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Electron-to-joule conversion formulae? Cute. Welcome to the school of hard knocks

Shake, rattle and roll is incompatible with your PABX

On Call There are some things they don't teach you in college, as a Register reader explains in this week's instalment of tales from the On Call coalface.

Our reader, safely Regomised as "Col", headed up the technical support team of a PABX telecom provider and installer back in the early 1990s. PABX, or Private Automatic Branch eXchange, was the telephony backbone of many an office. A failure could be both contract and career-limiting.

Col, however, was a professional and well versed in the ins and outs of such systems. Work was brisk and so, he told us, "I took on a university grad with all the spunk and vigour that comes with it. He knew the electron-to-joule conversion formulae et al."

Ah yes, the enthusiasm of youth. We remember that.

"His first call at level 3 'buck stops here' support was a rather large customer down the A4/A40 corridor of London whose handsets were randomly dying (blowing out dual extension cards mounted on an IBM backplane)."

The client was well known to Col's company. The shiny young graduate pitched up at the client site, positively fizzing with ideas. Sadly, none worked. By day two he was starting to get desperate, perhaps considering that a career in telephony might not be for him after all. Enter the cunning of age and experience.

Col was on the phone talking the youth through the next bit of troubleshooting when he heard a loud bang in the background.

"I wondered where the noise had come from," Col told us. "He explained that the door to the comms room had just closed."

Odd. "From memory, the partition door previously didn't make this sound on closing. I asked if it was a fire check door, he said yes, they all were."


Col made a site visit the very next day, armed with a roll of carpet underlay and some double-sided tape. The graduate eyed him nervously – was the grad's failure to resolve the issue about to be rewarded by a sharp tap on the back of the head before being trussed up in the roll and bundled into the back of the company Mondeo?

Not this time.

A bit more background would be useful at his point: the installation consisted of Northern Telecom SDX PABX cabinets mounted on one-inch-thick fibreboard (the partition walls couldn't take the weight). "I proceeded to double-side tape the underlay to the inside of the SDX cabinet lids," said Col, "and explained to the grad that there was a 5mm gap between the lid and the cards of the system. Every time the new 60kg fire check door slammed, the wall vibrated and loosened more cards to their doom."

He also left a sign on each cabinet warning that the lids must be screwed down.

The client had failed to mention the fire door upgrades during the initial fault finding, meaning that the time spent dealing with the problem was therefore chargeable.

And Col's assistant? He learned that a multitude of fresh qualifications counted for naught in the face of hard-won experience in dealing with users.

Ever found your cunning and experience trumping wide-eyed enthusiasm? Or got a well-thumbed book of things they don't teach on training courses? Share the time your hard-won wisdom saved the day in an email to On Call. ®

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