We've found it... the last shred of human decency in an IT director – all for a poxy Unix engineer

Yeah, we're gonna need you to bring us his head

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On Call Welcome back to On Call, The Register's weekly trip down memory lane with those poor buggers who have to deal with whatever lurks on the other end of the phone line.

Today's tale takes us back to the beginning of the century and an IT director, who we will call "Alessandro", tasked with serving the needs of the pharmaceutical industry.

Alessandro was presented with a problem many managers have faced over the years: a bored employee (in this case a senior Unix engineer, based in France) who wanted to learn something new.

What to do?

"We had," Alessandro told us, "a senior Oracle DBA (also based in France) who had no backup person and had just told me we should be thinking about training someone."

It seemed like a match made in heaven. Alessandro asked his Unix guru "if he was interested in adding an additional title to his business card namely that of junior Oracle DBA".

"His eyes lit up and he gladly agreed."

Batman. Credit: DC Comics.

That code that could never run? Well, guess what. Now Windows thinks it's Batman


Sorted. "Titles are cheap and it made both DBA and Unix guys happy" and Alessandro got to buff his managerial halo to a high sheen.

The "junior" DBA spent his time shadowing the "senior" DBA and all seemed to go swimmingly for about six months until Alessandro received The Phone Call from the French IT manager supervising trainer and trainee.

"The junior DBA did a TRUNCATE TABLE instead of a DROP TABLE during the last maintenance window of the largest customer in EMEA on the wrong table and we lost customer data."

"Chills ran down my spine," recalled Alessandro. This was properly bad. A TRUNCATE is not something one merely recovers from. Sure, it's a good deal faster than something like a DROP TABLE, but the latter would log deleted data and data held potential for recovery.

But a TRUNCATE? Ouch.

The team were frantically restoring from backups "but data loss is data loss so I knew it would create a shitstorm especially as everyone was based in France (including the customer)".

As IT director, Alessandro figured that putting in an appearance in person "would calm some French nerves" so he packed a bag and drove to the Paris office (on a Sunday no less) to assess the blast radius and put together a report on the impact to customer and business.

Monday rolled around and naturally the French IT manager and team were "invited" to the customer's office to explain just what in blue blazes had gone down.

Telling the gang to stand down, Alessandro decided he would "go alone and take the brunt of the rage and that we'd take it from there..."

Astonishingly, honesty was indeed the best policy. The customer patiently listened to Alessandro's explanation of what had happened, why it would never ever happen again, and how the impact was only to the calculation of the bonus for the sales reps and would be less than 1 per cent out for that quarter. "Lower than the average human error % anyway."

It was all going swimmingly (helped by Alessandro's fluent French) until the question he'd been avoiding came up: "Who made this mistake?"

Alessandro answered: "The junior DBA did while the senior was looking over his shoulder."

The customer persisted: "I want a name..."

Alessandro floundered for a while, until he was bluntly told: "You're not getting out of this meeting without giving me a name."

It became all too clear that despite the earlier civility, the customer wanted someone's head on a stick for the cock-up and panic set in: "Holy shit! They're going to have my senior Unix guy fired!" then: "Shit! This is going to be escalated to the CIO in the US!"

Feeling the icy chill of corporate retribution trickling down his spine, Alessandro gave them a name.

His own.

There was an awkward silence, broken by the sales director piping up for the first time: "Alessandro drove all the way from home yesterday, analysed the issue and is all alone in front of all of us and I accept his explanation. However..."

Turning her gaze to our hero she continued: "If this ever happens again, we will invite you again to this same meeting.

"And then we'll burn you at the stake."

The story does not quite end there.

Alessandro headed into the office where the French data centre team were nervously awaiting the outcome, "trying not to grin like a Cheshire cat".

We've no doubt that sphincters were clenched as Alessandro told the assembled managers and IT professionals that, although the customer meeting had seemed to go well, "the last question they asked was a name..."

At this point his senior Unix/junior DBA person began packing his things, telling Alessandro: "They probably want me fired."

"I didn't say I gave them your name..." Alessandro replied after a beat, doubtless to the faint sound of those sphincters tightening ever further.

"I gave them my name!"

A substantial repast followed with the relieved team, during which we hope Alessandro was richly rewarded for putting himself between his team and the customer.

"From that day forward, the entire French team (including the account manager and general manager) would walk through fire for me."

Ever had an IT director put themselves on the line after you'd done something particularly silly? Or maybe you've taken that call and resisted the urge to drop a co-worker into the merde? Send On Call an email and tell us all how you dealt with that phone call. ®

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