back to article Hell desk to user: 'I know you're wrong. I wrote the software. And the protocol it runs on'

Another weekend beckons, which means another edition of On-Call, The Register's weekly reader-contributed story of dirty jobs, done dirt cheap. This week, meet “Bob” who in the early days of the Internet staffed a help desk that among other things took calls from users of the Gopher distributed file system. Bob framed his …

Silver badge
Holmes

Did you ever hear of the Seattle seven?

That was me.

10
0

Re: Did you ever hear of the Seattle seven?

The dude abides.

7
0
vir
Bronze badge

Re: Did you ever hear of the Seattle seven?

...and six other guys.

7
0

This post has been deleted by its author

HR Fail

A while back I did have the HR department say they didn't need me to tell them about Data Protection when I tried to point out that the way they were using some software would result in a potential breach.

As I'd written the software (and have a lot more experience of DP than they do) I understandably got a little bit annoyed, which upset them. I suppose I could have let them carry on and then sued afterwards but I'd prefer to keep the job.

60
0
Coat

Re: HR Fail

HR, better know as Human Remains

32
2
Silver badge

Re: HR Fail

I'm in that age bracket that started working when we had personnel departments but saw the change over to HR departments.

I have fond memories of those personnel peeps - they usually had the best interests of the staff at the company at their hearts.

Whereas HR departments seem to solely exist to ensure that a company can get away with the absolute bare minimum and treat their staff like cattle.

121
0

Re: HR Fail

At a former company in the 90's. the Personnel Manager was forced to change his title to HR Manager after an external audit when it was pointed out his duties were to represent the company and not the employees.

One memorable incident was during one of tbe first round of redundancies when we pointed out several breaches of legislation in terms of information required to be made available to people under threat of redundancy. He asked how did we know all this and we told him we had got a booklet on redundancy procedure from the Citizens Advice Bureau. He the asked if he could borrow a copy. I think he was quite surprised by our response that we wern't going to help him make us redundant, expressed quite succinctly by some.

75
0
Silver badge
Holmes

Re: HR Fail

@TonyJ: "Whereas HR departments seem to solely exist to ensure that a company can get away with the absolute bare minimum and treat their staff like cattle."

Better summarised as: "The HR department exists only to protect the company from its employees."

65
1

Re: HR Fail

I caught the tail end of those days. As well as Personnel department there was the shift from SUPPORT departments, there to provide support to the business to BUSINESS RESOURCES, there to be used and abused as the business sees fit - such as the IT Helpdesk there to provide help, now rebadged as the Service Desk - they are now longer allowed to offer help, they are expected to provide a specific, stats managed 'service'.

39
0
Anonymous Coward

'The HR department exists only to protect'

In my company, to protect themselves. They look to be the company, and their own interests preempt anything else. We lost people with badly needed skills because HR decided those roles could be fulfilled by retraining others which have no clues nor interest to learn those difficult skills. And all the managers bowed to HR because it became too powerful to fight with.

48
0
Silver badge
Angel

Re: HR Fail

"I'm in that age bracket that started working when we had personnel departments but saw the change over to HR departments."

I remember them too.

The nice chappess in personnel told me I had 8 days holiday and I had to take them in the next few months or I'd lose them. This happened on my first day at the company during the initial report to the personnel department for initial briefing. I also remember them handing over a brown envelope with 2 weeks wages in it. In advance. Before I'd even put pen to paper working for them. It was all downhill from then on of course.

37
0

Re: HR Fail

I've always referred to them as 'the anti personnel department'

38
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: HR Fail

I definitely never worked as long term sickness cover for a high end retail chain and none of what you are about to read actually happened. I was supposed to travel to branches and train new staff on the use of the company systems including the till and DPA compliant Customer Management Tool. To assist staff the CMT had been developed which was basically a database of customer details for each store. However not only did you need to be connected by VPN to the company system you also had to have the correct password for the server. That was before you got to the log in stage where you needed your personal security password to be able to access the database. All the data was stored on the server to prevent unauthorised access and it worked quite well. Every store had to have access to the full data in case someone came in with a query and hadn't purchased from that showroom. Access was logged though so you could be traced for looking at customer files etc. What I wasn't prepared for was that the sales staff were all on commission and therefore a bunch of backstabbing bastards. Each showroom got a pooled commission and therefore if you could steal a customer from some other store that was fine by them. The only slight snake in the grass was that the system logged what you did. Therefore if you got a customer on to the system first as having visited your showroom that was supposed to indicate that they were your customer and everyone else could piss off. Every entry was time stamped and so if it was on the system that was taken as gospel. Before going out anywhere I made sure I knew everything about the system and one of the things I discovered was a small screw up the developer had made.

