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Follow the instructions … no wait, not those instructions! • The Register

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Who, Me? Welcome, gentle reader, to another instalment of Who, Me? in which Regizens recount records of rancor and remorse. This week, a tale of instructions designed to make life easy that did, in fact, nothing of the sort.

Our story starts with “Harry” who, back in that far-off time we call “the day,” was an install engineer – a grunt, basically – for a scientific instrument company. The company used kit from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), the minicomputer maestro eaten alive by Compaq. DEC made great kit but, as anyone with experience from the era might recall, computers of the era were not exactly plug-and-play.

Luckily for the grunts like Harry, the denizens of IT had prepared a series of helpful leaflets detailing the precise processes required to get things done.

On one occasion, Harry was tasked with installing a new computer to connect with a particular scientific instrument. Obviously this would mean the existing machine had to be backed up before it was switched off so that important work (and high scores) would not be lost.

As was the standard practice, Harry went to the IT department and requested the relevant guide. “Just type in exactly what is written in the guide on your local machine,” he was told. So of course, he did just that.

All went well, for a while. He got to page three of the procedure, in which he logged in as super user, logged everyone else out so they couldn’t make changes, and began the backup process …

At which point he noticed a squad of distraught-looking IT personnel interrogating one user after another, coming ever closer to Harry’s workstation.

Seeing they had found the source of their woes, they told Harry to take his hands off the keyboard and back away, touching absolutely nothing.

Since Harry did not feel lucky, he complied with the request.

It transpired that the particular guide he was using for the “back up and switch off” procedure had been written by the same IT guru who had developed the “daily backup of the company servers” procedure.

The processes were somewhat similar so there had been extensive copy-pasting between the two.

Including the username and password for the company’s main server – to which grunts like Harry were not meant to have access.

In trying to lock users out of the individual machine he was replacing, Harry had locked everyone out of everything. Simply by following instructions.

In the end no permanent harm was done, and the company got an important lesson in checking its documentation.

How about you? Do you have a story of doing the right thing, only to find that the right thing turned out to be the wrong thing? Well, we want to hear about it. Go ahead, make our day. ®

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