Given the title, most of you are expecting a story that goes as follows: Boy meets girl. Girl writes phone number inside a book in a used book store. Ten years pass and boy searches for book. Boy finds book and gets girl. But not this time. Instead, Andrew is the source of a story that ranks much higher on the believability scale.

Andrew's father worked for SmallishNicheCo where, like many small companies in the early 1990s, the sum total of IT knowledge was non-existent. Every problem and request was passed to an outsourced help desk, which in the tradition of solid customer service for which IT help desks have become renown, could take up to 3 days to acknowledge receipt much less dispatch a person to solve the problem. If you needed to have the brightness on your monitor adjusted, you were looking at 5-7 days. And that was after passing the gauntlet of questions to ensure the problem was 'real' (Is your computer plugged in? How about your monitor?)

With next year's budget being worked out, Andrew's father offered up his son's services to help out with the corporate spreadsheets. Andrew was looking for work and was particularly keen to work with computers. Really keen. So keen, in fact, that his resume contained the line "I *love* working with computers". Keep in mind that this was before the advent of bold fonts. And at the time Andrew was 19. He knew a lot about DOS, a little bit about Excel, and absolutely nothing about crafting a compelling resume.

Andrew's initial 'try-out' was a two-week gig helping out the elderly financial controller with the aforementioned spreadsheets. An old-school curmudgeon, even for the 1990s, the controller was someone who thought that printer paper was better used as a scratch pad then as the surface for reports. Early in the gig, Andrew was asked to not use the computer to set up a table of columns for him, but to hand-rule and write it instead. Said request was dutifully ignored.

Prior to Andrew's arrival, there were no spare computers available. So a new one was purchased and one of the help desk analysts came out to lay the appropriate cabling and set up a network account. On the then gold standard of networking environments, Novell Netware 3.11. In spite of the fact that Netware had a dedicated server, the attached console provided no opportunity to administer the network. Probably to avoid the potential security hole of having employees brute-force hacking the password. Instead, the support person sat at Andrew's computer to set up the new account. And given his teenaged, computer-geek interest, it's not surprising that Andrew was standing back and watching with rapt attention.

Eyes staring down at the keyboard and hunched over as if to shield the keystrokes from Andrew's prying eyes, the support person quickly typed.


Looking up to the screen, he was surprised to see the commands. A quick 'CLS' cleared the screen and he logged in again. Successfully this time. But Andrew had already seen the instructions and stored that knowledge away for future use.

After a few days of gnawing curiosity, Andrew decided to see if the password still worked. It did. Andrew quickly logged back out, in case someone caught sight of his screen or a red "Intruder Alert" started flashing. Another few days passed with nothing untoward and Andrew tried again. The password still worked. This time, he started to poke around the system. There were lots of commands in the system directory, and so he tried out some of the ones that seemed less likely to cause permanent damage. Turns out that Andrew had access to everything in the network, including the user data. By changing a few security settings, he set his own login to have the same access rights as the supervisor account.

As you might expect, the need for stealth was completely unnecessary. No one had a clue about the IT systems and there was no remote access to the network. So the two week gig became a massive learning opportunity. Near the end of his two weeks, a staff member at SmallishNicheCo moved from one office to another and needed her default printer changed. This is the type of taxing request which would usually take 5 days through the help desk. Andrew overheard when the employee requested a support visit. Not one to miss a chance, Andrew offered to make the change himself. He did so successfully and three months later was offered a full-time position that included IT in his list of responsibilities. Over time, Andrew continued to construct more of a position for himself, creating interactive reporting programs for senior managers. As time passed, the CEO came to rely on Andrew's programs for all of the sales/budget information. Eight years later, IT became his only responsibility and after 14 years, the company had grown to include an IT staff of three, all working under Andrew.

That's right. A full-fledged and successful career all launched on the back of a misplaced 'M'


Photo credit: SuperFantastic / Foter / CC BY

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