Tired techie 'fixed' a server, blamed Microsoft, and got away with it

If you're too exhausted to think, maybe you shouldn't be doing tech support

who, me? Welcome once again, gentle reader folk, to the comfy corner of The Register safe space we call Who, Me? wherein readers share their stories of times when they were not perhaps at the very peak of their technical brilliance.

Last week we put a call out for stories of lessons learned the hard way, and boy did you deliver. For this instalment meet someone we'll Regomize as "Laurence" who assures us that he has had an otherwise "glittering" career in IT – other than during the incident we report today.

Laurence was working as lead developer for a large company at which IT in general – and in particular the notion of "IT investment" – was treated with utter disdain. All the tech in the place was well beyond its glory days, and much of it was limping along on its very last legs.

Laurence and his infrastructure manager had resurrected many dead and dying machines by using a utility we've chosen not to name that could clean up a Windows PC's registry and clear out a bunch of junk from caches and the like. Fairly basic stuff, but effective.

Now, as it happens, not only the PCs but also the main production server was prone to erratic behavior. It was old, running out of space, and not in good shape. Laurence was asked to fix it.

In his defense, Laurence told Whom, Me? "I was also on my last legs after months (and months) of working stupid hours to replace dying systems, working with un-co-operative users, surly managers and doing the work of about five people." So it's not really all that surprising that "in a moment of madness" he installed the same utility he'd been using to revive PCs on the server.

And then he ran it.

Shortly after, the calls began. Websites weren't working. Fileshares weren't working. Laurence logged into the server to find "file associations all gone, file types all gone, even UI elements disappearing before our very eyes." Clearly, a utility designed for fixing an offline PC should not have been deployed on a live server.

A managed service provider was called in to investigate, and said they'd never seen anything like it – the entire registry was gone. They asked if anyone had done anything that might have caused this.

Drawing deep within himself to summon his inner thespian, Laurence replied: "No."

Thus exonerated, he went home – leaving the service provider to spend all night rebuilding the server and cursing the very name of Microsoft.

In the end, management blamed IT, and IT blamed finance for not providing enough money to invest in decent hardware (or, thankfully, system logs), and everyone blamed Microsoft.

Laurence told us he learned three important lessons:

  1. Don't try to fix things when you're exhausted;
  2. Always use Microsoft server software so you have a credible scapegoat;
  3. Acting skills can get you out of a crisis.

There's something in that for all of us, don't you think? If you've ever had a fast education at the cruel hand of reality on the job, let us know about it in an email to Who, Me? and we'll share your knowledge with other readers. ®

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