Business Hardware

Dirty Tech Jobs: The Muck Stops Here

Dirty Tech Jobs Countdown

Dirty IT job No. 7: Disconnect/reconnect specialist
Wanted: Able-bodied individuals with affinity for adapters, plugs, prongs, and dongles; willing to crawl under desks and squeeze into tight spaces that have never seen daylight. Strong stomach required.

Disconnect machines from one site, reconnect them at another. It sounded so simple Garth Callaghan couldn't quite believe someone would pay his company, 127tech, to do it. Now he employs three full-time employees and 30 contractors, who spend half their time unplugging and replugging machines for commercial movers in Richmond, Va.

But don't think they don't earn their money.

Most businesses have been in the same location for a long time, says Callaghan, and many of their employees haven't budged from their desks in 5 or 10 years. That can make for a rather mucky experience.

Occupational hazards include dust bunnies the size of basketballs, displays coated in soot, keyboards with enough food lodged in them to feed a small third-world country or, in one recent case, caked with a viscous layer of cosmetics.

In the three years his company has been in business, Callaghan and his crew have probably unplugged and replugged 10,000 workstations. But one in particular stands out.

"One day a couple of years ago, one of my crew members was struggling to get some cables loose from between a workstation and a wall," he says. "I said, 'Don't worry, I'm the owner of the company, I'll take responsibility if the cable breaks.' I grabbed the cable and started to shimmy it up. It wouldn't budge. Finally I yanked really hard. Out popped a bottle of Italian salad dressing, three-quarters empty. It had leaked all over the wall, the desk, and the computer. When I looked at the label I saw it was two years past its expiration date."

Callaghan says that while the experience did not put him off Italian dressing, it will be burned in his memory forever.

"My entire crew has to shower down after our job," he adds. "It's not quite 'Silkwood,' but sometimes it feels that way."

Dirty IT job No. 6: Data crisis counselor
Wanted: Empathetic individual able to withstand long bouts of unwarranted abuse; soothing phone manner and low blood pressure essential.

When disaster strikes and critical data goes down the memory hole, it can generate a gamut of unpleasant emotions -- tears, depression, guilt, hopelessness, and rage.

[ For more on the grimy side of IT, see the original 7 dirtiest jobs in IT. ]

It's Kelly Chessen's job to listen to it all. As a crisis counselor for data recovery firm DriveSavers, she's gotten calls from sobbing adults who've lost images or videos of their recently deceased parents. She's talked to dentists who were frantic because their systems went down and they have no idea what services their patients needed. She's logged hours with IT managers who lost entire Microsoft Exchange servers because they thought they knew how to implement RAID 5 but really didn't. Now their servers were dead, the backups were missing, and their jobs were on the line.

"I would talk to one IT guy one day and another IT guy from the same company the next day because the first guy had been fired," adds Chessen, whose job title really is Data Crisis Counselor.

Though she has an undergraduate degree in psychology, it was Chessen's five years on a suicide prevention line that best prepared her for her current position, which she was offered after a chance encounter with the president of the company. (No, he was not one of her callers, she hastens to note.)

Chessen says the worst call she ever received was from a small-business owner whose building had burned to the ground, taking all his computers with it. "He yelled at me for 30 minutes straight," says Chessen. "I didn't burn down his business. But after 5 or 10 minutes of yelling, it's hard not to take it personally."

It's a job your average IT person would be wholly unsuited for, agrees Chessen.

"Not everybody can do what I do for living," she says. "You need the skills, the background, and the patience. It's a dirty job, but it's also very rewarding, because we have a solution. In almost every case, we can get their data back for them, sometimes as quickly as 24 hours."

And on those rare instances when DriveSavers can't recover someone's data because the drives are simply too far gone? "I do grief counseling," she says.

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