Instead of using the server time and date or indeed some external time and date source they'd used the local PC clock for the info. The upshot of this was that you could set your local clock to the day before and the timestamp indicated this. So at the first showroom I visited which was the furthest away from head office there was one member of staff and the manager waiting for the training. I did the training and checked that the new starter understood the importance of good data security etc. Then at the end as a sort of caveat I mentioned that the date shown was based on the PC clock. The manager suddenly became very interested and asked me more about this, I explained the feature fully. Then he calls in various different members of the sales team to learn about this "feature". I was asked if I wanted lunch by the manager which I accepted and I found us heading to the local pub. I said I thought going to the pub for lunch was a big no no with the firm, but heard "We're a long way from head office and we treat that as more of a request rather than a rule". Over lunch I realised that they were looking to poach other showrooms customers by claiming them first by changing the clock time. I realised rather quickly when I was asked not to mention this in certain other showrooms when training. I had a few nice lunches out of that feature, my waistline suffered a bit though.

37
1
Silver badge

Re: HR Fail

Well, an early Terry Pratchett character is described as "the sort of man who could use the word ‘personnel’ and mean it." He had a liking for organisation charts. So 'personnel' was already impersonal. I'm not sure what the difference with Human Resources is, maybe they deal with "people we don't actually own" (contractors)?

15
0
Silver badge

Re: HR Fail

Reminds me of my first engineering job. Company decided to relocate it's manufacturing to Mexico. I'd had a meeting where I was told if I didn't take on a new role my position would be made redundant. The role I was to take on? Someone who was being made redundant. I was cheaper. Eventually they moved me into the new role, at which point I was offered a position at another company. I hand my notice in and then ask for a meeting with HR where I point out that under ACAS rules as I'd declined the new role within 4 weeks of starting it I was still entitled to redundancy. They tried everything to get out of paying it until the factory manager was overheard talking to the HR manager on the shop floor.

"Ignore him, he'll never take it to tribunal"

Followed by my friend who overheard them stating "You don't know him very well then do you."

2 weeks later I'm handed my redundancy payout (half of what it should have been, but more than legal minimum, I took it as a win. There was a bonus to all other employees for staying past a certain date, they claimed it wasn't offered to engineers, despite knowing it was, and the engineers had gag clauses attached to their bonuses)

What they didn't know was I was being given free legal advice from a lawyer that specialised in company law and an Old Bailey judge (who later became rather famous for sending down a mafia boss).

46
0

Re: HR Fail

I was working at a smaller company a few years back and we got bought out by a bigger one who had outsourced support via IBM, one of our regular helpdesk guys was going through a bunch of things on a call to help out a user when he felt a prod in his back, which he at first ignored, followed by more vigorous prodding.

Turned out to be the new Service Desk manager poking him and telling him to stop the call as he was helping too much and taking too long.

Service indeed.....

44
0

This post has been deleted by its author

Silver badge

Re: HR Fail

"I'm in that age bracket that started working when we had personnel departments but saw the change over to HR departments."

I am not a number resource! I am a human being!

29
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: HR Fail

HR was a failure right from the point when they renamed it from "Personnel".

13
0
Silver badge

Re: HR Fail

HR, better know as Human Remains

In one company I worked in, they were known as "Animal Husbandry".

19
0
Silver badge
Joke

Re: HR Fail

I'm not sure what the difference with Human Resources is...

It's in the names: with Personnel, you are a person whereas with Human Resources, you are a resource. You work with one and use the other.

