Lord High King of Blogging Wil Wheaton recently asked if any of his readers had any technical support experience. It’s as if he knew my deepest held secret, a shame I thought I could take with me to my grave. Now, like an arrow to the heart, Wheaton has exposed my past like the lie that it is. I can hold it back no longer. I must confess. I used to work on a helpdesk.
As a matter of fact, before that I was a computer operator. I worked in the head office of a national chain of tyre fitters on a computer that was so old it had a big cranking handle at the front to get it started. Once it got going, you could use the heat generated to power most of a small town. It was as big as a house, and has since been replaced by one 386 desktop computer.
When that monster went wrong it was devastating. I was there when it had a disk head crash. These days with Pentium IV (Bo-ding-dong-ding!) desktops, you’ll get a metallic clunk followed by the Blue Screen of Death. With the Honeywell Nebuchadnezzar you got red hot portions of ceramic hard drive and shards of metal flying round the room, severing limbs and generally causing you to re-run the job. It was a tough old life. That’s why I went for a helpdesk job. I needed the sleep.
It was a new machine. The Honeywell Bull Ratonnastick had been bought by a large corporation to handle their news publishing operation. Bull were the only bidders, and sold it to the corporation with the enthusiasm of an estate agent who has finally got to sell his own granny. When I started there, it only had one minor problem: it had never been switched on. It was lovely. A computer helpdesk that only ever fielded the question: “When’s the computer coming on?” from a bunch of hacks with typewriters.
It was an idyllic spring, filled with three hour lunch-breaks, trips down the pub, long afternoons pretending to study the user manuals on the sun-drenched lawns outside the building. A spring where two of my colleagues found love behind the CPU. Nothing could come between us and unending happiness. The only blot on the landscape was the fact I was stuck in an office for much of the day with the office pervert, whose only line of conversation was which female members of the editorial staff would you take roughly from behind. His considered opinion, after much one-way discussion, was all of them.
Then, one horrible, horrible day in May they switched it on.
The Computer User Panel decided the programmers had to die
It was hell. Screens crashed. Applications only worked when they felt like it, IT staff ran out of the building screaming, never to be seen again. The only thing that worked in the whole building was my phone, which rang constantly.
We managed as best we would. But as soon as you got one user relatively happy, another one would disappear down the tubes. Work disappeared. One key-press would take up to fifteen minutes, with journos going for a ciggarette break between words. There was nothing to be done. We switched the thing off again and broke out the typewriters. After six hours of this hell, I thought it might be nice to go and get a cup of tea and put my feet up before they rebooted the thing later in the day.
The canteen was a huge, seething mass of hatred. The last IT manager in the building was swinging from one of the rafters. Journalists were gathered in small groups. Some had rakes, the rest were carrying flaming torches. It was a baying hate mob in the making.
The room when quiet. Then the shout went up.
“THERE HE IS!”
I fled, looking back just in time to see the assembled mass of hacks lurching toward me like a scene from Return of the Living Dead. Brains! They wanted to eat my Spicy Brains!
I barricaded myself in the Tech Support office and stayed there for three days with nothing but a carton of out-of-date milk and a curly sandwich for sustinance before being rescued by a Catholic priest armed with an Armalite rifle and three gallons of holy water.
I eventually recovered from my ordeal and got out of Tech Support at the earliest opportunity. You’ll be pleased to hear that there are no lasting effects and I am now living a normal life.... *sniff* *sniff*... hold on... *sniff*... I CAN SMELL YOUR SPICY BRAINS! OK, almost normal.