“We’ve invested quite a bit of money in our new network,” the bureaucrat said. His desk was tiny and so cheap that it sagged under the weight of the CRT and tower resting on it. “That’s why it’s probably a more rigorous interview than you’re used to.”
In practice, the interview wasn’t anything unusual to Karen, who had already done a great deal of contracting work with local government offices. This particular interview was for a contract position with the county courts.
“It’s a very modern network,” the bureaucrat continued. “Built using tense-bastey technology.”
“10BASE-T?” Karen prompted.
“Something like that. It’s got these funny phone jack connectors that don’t fit the phones.” He pointed to the back of his computer.
It was 1995, and networking wasn’t quite as we know it today. While 10BASE-T wasn’t exactly cutting edge, for a government office to actually upgrade to a technology less that 5 years old was somewhat exotic. Someone in the court system had an ambitious vision replacing stack after stack of filing cabinets with computers, and perhaps even tying the court records system in with the police records system. It was an optimistic period for the county, and Karen was drawn in.
On Karen’s first day, the network crashed half a dozen times. Karen was the only one in the office who thought this was a problem. “It does this all the time,” one of the clerks explained. “It’ll come back up soon. Besides, it’s not like we really use it- the files are right there in the cabinets.” She gestured at the file room.
The other IT employees were no help; most of them spent their time teaching the users how to navigate the intricacies of WordPerfect. The network had been built by a single employee, who had since retired. Karen was his provisional replacement, while the gears of bureaucracy ground their way to a permanent position. Unfortunately, Karen’s predecessor hadn’t done anything like document how the network was arranged, or mark cables, or do anything to help her understand what was actually going on. Karen had to trace cables and figure this out the hard way.
The first hint that something was wrong was that there wasn’t a hub, switch or router in sight. The second hint was that each workstation actually had two NICs . Each computer was set up to act as a bridge, which allowed Karen’s predecessor to daisy-chain the computers together. That might have had the advantage of keeping the cable-pulling simple, but it also meant that when a user rebooted their machine, or if the wonky Win–3.11 networking layer crapped out, the entire network went with it.
This left Karen with a difficult decision: she could explain to the county why their expensive new network needed to be completely replaced, and how this would involve a fair bit of capital investment to do correctly. Or, she could ride out her six-month contract and leave behind some documentation and an apologetic note for the new hire that would replace her.
Actually, that wasn’t a difficult decision at all.