32
0

Re: HR Fail

I worked for a municipality in the midwest, when I found a better job (amongst other reasons I was leaving), I beat feet to the door. Upon my exit, there seemed to be a problem with vacation and how it accrued, seems a person who would have started on Friday June 7 would get one one more week of vacation versus the person who started on Monday June 10, I stared on June 1; when I point out to HR the issue of working 8 hours more and getting an entire weeks worth of vacation it seemed to irk the director of the department who demanded I see him in his office.

So for about and hour, he lectures me of the privilege to work for such a wonderful organization and how me pointing out these issues can cause a morale issue for the workers of the municipality. At this point, I know I am not getting my vacation I earned.. so, I respond to the director that his recent changes in policy to force the workers of this municipality to reside within the confines of the city was demoralizing the workers and not my pointing out the obvious on vacation. He took great offense to me calling out his forced residency program, so I gave him this... "The days of forcing people to live where you want them to live, are long gone in this country; if you want to force people to move where you want them to live, pick up a rifle, defend the constitution of the United States and then see if you have a different perspective."

I got up and walked out of the meeting and left for my new job. I didn't look back as they were chasing me asking for clarification.

I found out from some buddies who worked at the municipality they changed the residency requirement a few months later.

So, yeah, a

8
1
I3N
Pint

Re: HR Fail

Forever snarky ... HR motto

Of this newer generation, little do they know of the five or so HR hides tacked to the wall ...

0
0
Alert

Re: HR Fail

"I'm not sure what the difference with Human Resources is, maybe they deal with "people we don't actually own"

Make no mistake, they really do believe they own you, in the "pOwned" sense of the word.

(in Dr McCoy voice) : "I'm a sentient human being, dammit, not a "personnel".

3
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: HR Fail

I work for a firm (a rather large and well known one hence the anon) where we don't have an HR dept we have an HC dept (I kid you not) Most of my colleagues and I refer to it as the Human Cattel dept.

4
1
Silver badge
Big Brother

The cynical term: "Human Resources..."

Always reminds me of Soylent Green, for some reason.

An image comes to mind of people liquefied in barrels, the current value of which is then published daily on the Nasdaq.

If I Ruled the World had my own business, I think I'd be a rebel and ignore that particular convention by reverting to "Personnel Department" instead.

Unless there's some equally sinister law that compels me to designate people as purely material assets, which in today's neoliberal dystopian nightmare is entirely possible.

7
0
Silver badge

Re: HR Fail

HR will reflect the values of those further up the chain.

If your HR is bad, it is probably because *they* have been managed to act in that way.

4
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: HR Fail

It does get worse when you have no HR at all.

I work for an international engineering company which is headquartered in France. Our division has no HR staff at all, that function has been centralised and all you get s an anonymous email role address.

Being HR, they're barely technically literate, and have multiple intranet websites each one partially complete, because they'd start a new one which would be super and amazing and solve all the problems of the past, but it would remain unfinished and incomplete, necessitating keeping the old ones around anyway.

Even if you have a problem that they should be competent at solving, like processing job candidate CVs or making job offers, they'll screw that up and the candidate is lost.

Fortunately I rarely need to deal with our HR, if I did I'd probably go postal.

6
0
Silver badge
Coat

Re: HR Fail

"I realised rather quickly when I was asked not to mention this in certain other showrooms when training. I had a few nice lunches out of that feature, my waistline suffered a bit though."

Just wondering how many days early the clocks got and if any customer accounts 'time shifted' into a previous month...

2
0

Re: HR Fail

Oh how I wish I'd lived in the days of Brown Envelopes, but I'm interstitial; in my days in the UK you just got ****ed, there was no opportunity to take it and leave (this was Thatcher).

Now I'm in the US but I'd got(ten) conditioned to be honest; well, it doesn't help being an immigrant and feeling obliged.

On the original topic. Sorry, I just get an incredible buzz when someone talks about software I wrote. I really don't care what they say about it, but then I've given up trying to support it so maybe that's my bad (as we say in the US.)

John Bowler

1
0

Re: The cynical term: "Human Resources..."

"Soylent Green"? Like the Woody Allen look-alike in the video; will Harry Harrison post a comment and do a Marshal McLuhan on you?

