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Yes, I AM an employee of the company - true tales from an ex-IT support man Episode 13

If you’ve ever seen the UK TV series “The IT Crowd”, you’ll be familiar with a support department, unloved and sited in obscure rooms in the basement of an otherwise well-appointed building. While this is more a caricature of
the actual situation, quite often the IT support team is ignored, taken for granted, treated dismissively – call it what you will, but we are ghosts who work in the shadows.  Elves, if you like…

A perfect example is when my little boss and I (and by “little” I mean vertically challenged, at least compared to me!) were installing various pieces of equipment, we were treated by certain users as external contractors and with the associated contempt usually suffered at the hands of snotty full-time employees of the client company.

The dress-code of the company for which we worked was to be suited and booted, as it was a bank in the City of London, but crawling around under desks and, even worse under the false flooring under which all the data and communications cables were routed.  This wasn’t conducive to retaining the required “look” so, to protect our clothing I requested that I be allowed to purchase a boiler suit.  My guvnor (let’s call him Scott) already had one he’d inherited from his father who used to work as an engineer and had given it over to Scott some time before.

Being less than diminutive in stature I searched around for a suitable piece of garb and the only one I could find that NEARLY fitted me was a fluorescent orange one-piece boiler suit I sourced in a local Army & Navy surplus store.  I say “NEARLY” as the fit was somewhat snug, and to wear it I had to remove my suit and wear it against the skin, so to speak.  Also, the zip at the front didn’t go all the way up to my neck and, as I was somewhat hirsute (my wife said that watching me undress was like watching a mattress burst) my hairy chest was on display.

At the time, one of the TV shows on the box was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (Gil Gerard as Buck, Mel Blanc as the voice of Twiki, the little silver android). Whilst Buck (on the TV) wore a white jumpsuit, and my one was
bright orange, Scott’s was white(ish) and given the size differentials between Scott and me and Buck and Twiki, we became known as Buck and Twiki in our department.

So, there we were, installing some phones in the trading area for the chief secretary/administrator.  This involved us crawling under her desk and ripping up tiles and floor panels to connect the various cables and, to keep clean we were wearing the coveralls. We had been there for about 20 minutes, and we kept the lady under whose desk we were working informed of what was going on, during which time we got the distinct impression that she just wanted us out of the way and was treating us, as described above, like outside contractors. Once the physical installation was complete, we showed her how to use the system, gave her some advice on tips and tricks, who to call if there were problems etc. It was during this show and tell session that she said to us “You’re very conscientious for BT engineers”, at which point both Scott and I explained we were bank employees.

Her attitude towards us immediately changed.  “Would you like a coffee?” she asked. We accepted the offer and then chatted with her for a few more minutes – she was far less aggressive towards us and from then on, whenever there was a support call in her area she
would always come over and offer us coffee or tea.

This incident prompted me to get a permanent, thick-tipped marker and write “Yes, I AM an employee of the company” across the back of the outfit. We never had the same issues again. Every time we went to a support call, either with or without the boiler suits, we were always greeted with smiles and coffee.

The orange boiler suit was something I used to wear whenever I had to crawl about on the floor, but sometimes even I noticed that when I walked into the room with my hairy chest on display, I felt the eyes of some of the women drilling into my body – whether it was with admiration or disgust, I never discovered but, given the billing and cooing around us I suspect it was the former: I like to think I was the forerunner of the Diet Coke gardener. (Well, I can
dream, can’t I?)

At this stage of my career in IT, I was getting itchy and eventually requested an internal transfer to one of the sister companies to expand my experience by branching out into other technical areas, but not before two other incidents, not directly IT related but nevertheless worthy of mentioning here.

The first, was when I received a call, again to HR in the building across the street (see episode 12).  As I entered the building, I saw the lift doors at the end of the lobby open but in the process of closing, so I sprinted towards the doors shouting, “Hold the lift!” and got there just in time to squeeze through, but still carrying some momentum as I entered the car.
Whoever was inside had heard me yelling and was leaning forward to (I like to believe) press the open-door button.  I could be wrong, but that’s what I believe. Anyway, my momentum carried me through the doors and without being able to stop I hit the back of the lift.  I say “the back of the lift” but what actually happened was that I hit the chap who was holding the door open and flattened him onto the back wall of the lift.

I immediately and profusely apologised and helped the poor bloke up from the floor and asked him if he was okay. It was at this point that I realised I had flattened my first celebrity (subsequently, I have had contact with at least half a dozen celebrities in similar ways) and as he got up, I saw it was Bobby Charlton. He was getting out at the 1st floor of the building, but I felt guilty at landing on him, so I exited the lift with him and made sure he was alright, sitting him down in the waiting area and asking the receptionist for a glass of water for him. He was really nice about it, and he even offered me a couple of tickets to the England game at Wembley that evening (which I declined – I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t really like British football – gridiron all the way, for me). What a guy!

The next incident was the last day of my time at the bank.  This happened to coincide with the Christmas party for the company, a lavish affair, black tie, ball gowns, in a sprauncy Mayfair hotel. It was common knowledge that I was leaving for pastures new, and everyone was coming over to wish me luck. The party invitations were numbered, and these were effectively raffle tickets for prizes given out later in the evening. The big boss of the firm (not necessarily an accurate description of him as he was as vertically challenged as Scott) was drawing the numbers and, to my delight, I won the star prize – I still reckon it was fixed as a token of appreciation for my services. When I got up, the whole room  was cheering so I think I may have been the only one not aware already that I was going to “win”.

I went up to the stage and received the prize  (a VHS recorder – all the vogue in 1984) from the boss and then, as I went to walk back to my table, he stopped me and gave a really nice speech thanking me for the work I had done for the company – he was also leaving after that evening, returning to his native America. However, I don’t think he had an inkling that he, himself, had been set up by the management team. From the back of the hall erupted a cry “THERE HE IS” and this dumpy, heavily made-up woman in a blue taffeta dress came striding across the dance floor towards the stage. The boss stopped in his tracks – he would have been better to have attempted an escape as, once she got to the stage, she manhandled him to the floor and then sat on him in reverse-cowgirl fashion and proceed to bounce up and down on him, completely knocking the wind out of him.
Eventually, once the laughter had died down and she had dismounted, he struggled to his feet to raucous and rapturous applause. He was another nice guy.

It was a great way to close that chapter of my career and I still speak to some of the chaps from that time in my life.