If Ben E. was given three words to describe his job, he’d use bureaucracy, bureaucracy, and after filling out Form 811B-AW (Request to Use More Than Three Words Form), serious fricken bureaucracy. But alas, when one works for The State, things like serious fricken bureaucracy, vast documentation, and threats of being hired are simply par for the course.

 When he first started as an Application Reports Developer for The State, Ben wasn’t at all cynical. While he was certainly aware of the bureaucracy at large government offices, the office he would be working at had all of twenty people. And since they’re quite a distance from The State’s capitol, he naïvely concluded, people would naturally work as a team instead of teaming-up to avoid work.

One of Ben’s first tasks was to configure his workstation to be able to print to the wide-format printer. Though Ben was perfectly capable of following the printer installation wizard, he needed a password to connect to the printer. “Just ask Michael,” Ben’s boss advised, “he sets all that stuff up.”

Michael worked in a cubicle on the other side of the room. It was a good twenty to twenty-five feet from Ben’s desk. “Sorry,” Michael said in response to Ben’s request for some printer help, “you’ll have to run that through Jessica first.”

Jessica was the lead network technician, and her cubicle was directly next to Michael’s. “You’re going to have to call support,” she told Ben, “just dial out 774-6216.”

A Printer Problem

Ben didn’t mind the runaround. After all, he assumed, a printer setup is a pretty rare occurrence in a small office, and it probably has to go through central networking or something. He walked back to his desk and dialed the number for support.

“The number you dialed is incorrect,” the recording read, “please hang up and try again.”

Figuring he needed an outside line, Ben tried 9-774-6216, only to be greeted by the same message. Ben walked back to Jessica’s desk to see what he was doing wrong. “Uhhh,” she said in a condescending tone, “just pick up your phone and press 7, 7, 4, 6, 2, 1, 6. That’s the support line.”

Ben walked back to his desk and reasoned that he must have pressed one of the wrong buttons on the phone keypad. He tried it again, slowly. 7. 7. 4. 6. 2. 1. 6.

“The number you dialed is incorrect. Please hang up and try again.”

Ben walked back to Jessica’s desk and asked if he needed to dial 9 or something first. “Well yeah,” she scoffed, “of course you have to dial 8 first!”

He walked back to his desk, dialed 8-774-6216, and was once again greeted by the message. Not wanting to appear desperate, Ben waited a little while before returning to Jessica. “Okay, watch me,” she exasperated, clearly annoyed at his persistence. Jessica picked up her phone and pressed 8, 1, 7, 7, 4, 6, 2, 1, 6. “There, see?”

Fortunately, 81-774-6216 did the trick. After returning to his desk and dialing the number, Ben finally got a hold of support and explained his printer problem. “We can certainly help you with that,” the support rep responded, “an onsite network technician will contact you within twenty-four hours. Please note your ticket number: 6840012203.”

Later that day, Ben ran into Jessica in the break room. Since she was one of the two onsite network technicians, he asked her when they’d be able to get to that ticket. “Like I told you on the phone,” Jessica responded in a much nicer tone than before, “someone will contact you.”

It took a few moments for Ben to process the first part of her response. When did I talk to her on the phone? Is she thinking of someone el— and then it dawned on him. There was a reason that the support rep’s voice sounded so familiar: she was Jessica, and 774-6216 was Jessica’s number.

A Printer Solution

The following morning, Ben’s phone rang. It was Michael, checking to see if Ben had a few minutes to setup the printer. Ben stood up in his low-walled cubicle to get a direct line-of-sight to Michael and invited him on over. Expected him to hang-up, stand-up, and walk twenty feet over, Michael instead responded, “Actually, I’ll just remote in and do it real quick.”

Ten minutes later, Ben watched as Michael remote-controlled his computer from across the room. Halfway through the printer installation, an error dialog popped-up:

There was an error copying file ml882print.hlp: file not found.

    [Ignore]      [Retry]

Michael clicked Retry, only to have the same exact message pop-up again. He clicked Retry again, and got the same message. After three more attempts, he clicked Start, Shutdown, and then Restart.

When the computer came back up, Michael resumed control and found himself stuck at the same point in the installation. Clicking Retry – even clicking it five times – resulted in the same File Not Found error. Rebooting two more times didn’t help much, either.

As Ben shifted his glaze from his computer screen to Michael controlling his screen, he watched the frustrated Michael pick up his phone and, presumably, explain the problem to the person on the other line. Moments later, Jessica walked over from her cubicle and commandeered Michael’s workstation.

Jessica, now controlling Ben’s workstation through Michael’s, clicked Retry. She, too, was greeted with a file not found message. After clicking Retry twice more, she hesitantly moved the mouse over the Ignore button and then clicked it. Ten seconds later, the printer installation completed successfully.