User speak madness

One of the most valuable skills an engineer can possess is the ability to translate user speak into reality.  When a user presents you with the dreaded “the network is down” complaint, an engineer has to be able to decipher that gem of ambiguity into the actual issue at hand.  This can be tricky since users often conspire to give you only half the facts, and then misrepresent the other half. This is mostly because they are bored and us banging our heads in frustration provides them some entertainment value. Okay, that may or may not represent their actual (evil) intentions, but it’s safe to say you are rarely given a true picture of the situation when tossed in the troubleshooting pit.

For example, it was reported that all calls placed from a branch office to the central site were failing.  In addition, it was reported that the branch site could not reach voicemail, a centralized resource. No other sites were reporting issues so this presented like classic WAN link failure to the branch site.  However, when I logged into the Call Manager server and saw all the branch phones registered and happy, it was time to come up with a new theory.

So what looks like WAN failure but isn’t?  In this case, a series of unsuccessful pings to the voicemail server gave me all the information I needed.  It wasn’t at all that calls were failing to from the branch site to the central site as users had reported- it was that calls were ringing those extensions and then going to voicemail – which was currently DOWN.  The fact that calls were ringing four or five times before “failing” had been left out of the reports entirely.

This got me thinking about some of other infamous “translations” I’ve encountered that have helped hone my skills with user speak and caused me to develop a nervous twitch whenever the phone rings:

Report that the wireless was down. Meant that user was trying to connect to wireless from a workstation that didn’t have a wireless card.

Report that outbound dialing to a branch was broken for all users.  Meant that user was confused by the sound of dial tone, stopped dialing, and therefore never completed the calls. 

Report that the phone system couldn’t dial an outside phone number.  Meant that user was trying to dial a number that had been disconnected for years.

Report that the fax machine no longer worked.  Meant that user moved fax machine and plugged it into a dead wall jack.

Page that the paging system is down. Page received. You can guess what this meant about the user…

Please feel free to share your amusing encounters with user speak, would love to hear them!

16 thoughts on “User speak madness

  1. Ohhhh this one totally happened to me! –

    “Report that the phone system couldn’t dial an outside phone number. Meant that user was trying to dial a number that had been disconnected for years.”

    Oh and today, here’s one to add to your books –

    “Report that they cannot get to their voicemail by externally calling in. Meant that user was calling their own number but when they heard their own greeting, they hung up because “that was not supposed to happen”…….WHAT THEN WAS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN?” *Sigh*

  2. Heh, Amy… it’s funny that you made a blog about this when we were just talking about this same thing in one of the forums I’m in. I started a post about the infamous “The internet is down!” complaint.. which truthfully means either their email is down.. so we bounce the VM server.. or they just need to log back in because autodiscover/outlook anywhere is requiring re-authentication when they leave their machines on all the time.

    When “The internet is down!” is actually true, it’s generally.. hey, I can’t get on facebook.

    A lot of other guys commented on this as well with a lot of their “issues”. Heh. Good read.

  3. Many times I’ve had “the wireless is down” be the wireless is turned off on the laptop. This one has peaks that coincide with new laptop deployments.

    I’ve had them report the wireless is down and they’ve unplugged the AP in an attempt to be helpful. The logic of that always escapes me. Fortunately, users can’t get to most APs anymore.

    “The network” or “the Internet” (yes, the whole thing) is down turns out to be an outage of the homepage they’ve set in their browser. Alternatively, their primarily line of business app is offline.

    We’ve had the users call the Helpdesk when the power is out wanting us to fix it. We’ve had reports of network outages when the power is out, too. I’ll say in our users defense that I haven’t heard either of those for a long time.

  4. ROFL!! Love the paging system example! Here’s one you’ve probably run into: user send IT an EMAIL notifying that the EMAIL system is down…….lulz

  5. A page at 2am saying that their computer is dead… translation…. after getting dressed and driving in due to fruitless attempts to phone troubleshoot I found that the computer was powered off. I pressed the power button and then went home to go back to sleep.

