House of IT Horrors

Who needs ghosts and goblins, haunted houses, and smashed pumpkins, when sometimes your most harrowing horrors are only steps away from your technology desk?

Ghosts and goblins, haunted houses, and smashed pumpkins—sometimes the most harrowing horrors are only steps away from your cubicle or office.

Just ask Steven Calderon.

Calderon was in his second week working as security guard for Frys Electronics when Anaheim, Calif., police walked in and arrested him for crimes including child molestation and rape.

Frys had requested a background check on Calderon, which was done by The Screening Network, a service of ChoicePoint, the $1 billion-a-year data broker based in Alpharetta, Ga. When it came up with criminal warrants and felony charges, nobody—not Frys, not the police—stopped to ask if the data supplied by ChoicePoint was accurate.

Calderon spent a week in jail for crimes he didnt commit because an identity theft report hed filed in Norwalk, Calif., in 1993 wasnt connected with the criminal files that were created in his name.


He went to jail for an IT error.

While, fortunately, not all IT disasters are of these cataclysmic proportions, every weathered IT professional has an all-too-real eerie tale about a day when everything went wrong. Even 10 and 50 years later, these pros retell their horror stories with a startling sharpness, more haunting than ghost stories.

Invasion of the Inept VP

John Mitchell (not his real name), a senior support analyst with an insurance company in Madison, Miss., like many worker bees, had his most chilling IT calamity at the hands of a higher-up who believed he had it all figured out.

"A senior VP, who fashions himself a programmer, decided to install the latest version of Visual Studio 2005 before we, the IT staff, had a chance to test it. Once installed, his code no longer worked. His solution? He uninstalled a previous version of Visual Studio," said Mitchell.


Peter Coffee looks back at almost 25 years of IT screwups.

Click here

to see the slide show.

Mitchells IT group came to find out that he had not one or two, but three different versions of Visual Studio on his machine.

"Yes, we should be able to control this since were IT, but weve been warned against stifling a users creativity, which loosely translates into Hes a VP. What are you going to do, tell him no?"

Adding insult to injury, the VP put in a Severity 1 trouble ticket, which was supposed to mean that he was incapable of continuing the duties of his job until it was fixed, when it was really more of a Severity 3. Mitchells group, however, had no choice but to drop everything and make this machine their first priority.

"Our programming staff attempts to decipher his code but cant because it seems theyre not trained in early Egyptian hieroglyphics," said Mitchell. "It then gets transferred to me. I turn his machine inside out trying to make this thing work. I uninstalled and reinstalled every VB application on his computer multiple times, manually cleared the registry, Googled every variation of broken Visual Studio 2005 I could think of, lit a few candles, said a few prayers, but nothing worked.

"Meanwhile, the VP, who took the day off, made sure to phone every 2 hours for updates and to offer suggestions. For two solid days, I monkeyed with the problem, but couldnt fix it. His code continued to crash."

So what happened? Mitchell came in to work on the morning of the third day to a voice mail from the VP who was driving him up the wall, in which he said that while he had been at the office that weekend, he realized that hed mistyped a character in his data collection string. Once he made the change, the code worked perfectly.

"You can close the ticket, he told me," Mitchell said. "Fortunately, my office has double-insulated walls; if not, Id be telling you this from the unemployment line."

Next page: Dawn of the Dismal Data Conversion.