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!