Stories from my Past: IT part-time firefighter

In IT you get to do a great many things. I love the variety. Every day is unique and different. Once I was microwaving something and when I put the object to warm up down, the plate was very hot. This was too hot to just be a mistake, so I investigated and the entire microwave was hot. Since it was a business, there was another microwave next to it and that was hot as well. Even the cupboard where they were attached was hot. Something was generating heat. It turns out that there was a toaster oven under the microwave and it had been turned on and with no food inside it got very hot and was radiating heat.

I tried to turn the toaster oven off but there was no power switch. The plug was plugged in behind the cabinet through a hole that wasn’t accessible. So I went and told the office manager what was happening. He looked and was able to unplug the toaster oven since he had the key to the cabinet. Crisis averted.

Many times people are not careful with things that are not theirs. This happened at the end of the day. It was very possible that no one would have noticed and it would have gotten hotter all night probably starting a fire. If I were the office manager I would have sent out an email and told people that the toaster oven is now taken away because of this incident. Can you imagine how frustrated you would be if you had invested in a company and it was ruined due to the carelessness of this?

My point here is that to be a good employee isn’t just doing your job, but also being aware of your environment and making sure things are safe. I could have easily dismissed the heat from the microwave and fire most certainty would have followed. Your value as an employee is not only what you can do, but what you can prevent.

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Doctor’s office using Box

I had my regular eye exam and in making small talk with the doctor I discovered that his office uses Box. This is fascinating to me. It used to be that small business might buy a Windows file server, or if they were more advanced a NAS file storage device. Now they are wisely going online to get more reliable service and performance and probably a lower cost as well.

Doctor's office using BoxThe reason I am sharing this is that without a formal IT person in a small business, most small business tend to do what is easiest with IT. They tend to prefer to outsource their IT infrastructure as much as they can. I have worked with many small businesses and see this all the time. The problem with that is that often what they don’t know about IT can end up costing them a great deal of money.

I am not criticizing my doctor and think that Box is a great choice for file storage. However it is impossible for a non-IT person to be aware of the risks of their decision making. For example, if their network connection goes down they are sunk. What you can do with many online services is have a hybrid model where there is a device on your network that gets synchronized as well as the online version. So if the internet goes down, you are still able to work. I have never worked anywhere that has used this hybrid approach although it is clearly the superior one. Managers say that they don’t need the redundancy because Internet connections are reliable, but my experience shows that too often Internet is not reliable.

For example, I have worked in many companies where the Internet goes down regularly. Not because of a fault of the company, but their internet provider. The last company I worked for had their remote offices go down all the time. Their T1 and fiber connections to those offices would get cut, and those offices were not able to work. This was a huge expense and one that was entirely avoidable if some modest investments had been done.

You can get almost 100% reliability in IT systems, but you need someone who is experienced to help guide you in details.