This is how you know

I sat down at J’s computer. She was getting her stuff ready to go out in the field, and I was here to hopefully solve a problem she’d been having getting into a database her work team used. I was here at the request of one of the County’s application developers, who had first noticed the problem.

J was a tall, straightforward to the point of being blunt, black woman in her (I’m guessing here and I’m bad at ages) late 30s, who worked as a parole officer for Multnomah County. And I was the computer tech who was supposed to keep her desktop computer working.

My plan was to simply do exactly as the developer had said in the “trouble ticket” – uninstall and reinstall Microsoft Access 2002. But opening up the Add/Remove Programs control panel and scanning the list, Access wasn’t a listed item. It’s a part of the Office package.

Did I want to uninstall all of Office? What would that affect? Would it break something?

I was glad that J was leaving the office. When I have to poke around and guess and try different things, to the untrained eye it can look like I don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m being… unprofessionall. So it’s nice that she wasn’t going to hang around, look over my shoulder, and ask a lot of questions.

Except she wasn’t gone yet.

She reached past me to pick up a sheaf of papers, to stuff into her briefcase. “Pardon me” she said, after the fact, but with a smile in her voice.

It was well after lunchtime, and I had hardly gotten anything finished today. I had a list of things I wanted to get done, and hours ago it had seemed like a slam-dunk that I would get all these things finished or fixed and still have time left in the day. But now, that was very much in doubt. Things that should have been easy had magnified in complexity somehow, and missed communications with my teammates and a scarcity of resources, like, say, network cables or power cords or a freakin’ hand truck, had imposed themselves between me and my job satisfaction at the end of the day.

It wasn’t a huge deal. I mean, no one was going to die because I didn’t get these things done. As far as I know, anyway. OK, actually, I try not to think about that. Except that now (now!), there I go, thinking about it.

I picked up the phone next to J’s computer. I tried calling T, my friend and co-worker at the Help Desk. She takes these calls all day long, and does it with a smile, and I needed to talk out loud and ask her if what I was seeing was the norm.

I reached her voice mail. Damn. Hung up. Left no message.

I sat there for a moment, holding the phone halfway between my head and the cradle, wondering what to do.

J’s voice interrupted my reverie. “Oh, are you done already?” She was putting on her bullet-proof vest.

“Hmm? Oh, no. I was…” just asking someone else for help but they’re not there… “thinking about the next step. I need to uninstall Microsoft Access but it’s not in the Add/Remove Programs list.”

“OK” she said, “That sounds great.” She paused. “Except I have no idea what you just said.”

I laughed. “Oh! Sorry. I couldn’t do your job, either!” I smiled. “It’s just that I came here to do two things, and it looks like I can’t do the first one, so I’m going to move on to the second thing now.”

“OK, sounds good.”

I got up and went back to my computer, hidden in the dark recesses of the buildings’ server room. My next step was to set up a network install of Access. I hoped it would over-write what was already there, and do it cleanly. Y’know… without breaking anything. But one can’t ever tell with Microsoft products. It’s a crapshoot. But hey, it can’t get more broken than it already is, right?

Computer techs hate rhetorical questions like that, and rarely ask (or answer) them.

I tried calling Terri again. No answer. I sent an on-screen message to her computer, asking her to call me at the number in the server room, just in case she was at her desk but on a call with another customer.

The phone next to me rang almost immediately.

“Sorry about that,” T explained. “I was screening my calls. J was just trying to get a hold of me.” I could hear the shudder in her voice from having to deal with one of our users.

“It’s OK. Listen, I have a couple of questions for you. I’m trying to set up a push of Access, and…” What she’d just said half-registered on my distracted and stressed-out brain. “J? Why was she trying to call you? Have you been working with her on something?” All the folk on the Help Desk have Caller ID on their desk phones.

I don’t know! I talked to her month ago or so, and I thought she had saved my number and was calling me back about something.”

“That’s so weird. I was just up there.” I thought Apps had put in this ticket?

Oh. Oh, right. I got it. “Hey!” I said. “That wasn’t her calling you! That was me! I was calling you from her phone!”

T laughed. “Well, I didn’t know that! What do you want?”

I started to explain, about the inability to remove Access, and having to push it out, and hoping it wouldn’t break anything. I was frustrated from all the other troubles during the day, and from not knowing how to do this simple thing, and my stress must have shown in my voice, because T laughed at me.

“It’s so funny, sitting here on the other side, hearing you panic. It’s usually the other way around!” She was obviously enjoying this. “You’re usually the calm one.”

“See? Everyone’s been pushed so hard, with layoffs and the changes and all the new technology,” I said. “This! This is how you can tell! When I am the one freaking out!”

The sad part is, I don’t even know if I fixed J’s problem or not. I had to move on to the next ticket…