IT sent the intern to sort out the nasty VP who was too important to bother with backups
Kid escaped from the executive suite without screwing things up
Who, Me? Monday? Again? Didn't we do that last week? Oh well, at least there's Who, Me? The Register's weekly reader-contributed tale of technical derring-try (if not quite derring-do).
This week, meet "Kev" who emerged fresh from a computer science degree to a summer internship at a Fortune 500 company. This was in the mid-1990s, Kev tells us, and money at such firms was flowing freely thanks largely to a generous approach to write-offs by the Internal Revenue Service. This firm therefore boasted "its own conference center for top salesmen and their clients, including a travel agency, mini-hotel, fine dining restaurant, and executive exercise center."
What's more, the vice president in charge of the conference center had her own particularly comfy quarters which Kev described as "antique furniture on Persian rugs, her own mini apartment with private bathroom and kitchenette, even a mini bedroom where she could get some rest or change her outfits between appointments with her important clients." Said exec believed her importance to the company should be reflected in "the square footage of her office."
So she was important then.
Of course, not all was paradise at this firm, and the VP in question had a reputation for firing first and asking questions later – plus being particularly intolerant of anyone she viewed as incompetent. Naturally this made her beloved of all in the IT department.
She also had a habit of not backing things up or saving them properly, and being very impatient with anyone who tried to show her how the whole system worked. Her PC was effectively just a dumb terminal to a mainframe-based system, so it wouldn't have been too hard – but time is money when you're that important.
One day, the horror VP reported that her emails were going missing. She would be in the middle of writing, then if she left her desk for whatever reason she would return to find her work in progress gone. This was happening several times a day.
Naturally the exec from Hell did not want to take responsibility for anything she might be doing wrong – this must be the work of hackers, possibly dabbling in corporate espionage, out to destroy the company by stealing her important unfinished emails and then deleting them.
Or … something.
Nonetheless, the full resources of the IT department were deployed to solve the problem. A quick check found no evidence of hacking on the network, and no other execs (including ones with even plusher offices) were reporting similar problems. The option of implementing a server-side auto-backup just for her was explored but considered too large an undertaking – especially as it was uncertain if it would solve the problem.
- Why have just one firewall when you can fire all the walls?
- Bright spark techie knew the drill and used it to install a power line, but couldn't outsmart an odd electrician
- Shock horror – and there goes the network neighborhood
- After nine servers he worked on failed, techie imagined next career as beach vendor
So it was decided someone had to go and inspect her terminal in person in case it was a hardware fault. And you just know that was going to be the ensign in the red shirt … er, we mean, summer intern.
Kev duly arrived in the veep’s antechamber and was escorted in. Nightmare VP deigned to allow him to inspect her computer, but only on the proviso that he did not read her terribly important emails and that that he "make it quick."
Quick inspection found no problem with power or with the machine's connection to the rest of the network. All programs Kev was able to check seemed to be running normally, so the problem was confined to email.
Then, as fate would have it, the veep had to leave the office to take an important call. She almost ordered Kev to leave while she was gone, but relented.
That gave him the opportunity to observe a quirk in her behavior: When she got up to leave, she did not log out of her computer or save her work. She simply turned off the monitor and slid her keyboard and mouse under the desk on a drawer.
As it happens, this important exec didn't have the same kind of slimline keyboard that might be used by hoi polloi elsewhere in the organization. No, she had one of those ergonomic numbers that rises like a great cresting wave. And the highest point was in the upper-left corner: the Escape key.
And every time the keyboard was slid away under the desk, the gap was just narrow enough that the Escape key was ever so slightly depressed. Not so narrow that the keyboard didn't fit – that would have been too obvious.
And what do you suppose the mainframe-based email system had assigned to be the function of the Escape key? Give yourself a gold sticker if you said "delete."
So Kev whipped out a screwdriver and lowered the drawer holding the keyboard and mouse. Just a couple of millimeters – just enough to clear the Escape key.
Kev made a quick getaway back to the IT department and told his boss what the problem had been. The boss knew that VP nightmare would never accept that it had been such a simple problem (and basically her fault) so made up a more elaborate explanation of how technical mountains had been moved to solve her very complex issue.
Kev got to be the genius who saved the day – with a screwdriver. And the VP never knew any better.
It happens that way, sometimes – you get to be the hero mainly because other people don't know what you know. If that's ever happened to you, tell us about it in an email to Who, Me? and we'll share your exploits on a future Monday.
Seriously, though, we could use a few anecdotes for Who, Me? as the old mailbag is starting to look a tad light. If there's a tale you've been wanting to tell, now's the time to tell it.