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. ®

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