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You need to RTFM, but feel free to use your brain too

But I was only following the procedures!

Who, Me? Monday is here, and with it a warning that steadfast determination to ignore instructions might not be such a silly thing after all. Welcome to Who, Me?

Today's story comes from a reader Regomized as "Sam" and takes us back to his first proper IT job following his departure from the education system.

Sam found himself on the mainframe operations team for a telecommunications company. The work was, initially, pretty manual stuff. The telco wasn't silly, and had its new recruits start by performing offline duties, such as gathering tapes and job tickets for batch runs, handling payslips, "basically anything involving a bit of leg work," he told us.

Everything was detailed in procedures, and it was drilled into the recruits that anything, anything they were asked to do would be covered somewhere in those procedures.

On the face of it, a sensible move. However, there are risks inherent in having employees who are trained to only slavishly follow procedure, as our hero would soon discover.

Six months passed, "so they could ensure I wasn't a complete idiot," said Sam, "before being unleashed on the actual machines stationed in the big, noisy room down the corridor!"

The time had come, and he was moved into an online role with hands on the actual terminals of actual IBM and AMDAHL mainframes.

"Essentially," he said, "I was shadowing colleagues... Learning the role that would support me for the rest of my life."

"Well, that's what I thought at the time," he added. "Turned out it lasted just under two years before we were shut down and all processing was transferred to other sites within the company..."

That was in the future. Now, however, was Sam's crack at the big time.

"Nervously," he said, "I was sat at the IBM's operations console when Jean from the SSG [Systems Support Group] asked me to perform a 'reload'."

The SSG lived upstairs with windows overlooking the city. Sam's operations team lurked in the windowless downstairs. On Friday, a person from this group would head down to operations with instructions to perform a reload to ensure the systems would be fresh for the weekend and the week ahead.

"It had been drilled into my head that everything and anything I might be asked would be found in one of the hefty volumes located on the library shelves behind the wonderfully expressive Memorex tape decks," said Sam.

So off he went, pulled the procedure, and flipped through to the bit about "Reload."

Settling back into his chair, Sam began to follow the instructions, starting with the first: "Reset CPU."

Pandemonium ensued.

"What no one had bothered to make clear," said Sam, with the benefit of hindsight, "was when someone asked you to perform a 'reload' of the MVS/XA mainframes (IBM/AMDAHL) they actually meant for you to perform a 'shutdown' first, then when completed successfully a 'reload'."

Computers do not take kindly to sudden resets.

Sam's popularity plummeted: databases crashed and had to be rolled back, users lost work as their connections were abruptly terminated, and so on. His colleagues were tasked with piecing things back together.

He'd only been following orders, but Sam feared his career in IT would be terminated before it had even begun. Would the next salary run be his last? He awaited his fate...

"So what was my punishment?"

"I got to update the 'IBM Systems Operations' manual for the next revision, and got moved on VME operations where the ICL system was a bit more robust and 'foolproof'."

Updating the documentation? Maybe getting fired would have been preferable after all.

Did Sam do wrong? He was only following orders after all, and it was those orders that caused the problem. Or should he have paused to consider the potential consequences before issuing that fateful command? Tell us of the time when your defense was "but that's what it says in the procedure…" with an email to Who, Me? ®

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