Although What Allen thought he was referring to escapes me; McLuhan just kept repeating himself until people understood.

Aiming for the maximum downvote here; please support: out of work Troll with no Bridge.

John Bowler

3
0
Bronze badge
Big Brother

Re: HR Fail

"It's in the names: with Personnel, you are a person whereas with Human Resources, you are a resource. You work with one and use the other."

Robert, that's not a very funny joke, it's more like newspeak. Using words to affect a change in people's thinking. They changed the name because the corporation sees humans as a resource rather like money or paperclips rather than an asset or a person.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: HR Fail

All it had to be was one day before and they could claim the customer as their own. Just writing "Customer called the showroom to discuss possible purchase" in the time stamped notes was enough.

0
0
wsm

Re: HR Fail

I worked for a large organization that actually had an Animal Husbandry department which fed and otherwise maintained a livestock feed testing farm. They thought they would sound more modern when they changed its name to Animal Resources for a few years. It was eventually pointed out that the name seemed to be demeaning to their animals and they changed the name to Animal Care.

Within weeks, the larger organization changed the name of Personnel to Human Resources. The irony was lost on one and all.

2
0
Facepalm

Re: HR Fail @TonyJ

Ditto - for the age.

Many years ago when I started work with a largish company in my neck of the woods, I was interviewed by the head of Personnel which then had a staff of 9, who not only did the formal employment procedures, but were also responsible for Payroll.

When I left several years later, it had now become Human Resources with a staff of over 200. WTF!!!

What do they do!! Admittedly they now have to formulate procedures for Health & Safety, but I would have thought that would have taken a couple of people no more than 6 months to formulate.

Oh, they did an "exit interview" with me as well.

Wow! 200+ people to do that - oh, and they had also outsourced payroll by then as well.

1
0
Silver badge

Several times now I have used the phrase "I will stake my reputation on it".

And it can be over the simplest of things. "Enabling STP on a network and then introducing redundant routes won't bring it down". Or even "I will take all the iPads, supervise them PROPERLY without the pirate apps forcibly pushed via the profile, and I guarantee they will work as they're supposed to rather than constantly request sign-in on accounts that are nothing to do with our workplace".

I've several times gone to lengths to have people stopped from interfering, expressly stating that *I* will do it, and it will work, and then doing exactly that. The conditions are sometimes harsh (i.e. I don't want that person touching a single machine, you have to leave me alone for a week, etc.) but I get it done.

It's really fun when it pays off. I can't help thinking of Kryten. "Ah.... Smug mode."

I have to say, though, that it's most annoying that a project that I was involved in 20 years ago still ends up on search results for all kinds of things. It's more embarrassing that often - when I go looking for something that I know exists - Google often ends up directing me to MY OWN WEBSITE rather than the things actually I'm looking for. It's happened at least three times when I've been searching for things entirely unrelated. I've actually been trying to solve something completely unrelated, and ended up pointing at someone's screen and saying "No, it's know it's not that link there" - how do I know? Because that was MY WEBSITE you ended up with in the top 10 results. I've even stumbled across my own Register comments when I've been trying to tell people about things I read years ago, and where I commented something useful, and it pops up in the search results.

Once I even ended up going to a website and got half-way down my own article before I realised I'd written it. I wouldn't mind, but I'm hardly a genius, and I don't publish very much in the way of useful information at all.

49
4
Silver badge

Have you every considered citing yourself - just to see if anyone notices?

60
0
Silver badge

I leave that to the academics publishing their research papers.

(Seriously, it's not unusual to have a little cabal of academics who write papers that all cite each other's work, just for the reputation increase).

34
0
Anonymous Coward

The Opposite

So I used to work for a firm where we used a bit of software from a small firm and the developer (who also owned the firm) was coming in to see if there was any features he could add or minor bugs that needed fixing based on our usage. I sat with a group of fellow tech staff and went over the properties of a function that he thought we wanted including and at the end of this said that shouldn't be a problem to add that. Slightly stunned we said the feature is already there and went on to explain what we wanted to be able to do is modify it to include parameter X when running. That as it turned out was no problem and then we turned to something else a feature that we wanted including but was at the moment sadly lacking. "Ah" he says "You just don't know how to do that I'll show you" and then spent 15 mins trying to get his software to do something it wouldn't.

