome once more to Who, Me?, our weekly trip down memory lane for Reg readers who have cringeworthy yet humorous stories to share with the rest of us.

This week, we've collated a few of our favourite accidental power-down stories, prompted by a recent tale in our companion column, On Call, which is dedicated to tech support head-scratchers.

Our first tale this week is from reader "Ned", who was working as a mainframe systems programmer back in the '80s when he managed to shut down a data centre with an office cubicle panel.

Picture of a person's fist hitting an emergency red button

Crash, bang, wallop: What a power-down. But what hit the kill switch?


"We were asked to help move some office cubicle panels out of a room inside the data center," he said. "No problem there, we were happy to help. Unfortunately, this stuff was 6 foot [1.8m] tall."

That meant it was impossible to see over the top of the panel while carrying it – and impossible to know that there was an emergency power off button on the wall by the door where Ned needed to stop.

"When I put the panel down to hit the door release, I'll never forget the nasty little clunk as the top of the panel moved about an inch closer to the wall," Ned said. "I realised exactly what that had to mean, and everything started going quiet… Our boss took it surprisingly well, I must say."

Next in the cringe-bin is a story from "Marshall", who told us about a time in the '70s when he was a hardware engineer at a well-known mainframe supplier and prompted a co-worker to make a rather big mistake.

At the time, one of his customers had had a major refurb of their large computer suite, with a new addition of "bright shiny Emergency Power Off [EPO] buttons" all over the room.

A couple of these were on the wall behind one of the banks of eight tape drives, where his team had to open the back doors for access.

"The buttons stood out from the wall and I was concerned that they might get caught by an engineer or one of the operators when they walked or worked behind the drives," he said.

"The DP manager happened to be in the room, so I asked him to look at the EPOs and suggested getting a shroud fitted around them," he said.

But the chap's response was that the buttons were fine, because they had a lot of slack and needed "a real press" to trip the power.

"He then showed me that you could press them in a short distance without a problem… and with that tripped the whole computer suite out."

man shelters under laptop from mistakes

College student with 'visions of writing super-cool scripts' almost wipes out faculty's entire system


As the operators started shouting, the manager walked into the room to tell them it was an EPO recovery test.

"The operators had to sort it all out and recover and restart the systems, which took several hours," said Marshall. "A few days later all the EPOs had shrouds fitted."

The final story to wind up our trio of shut-down whoopsies is from "Jake", who regales us with a story of a techie unfamiliar with the doors at his place of work.

"The various internal doors sometimes open with a swipe card and sometimes with a release button," Jake said.

One day, this techie was in the server room on his own for the first time. "When he wanted to get out, he pressed the green button by the door… And heard the sphincter-contracting sound of servers spooling down. All of them."

The lost techie knew it was serious – the servers were used by some of the firm's biggest customers.

"Sweating despite the air conditioning, he kept pressing the door release button, so he could get out and tell someone," Jake said.

"But the door remained locked. Instead, others came to him. They stood outside the server room, staring in at him as he gestured to them."

One of them, of course, swiped him out – and told him that the green button he had been repeatedly pressing was, in fact, the emergency shutdown switch.

"The problem was soon addressed by changing it to a red button."

If any of these stories has triggered a feeling of shared woe or mirth – don't keep it to yourself. Tell Who, Me? and we might use it in a future instalment. ®


Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020