Bizarre backup taught techie to dumb things down for the boss

Response to taking out the trash rubbished a reputation

On Call Welcome once more to On Call, the weekly column in which Reg readers dump their foulest stories of execrable tech support incidents from which they emerged smelling like roses.

This week, meet a reader we'll Regomize as "Curtis" who shared a tale from the late 1990s when he worked for a colossal multinational consumer goods conglomerate.

One of the tasks that landed on Curtis's desk was installing Outlook on laptops used by senior management – because the version of Lotus Mail they were using wouldn't survive Y2K. When a colleague got wind of that job, he suggested that Curtis might as well kill two birds with one stone and upgrade the OS, as the firm had just started rolling out a custom build of Windows NT.

"I duly recruited a team of long-term unemployed (the company was keen to do this), trained them up and set them to work," Curtis wrote.

Curtis and his recruits devised a process that started with a polite request that users delete unnecessary email and data, as disk-to-disk transfer rates were glacial at time.

That speed mattered, because the next step in the process was to collect the laptop at the close of business, whereupon it would be backed up to a temporary location before a replacement hard disk was inserted and the spanking new OS and Outlook installed.

Mail and files would then be restored from the backup, and when the boss arrived the next morning they'd find a new machine humming along nicely.

Curtis was cautious: the old hard drive was placed in secure storage "until we were certain that all had gone well."

He admitted to On Call that this was perhaps an unduly laborious process – but it was resilient.

All went well for the first couple of weeks.

Then one morning the phone rang. One of the top three execs in the UK office was not happy with his refreshed laptop, which needed attention now.

Curtis dispatched his most tactful team member, who returned twenty minutes later scarcely able to speak amid bouts of laughter.

When Curtis got the story out of him it started with a description of an oak-panelled office with walls covered in larger-than-life paintings of the company founders. A personal assistant ushered the techie in to the presence of the executive, who had allowed his frustration to boil over into "screaming and shouting and calling IT the most incompetent bunch of morons to ever walk the planet."

The core of the complaint was that some emails had not survived the migration. Curtis's colleague dug into the situation and watched as the exec clicked on the mail folder structure and demanded to know where the "Trash" folder might be found.

Curtis's apprentice showed him the Recycle Bin.

That action saw the exec intone the following:

"I need my Trash back, it is where I keep all my important mails."

"Needless to say, because of the limited time available to my team, the one folder we hadn't migrated was the Trash," Curtis lamented.

Remember how Curtis kept the old disk safe? That decision made it easy to restore the Trash. And also meant the exec's name was trashed as the entire IT department chortled at the "I need my Trash" line.

"After that we made sure that any instructions sent to the executive level were pitched at the right level of intelligence," Curtis concluded.

Have you been involved in an incident that saw you decide to dumb things down? Click here to email On Call and share your story. ®

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