Nice bloke but he had completely forgotten that they hadn't released the next version that did a lot of what we wanted. It apparently was in alpha testing and he was sure we'd been sent a copy which we hadn't.

27
0
Bronze badge
Facepalm

I usually get called out by family and friends to fix or work on something technical for their homes. I got a call from a relative one day who had just moved into a new house which a developer had done up. They'd put Cat 5 and a tv point in every room and a patch bay and cabinet in a room on the ground floor. I was asked round to wire up "the internet" into every room this despite having very good wifi. Whilst there I suggested that they could network their satellite receiver (used for foreign tv) and have the output in every room (wasn't sky so no multiroom). I said it should even be possible with another receiver or two to have a different channel on in each room if you wanted. That would be lovely, but it's not possible comes the reply from my relative and even if it was you can't do it you wouldn't know how to.

I explained that it was indeed possible I was the one with engineer in my job title, said I'd prove it and went home to collect a few bits and pieces. Came back armed with a couple of RF modulators, two FTA satellite receivers, a QED remote extender (used Cat 5), a cable tester and various connectors/convertors. I demonstrated the ability to have a receiver in each room or to have the same tv signal pumped around the building with the ability to change channel from each room. Their response oh that's rather clever isn't it, can you just wire up the living room for the satellite and we'll not bother in the other rooms just have to use Freeview I suppose!

25
0
Silver badge

That's fine as long as you feed off the same sat

I assume a non-motorised system?

4
0
Bronze badge

Re: That's fine as long as you feed off the same sat

Yep dish just pointed at 5°W Atlantic Bird, someone was learning French.

5
0
Silver badge

The "leave me alone and I'll fix it" scenario

I've done this a few times, where I knew that explaining what I figured out would 1) take too long and 2) have people wanting me to prove some logical leaps I made.

The most memorable was back in 2000 when I was consulting on a SAP migration for a Fortune 500 company most everyone will have heard of. It was being migrated from Texas to Toronto, and it had just been brought live over Labor Day weekend - getting downtime for this was almost impossible so it had to succeed. It was as super complicated process that involved among other things a courier on a private jet taking the past week's redo logs from Texas to Toronto. I wasn't involved in this part of the process, so I was taking some much needed vacation.

So on Labor Day I was doing some boating/drinking with some friends but had brought my laptop on the trip (to the condo, not the boat) 'just in case'. In the middle of the afternoon I get a call from the guy in charge of the project, but cell service on the lake isn't that great so I just ignored it at the time, figuring it was probably some question that could wait or someone else could answer. When we got back that evening and I was walking up from the dock he called again and was in a panic - apparently all hell had broken loose and SAP was down and the DB corrupted.

Once I called into the bridge and dialed in my laptop (good thing my friend's condo had a phone line) I learned none of the filesystems containing the DB could be mounted (this was before Oracle commonly used raw volumes) and everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off because thousands of users were going to come in tomorrow morning and expect to use the system. While my friends went out to the bars and had a good time I stayed behind and began trying to troubleshoot with the others.

After some back and forth for a while I eventually got an idea and did a little digging, and figured out what had happened. Its been so long I actually don't remember the details of what the problem was, something to do with the pairing relationships between the primary copies BCV copies (there were like 4 copies of each volume) on the Symmetrix scrambled the Veritas disk group information so none of the volumes could be imported. The upshot was that the data was still there, nothing had been lost.

I told everyone on the call (there were probably at least 50 by this point) that I knew what happened and I could fix it, I just needed some time to concentrate. Cue a half dozen people wanting me to explain it, and me insisting that it would be easier for me to just try to fix it, and promising that what I did wouldn't change any data on the drives so if it didn't work we'd be no worse off I just had to make sure no one else was going to touch the storage in the meantime. There were like 500 primary volumes, so it would take forever to fix by hand, but luckily I was able to determine exactly how it got messed, and I able to write a script to reverse the process. Once I ran that I was able to import all the disk groups and mount the filesystems, and shared the good news. The Basis lead then checked things out, verified all was good, started it up and everything worked. All those users were able to login the next day, none the wiser.

