Better inspect what they tell you

Back in the early days of minicomputers, IBM introduced systems that used diskettes for backup instead of tape which had been used for 20 years. The minicomputer brought into the fray a whole new type of client – the “first time user”.

If you didn’t experience this time (late 70’s and early 80’s), it was a new age when companies installed their very first computer system to run billing, accounts payable, general ledger and other key applications. It was a great time to be part of the computer industry and some of the experiences were truly memorable.

A great lesson I learned in those days was to inspect closely and to absolutely insure your client understands what you are saying.

It all began when I went to a client that I had inherited from another IBM Systems Engineer (SE) who had moved onto new opportunities. My first visit was to help the client upgrade to a newer disk drive that had more capacity.

This particular upgrade required swapping out the old fixed disk drive and installing a new one. Once that was completed, we had to reload the client’s operating system and restore their data backup, , , both items were saved onto groups of diskettes.

My job was to prepare the client for the disk swap when the Customer Engineer (CE) arrived and after the hardware change was completed to restore the system for operation. No big deal, , ,  I had done this procedure many times before.

After talking through the steps to be taken with the client, I asked about their Systems Backup and their File Backup at which point they told me they were in the file cabinets stored away. Excellent!


The CE swaps out the disk drive and hands the project back over to me. I immediately ask the client for their Systems Backup diskettes and for their Data Backup diskettes. As the lady hands me their data backup diskettes,  she asks, “What’s a System Backup?”.

My heart skipped a beat, , , have you ever had that sinking feeling in your stomach?

You guessed it, , , they didn’t have an Operating System backup, or at least none we could find. In normal circumstances, this would be OK but today I didn’t have a copy of the Operating System that I could use to reinstall their system.

I had to call our office 150 miles away and get a copy sent to me so I could finish the job the next day. The Operating System software I needed arrived the next morning and I reloaded the system.  The exercise took an hour versus the 10 minutes it should have taken, but I completed the job.

The client lost about 4 more hours of systems availability than necessary, but the biggest problem I had was the needling I took from my IBM pals.

This mistake taught me two key lessons:

  1. A sense to inspect answers from clients to be sure they understand what you are asking and that you have what you need to do the job.
  2. Always have a backup plan if things don’t go as planned. In this case, I could have finished the job if I had brought along a spare operating system that I could install in case their backup did not work.

Luckily, this wasn’t a catastrophe, , , but my IBM buddies helped me remember the mistake for a long time.

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