#FAIL As A Tool For Nonprofit Techies

AC power plugs and sockets

Image via Wikipedia

I have to admit that I’ve been in a happy place since I saw the title of the most recent NTEN Connect edition dedicated to all of the talk around accidental techies in nonprofits. All of the features practically sing to me (yes, almost like an episode of Glee). But probably the one that I felt like I could really identify with was Case Study: An Accidental Techie #FAIL Story.

One of the reasons I feel so comfortable with Melissa Barber’s feature is that I really believe that one of the best ways that nonprofit techies (accidental and all others) can help each other out is to admit where we have failed. We shouldn’t be ashamed of what hasn’t worked out right in the past, because I think in ways you really learn from failing.

I do have lots of fail stories. I haven’t been working in technology for ten years (most of that as the accidental techie) without getting a vast catalog of fail stories. I’m also willing to share, because maybe my fail stories can help someone else with a project that is hampering them (Or at least it will provide some humor for those who have lived the same type of failures right along side me).

So, with much to fanfare, I must share my favorite all time fail story. It was probably about eight or nine years ago, when the word technology was just starting to sneak into my created job title and description. My agency only had a couple of servers, lots of new computers, a couple switches, and lots of problems. We had been bounced back and forth between vendors and our former support company a couple of times to the point that a board member gave us a random suggestion to try out.

Basically, something wasn’t communicating properly in our network and things would just stop working. The suggestion the board member gave us was to make sure that it had nothing to do with power. He told me to go around and unplug every computer, monitor, server, switch, printer – anything that could be remotely technology. It was a Friday night and at that time, I still had another part of my job that required me to coordinate an art opening that of course was occurring that evening also.

My direct supervisor at that time and myself slipped away from the art opening and started to pull plugs everywhere. We even double checked each other. Then we went into the server room and unplugged servers (we did do a shut down first), and we did the same with the switches. That’s when we realized the battery backups were running. As we did with all of the other equipment, we pulled out the power plugs, but the battery backups continued to have power. We rationalized that we had to run the power out so we started to plug things in like fans and other things to drain the power, but those battery backups didn’t seem to lose any power at all.

Finally, we called the board member but got no response. When he finally called back, we were in the server room just staring at the equipment. He asked us if we had turned the power off with the toggle switch. Looking over at my boss at the time, we both realized we had no idea what he was talking about. Laughing at us, the board member told me to pop the face plate off and to use the power button to turn off the battery backup.

The lessons did I learned that night?

  1. Always learn where the power buttons are on all new equipment when it comes in and if it is hidden behind a faceplate, keep the faceplate off.
  2. Try not to mix duties when doing something import.
  3. Pulling out all of the power didn’t fix the problem.

Ultimately we found out that the NIC cards of the brand new computers, of a brand I won’t name, didn’t communicate with switches that came from the same brand that I won’t name.  This brings me to one of my biggest lessons learned – the cheapest option isn’t always the best. We ultimately had to buy new switches (we weren’t going to replace over 45 NIC cards) and the problem for a while was solved.

I may have not learned these lessons at that time if I didn’t fail at doing that simple suggestion. I may not have learned that until it was even a bigger problem going on. I always know that I’ll remember that night (Ironically, I think it was a Friday the 13th too) and whenever I try to explain to others that failure isn’t a bad thing, this is the story I bring to the table. 

Thanks to Melissa Barber and NTEN for making me remember this valuable lesson.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Melissa Barber
    Mar 04, 2011 @ 00:07:23

    Thanks for the kudos!



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