  6. How about “email is down” because the user is trying to send to an address that doesn’t exist.

  7. “The Internet is down!” was the report. The next report was that the Internet was down for just a few people. The report after that was that the Internet was down just for one person. The report after THAT one was that the one user with the issue couldn’t get to a specific site, but other sites were okay. And the final report was that the one far away problematic Internet site was in fact available, just barfing errors.

    And they wonder why network engineers are cynics.

  8. My two best “Internet is Down!” anecdotes:

    1. Panicked call that everything was down during crucial state mandated testing. I arrived on site to find nothing was amiss. After talking to the user that still insisted there was a system-wide outage despite evidence to the contrary, I reached behind the computer and plugged the Ethernet cable in. Turns out one of the kids unplugged it as a joke.

    2. I happened to be on site working service calls when I was informed the Internet was down. I jumped on a computer and got right to Google, Yahoo, et al. The outage was sporadic with no rhyme or reason until I checked one of the affected machines. Turns out someone thought the web filter wasn’t doing its job and put a whole bunch of word pattern matches in the night before. One of those was “breast”. And MSN had a spotlight article that day about breast cancer awareness. Once I removed that pattern match, the Internet miraculously started working again.

  9. If I may share some of mine.

    The network was down = the user was blocked from shopping online, which we do not allow.

    This one still has me smh.

    Our time server was off an about 30 minutes, so the clocks on the pc’s were off, our bad. However, the bank has clocks on the wall and huge digital clock out in front of the branch, which synchronizes with the vendors time server. A manager actually closed the branch and turned customers away and then blamed IT for it.

  10. Some years ago I was working for a large ISP and at one point a colleague from the support team came to me with a problem that he had with a residential user. The user could not surf on Internet. My colleague check everything (cable modem, headend, cabling…) everything was fine. I took the call and ask the lady if her PC is ON or OFF?
    “What PC? Do you think I can afford a PC?” (?!) Somehow I understood that lady (90 years old).

    But I cannot understand 20 – 50 years old colleagues, who work in the communication business maybe longer than I do, that complain with “Internet is down”. Really? The whole Internet is down?

    Come on friends, a little bit of help doesn’t hurt anybody 🙂

  11. my server is down…..well dns returns X ip and you’re right, ping fails….this is not good enough, you network guys are out to get us…..ok I will check.

    After checkin all and finding nothing I come across a change control to switch the ip. Who submitted and implemented it? The same person who complained

    Did you try the new ip? ….what new ip…..the one you changed it to……well no. I didn’t know that, its your job to tell me

    True story. That dumb user was the team lead of the SAN team

  12. Report from a Lecture Theatre: The whole system is down, no-one can hear my Lecture. A visit to the Lecture Theatre shows that the microphone amp is switched off, but everything else is fine. Not a big deal. The amp is accessible to the user, but not in an obvious location. I helpfully explain, and show, how to turn it on.

    Exactly one week later: Same report. Same problem. Same user.

    I think it’s safe to say that, working in IT support, your tongue is permanently tattooed with teeth marks.

  13. Couple of minutes before I can call it a day I receive IM from US peer:
    “Alexandra, the WAN upgrade that we did end of last week … we need to back it out immediately. Site has very slow connection to server in datacenter.”
    “OK, so do you want me to start bridge and everything? Do we have local support on site to swap cables? Do we have … (yadda yadda). Wasn’t it X days ago? They should have tested it, confirmed all is working back then, why so sudden …?”
    “We were the last change they had on site. Can you test it again and send me results?” – and again, and again, showing that latency is OK, everything works, no errors on link, their business traffic is not utilizing given bandwidth at all, just some drops in lowest priority queue but that’s just general internet.
    30 more minutes …
    45 more minutes …
    Hour …
    “So what’s the result? Backing it out? Do you want me to join the bridge or …?”
    “Hold on, still discussing with them …”
    Tap tap tap. I wanna go home!
    “OK, I have asked local guy to contact their server team if they are doing something. He finally did. Sure enough, SAN had hard drive crash today and they are rebuilding array now. That’s why it is so slow.”

    Yeah, it’s always the network. (And always your service provider ;-))

  14. I often get “User unable to dial number”.

    To which, I have to fight mightily to find the restraint so that I do not ask if they have suffered a horrible maiming accident that has left all of their fingers heavily bandaged.

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