They wanted me to explain further but it was like 2am by this point and my friends were back so it was too noisy, so I just told them I'd explain it in a couple days but told them what NOT to do that created the situation in the first place so there wouldn't be a repeat! I wrote about five pages to include in the RCA as to what happened and how I fixed it, spent countless hours in meetings explaining it, and but I think only about three people really understood it...

14
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: The "leave me alone and I'll fix it" scenario

I hope you were compensated for your time. I had once booked a holiday well before a project I would be involved with was announced. The completion date was about a week after I got back and I didn't want my holiday ruined by people calling all the time asking questions. So I gave my boss a sealed envelope with the number of where I would be staying in the US. I explained that there was no mobile signal in that area and the landline in the envelope was the only way to reach me. Written on the envelope were instructions that my boss was authorising an extra days holiday for each call they made to me. The first day I was on holiday the team were told under no circumstance should the envelope be opened and on no account was anyone to call me. I had a blissful two weeks.

9
0
Silver badge

Re: The "leave me alone and I'll fix it" scenario

Oh yes, I billed for every hour plus threw in a few more for the annoyance of missing a night out with my friends!

Because of the go live that weekend I knew there was a chance they'd call me, or I wouldn't have brought the laptop along. At least they waited until the third day of the three day weekend to break something :)

5
0
TRT
Silver badge

I've had something similar...

with an electrophysiology amplifier that was giving someone some gyp. They'd come to me on a computer issue and seen all the electronics gear on my workbench. "Do you know anything about electronics then? Because we're getting some chronic noise on a pre-amp."

I said I'd take a look and lo, they'd mismatched the impedance on the headstage to the pre-amp and subsequently had the gain right up. I pointed it out and they said they couldn't change the input impedance. "Yes you can", I replied. "No, you can't", they said. "Look... no switch."

I pulled the module and showed them the jumper on the board.

"Yes, you can." And pointed out my initials which were worked into the tracks on part of the PCB.

I had done some improvement work to the company's original pre-amp about 20 years ago, and gave a copy of the design to the company rep next time I saw them. No charge. It was low volume, quite specialised equipment, and what I had done was only a fairly obvious improvement to the common-mode noise rejection circuit which let the user fine-tune the pre-amp to match a particular headstage and correct for notoriously variable experimental set ups, but they incorporated it into the Rev B boards for the next 5-10 years or so. Out of vanity I had arranged the components in the shape of my initials and that found its way into the production model.

133
1
Anonymous Coward

My example of this was far simpler

When testing out a new banking system urgent call comes in.

The name and address for customer &^%&%& is always printing out wrong! - urgent.

The evidence appears to be there in front of me, it is indeed wrong... Everyone else appears to be working perfectly.

A really good rummage around in the underlying database follows.

The name and address were input incorrectly in the first place (slaps forehead).

Took 3 days to convince the customer with evidence that this was not a candidate for the "reasons we will try to cut the bill" list and indeed had the opposite effect of wasting several days at quite a high rate simply to diagnose a data input issue.

48
0
Bronze badge
Facepalm

Re: My example of this was far simpler

I've had similar... "look, their address is in the database but it doesn't appear on the invoice - we just get their name"

"Ma'am, you've put their name in the 'billing address' field"

35
0
Silver badge

Possible or easy?

I have no doubt that Bob was correct, what he suggested was possible.

However the woman who called seems to have asked the wrong question(s). Instead of saying "Gopher can't do that", her real issue was that she did not know that Gopher could do what she wanted.

That isn't a failure of the software wot Bob wrote. But it could easily be a failure of the accompanying documentation. Without having the specifics it is impossible to say.

And this seems to be an early example of what fuels so many "support" forums and websites now. While lots of people write software and freely give it to the community, it is clearly the case that authors provide precious little information on what it can do and how you can do it. We all know that writing software is "fun" but writing documentation is a chore and fixing bugs is an absolute PITA. As for testing? so tedious that few ever do any: to compile is to run!

48
12

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2017