The time you solved that months-long problem in 3 seconds

Behold the rarest of IT skills: Tact and diplomacy


On Call Being On Call requires certain skills. Technical ability? Sure. A desire to help? Naturally. However, there are some calls where one has to dip into one's reservoirs of diplomacy. Two bytes: good. Loss of face: bad.

Our tale comes from a reader Regomised as "Alan" and concerns a database solution he works with. One that has been around since the 1980s and remains a thing to this day. "Somewhat unusual to have actually been working with the same technology for nearly 40 years…" he observed.

This writer still likes to dabble in TMS9900 assembly language from the 1970s, so perhaps it's not that unusual, but we digress. "In the early '90s," explained Alan, "there was a known bug with the product which affected network buffering and corruption if you did not alter a couple of bytes in a specific file to be a different value."

Alan was based on the US East Coast when he got The Call. A client in Venezuela was having problems and needed a body on site to look into things. Alan was promptly booked onto a flight and sent south to investigate.

The problems sounded suspiciously familiar. Being a sensible fellow, the first thing Alan did after arriving on site was look at the relevant bytes and, yes, the fix had not been done. A swift tappity tap and hey presto! All the problems simply went away.

All except one.

One markedly non-technical problem was that the client had been struggling with this issue for months and had singularly failed to fix it until wonder-boy Alan had pitched up with his seemingly magical IT skills. It was therefore of paramount importance that the fix was not seen to be as simple as a few short keystrokes and a smug "fixed it" from the on-call engineer. "Management, " said Alan, "would be upset."

"So the rest of the week I wandered from office to office kicking people off their machines so I could 'make modifications' to the software."

Then and only then could the problem that Alan had actually solved within his few minutes on site be seen to be sorted.

"At the end of the week," he told us, "I was paraded through an increasingly senior line of management bods who shook my hand and gave me gifts of increasing value."

"Culminating with the company president offering me a leather-wrapped ancient bottle of rum."

In an industry where messengers are regularly shot, the reward of an adult beverage in return for services to face-saving are always welcome. Have you ever saved a customer's blushes with a bit of diplomatic time-stretching? Tell all with an email to On Call. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lenovo halves its ThinkPad workstation range
    Two becomes one as ThinkPad P16 stands alone and HX replaces mobile Xeon

    Lenovo has halved its range of portable workstations.

    The Chinese PC giant this week announced the ThinkPad P16. The loved-by-some ThinkPad P15 and P17 are to be retired, The Register has confirmed.

    The P16 machine runs Intel 12th Gen HX CPUs, but only up to the i7 models – so maxes out at 14 cores and 4.8GHz clock speed. The laptop is certified to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and can ship with that, Ubuntu, and Windows 11 or 10. The latter is pre-installed as a downgrade right under Windows 11.

    Continue reading
  • US won’t prosecute ‘good faith’ security researchers under CFAA
    Well, that clears things up? Maybe not.

    The US Justice Department has directed prosecutors not to charge "good-faith security researchers" with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) if their reasons for hacking are ethical — things like bug hunting, responsible vulnerability disclosure, or above-board penetration testing.

    Good-faith, according to the policy [PDF], means using a computer "solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability."

    Additionally, this activity must be "carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services."

    Continue reading
  • Intel plans immersion lab to chill its power-hungry chips
    AI chips are sucking down 600W+ and the solution could be to drown them.

    Intel this week unveiled a $700 million sustainability initiative to try innovative liquid and immersion cooling technologies to the datacenter.

    The project will see Intel construct a 200,000-square-foot "mega lab" approximately 20 miles west of Portland at its Hillsboro campus, where the chipmaker will qualify, test, and demo its expansive — and power hungry — datacenter portfolio using a variety of cooling tech.

    Alongside the lab, the x86 giant unveiled an open reference design for immersion cooling systems for its chips that is being developed by Intel Taiwan. The chip giant is hoping to bring other Taiwanese manufacturers into the fold and it'll then be rolled out globally.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022