Taking the initiative and the long walk to HR • The Register
Who me ? We’ve already covered backups in the annals of this column, but a little help that turned into a binaries bonfire? Start your Monday with a lesson on not taking the initiative.
Our story comes from “Harry” (not his name) who worked for a large medical products company back when Windows XP was the new thing and the software was, frankly, a little simpler.
We also activated the Regomizer on a new recruit assigned to Harry. We’ll call him “James” because we imagine he’d rather his true identity never be made public given what happened…
However, back to Harry for now. Harry was a line engineer, responsible for ensuring that “the huge series of complex machines spit out the product in the right way to prevent faulty products from leaving the factory”.
This was important, not only because of all medical products, but because some countries have a three strike rule and you get eliminated for products with problems in the market. These machines therefore had to be in perfect condition, as well as the software that made them work.
Harry got a new recruit, James, to practice on the equipment. “The new hires were usually new engineering graduates,” he said, “and things went as usual, with a test line where mistakes could be made and, most importantly, used a stack simplified software, running under Windows XP (of course).”
Once practice was over, James could be let loose on the real thing. He was expected to know the bottom lines but, more importantly, not the software stack. It was really a black box affair, manually updating when a CD-ROM came along with updates.
It was time for the updates, and James was tasked with carrying them out while the machines on the lines were cleaned and recalibrated.
James was the only one on the night shift and, watching the update and thinking he knew a bit about PCs, decided to use his initiative. It ran updates on all lines. He then decided to see if he could make the PCs a little more efficient. The disks could still benefit from more headroom, so he ran a utility to find duplicate files.
Oh my God, there were a lot of them. James had full access to the system and so after each update deleted duplicate files. Much better.
“The lines were restarted the following days,” Harry recalls, “preparing to return to full productivity. But they didn’t.”
Instead, each line brought up a console window on their screens, all with the same message:
FILE NOT FOUND
The message repeated over and over again and the factory was eerily quiet.
“It turns out,” said Harry, “the software required an accurate copy of a large database in order to perform its normal tasks, but James had destroyed them all.”
A new installation had to be mailed in order to restart the lines. Harry was dragged past the bosses but managed to protest his ignorance by simply not knowing how anyone would go about doing such a thing.
James wasn’t so lucky and found himself out the door once his usefulness was discovered.
“Access to the control systems was then severely restricted,” said Harry, “and updates were only to be performed by a senior engineer, on pain of death (well, shooting anyway).”
So, was James really the culprit? Or should Harry have pointed to the mysterious boxes leading the line and said “Behold the dragons” to ward off his protege? Have you ever taken the initiative, only to have it turn into a disaster? Confess everything with an e-mail to Who, Me? ®