The IT Support Department at Stephen S.'s company was divided into two distinct castes: helpdesk admins and system admins. And the differences between these two groups were many.
The helpdesk admins had rotating shifts and were there 24/7 (and each was on call 24/7), while the system admins had a solid 9-5 and a rotating on-call admin. The helpdesk admins staff was always on duty, while the system admins would frequently attend catered vendor meetings, leaving the helpdesk admins crew to fight over the remaining scraps. There was a considerable difference in pay scale. The helpdesk admins were the low men on the totem pole, while the company bent over backwards to keep the system admins happy, stopping just shy of providing palanquin transportation to and from work (instead, they had a 50/50 mileage split).
The Wee Hours
In the world of IT Support, 4:30 AM meant different things to the different groups. For system admins, it meant dreamy slumber in their oversized canopy beds ensconced in silk sheets and luxurious pillows. For Stephen and the other other helpdesk admins working one night, it meant that it was about halfway through the graveyard shift. Eyes bloodshot, sorting through his email, the support phone rang. "Help desk, this is Stephen." After doing support for so long, he'd answered his personal phone the same way a few of times.
"Hi Stephen, Brent Thomas from the New York office," the caller responded, "I seem to have locked myself out of my login. Can you give me a hand?"
A simple task befitting his status as a lowly help desk employee. "Sure, no problem."
He navigated his way to the user's account, but strangely, wasn't able to reset the account. Checking one that he'd done a day earlier, the same thing. Stephen had no access to any accounts.
"Ah, I'm sorry, there's a problem on my end. I'll have to contact one of our system admins." Great, now this guy can't do his work *and* I've made myself look like I don't know what I'm doing.
By 4:32 in the morning, he was on the phone with the on-call system admin. "...Hel- hello?" The system admin's tone was as groggy as it was cranky.
"Hi, this is Stephen in desktop support, I have a us—"
"What, you have something you can't figure out?" A long sigh.
"No, I can't reset this user's password."
An even longer sigh. "Stephen," he said patronizingly, "yesterday we had a big meeting. To keep up with compliance, all account changes have to be recorded as tickets."
"Yes, and we're already doing that." Stephen clenched his teeth. "I'm calling because I can't acc—"
"FURTHER," he interrupted loudly, "the right to unlock accounts has been solely reserved to system admins. Stephen, you just have to do your part, log the ticket, I'm sure you can handle that."
"OK, but this user won't be able to... hello?" The system admin had hung up.
Stephen slammed the phone down, boiling with rage. Entering the ticket, he typed as though he was trying to beat the keyboard up, making sure to include a note that he was following the direction of the on-call system admin and couldn't reset the account himself. Stephen was furious that the director had made a decision that sounded good on paper, but he hadn't followed all of the logical ramifications.
Calls continued to come in for more account resets as the work day started on the other side of the country – with thousands of users to support, the lockouts start to pile up. Stephen dutifully recorded each one of them in low-priority tickets (as was the policy for account unlocks) and assigned them to the system admins. With their strict 9-5 work schedule, they'd be coming in for the day in a little over four hours.
The problem? Password resets were required to be completed in four hours or less, lest they fall outside of SLA compliance. When that happens, a storm of documentation and process reviews follow to determine why it happened, how it can be prevented from happening again, what disciplinary actions will be taken (up to and including taking away the system admin's company-provided jet pack), and so on.
Worse still, changes to the domain wouldn't propagate instantly – the system admins didn't want to force domain updates, and instead waited for the regularly scheduled replication scheduled for every four hours. Worst case, nine hours of no account reset and a day of work lost for an employee.
The system admins were walking into a trap of their own creation that morning. Users remained locked out and the tickets unresolved for hours. Calls poured in and were getting escalated above the system admins, unleashing a torrent of phone calls, emails, and meetings.
Two business days later, the process had changed – the help desk was granted the level of domain administration access required to do the job, and the domain replication schedule was changed to every ninety minutes. Inter-department emails flew back and forth about SLA compliance and updates to the policy, and management learned that while Stephen may be a lowly support tech, he just might know a thing or two about the process.
He's still waiting for his palanquin travel budget to be approved, though.