Every change breaks someones workflow.

A few years ago, Ian started at one of the many investment banks based out of London. This particular bank was quite proud of how they integrated “the latest technology” into all their processes, “favoring the bleeding edge,” and “are always focusing on Agile methods, and cross-functional collaboration.”

That last bit is why every software developer was on a tech support rotation. Every two weeks, they’d have to spend a day sitting with the end users, watching them work. Ostensibly, by seeing how the software was actually used, the developers would have a better sense of the users’ needs. In practice, they mostly showed people how to delete emails or recover files from the recycling bin.

Unfortunately, these end users also directly or indirectly controlled the bank’s budgeting process, so keeping them happy was a big part of ensuring continued employment. Not just service, but service with a smile- or else.

Ian’s problem customer was Jacob. Jacob had been with the bank at least thirty years, and still longed for the days of lunchtime brandy and casual sexual harassment. He did not like computers. He did not like the people who serviced his computer. He did not like it when a web page displayed incorrectly, and he especially did not like it when you explained that you couldn’t edit the web page you didn’t own, and couldn’t tell Microsoft to change Internet Explorer to work with that particular website.

“I understand you smart technical kids are just a cost of doing business,” Jacob would often say, “but your budget is out of control. Something must be done!”

Various IT projects proceeded apace. Jacob continued to try and cut their budget. And then the Windows 7 rollout happened.

This was a massive effort. They had been on Windows XP. A variety of intranet and proprietary applications didn’t work on Windows 7, and needed to be upgraded. Even with those upgrades, everyone knew that there would be more problems. These big changes never came without unexpected side effects.

The day Jacob got Windows 7 imaged onto his computer also happened to be the day Ian was on helldesk duty. Ian got a frantic email:

My screen is broken! Everything is wrong! COME TO MY DESK RIGHT NOW, YOUNG MAN

Ian had already prepared, and went right ahead and changed Jacob’s desktop settings so that they as closely mimicked Windows XP as possible.

“That’s all fine and good,” Jacob said, “but it’s still broken.”

Ian looked at the computer. Nothing was broken. “What… what exactly is the problem?”

“Internet Explorer is broken!”

Ian double clicked the IE icon. The browser launched just fine, and pulled up the company home page.

“No! Close that window, and look at the desktop!”

Ian did so, waiting for Jacob to explain the problem. Jacob waited for Ian to see the problem. They both sat there, waiting, no one willing to move until the other had gone.

Jacob broke first. “The icon is wrong!”

Ah, yes, the big-blue-E of Windows XP had been replaced by the big-blue-E of Windows 7.

“This is unacceptable!” Jacob said.

Ian had already been here for most of the morning, so a few more minutes made no difference. He fired up image search, grabbed the first image which was an XP era IE icon, and then set that as the icon on the desktop.

Jacob squinted. “Nope. No, I don't like that. It’s too smooth.”

Of course. Ian had grabbed the first image, which was much higher resolution than the original icon file. “I… see. Give me a minute.”

Ian went back to his desk, resized the image, threw it on a network share, went back to Jacob’s desk, and changed the icon.

“There we are,” Jacob said. “At least someone on your team knows how to support their users. It’s not just about making changes willy-nilly, you know. Good work!”

That was the first and only honest compliment Jacob ever gave Ian. Two years later, Ian moved on to a new job, leaving Jacob with his old IE icon, sitting at the same desk he’d been since before the Internet was even a “thing”.

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