Hero of the hour

When trouble strikes, do you always come up covered in glory? This year's search for the Helpdesk Hero drew some great stories...

When trouble strikes, do you always come up covered in glory? This year's search for the Helpdesk Hero drew some great stories and showed just how much users still need the support of the long-suffering helpdesk gang. Nathalie Towner reports

The hunt for the UK's finest Helpdesk Hero is finally over. Helpdesk hopefuls from all around the UK sent in stories of speedy action in the face of emergencies, clarity at times of confusion and, above all, patience and humour when encountering downright stupidity.

The judges found Susan Walter to have demonstrated all the necessary attributes to make her this year's Helpdesk Hero. She has been an IT helpdesk analyst at Express Newspapers for three years and, despite the stress of working for a bunch of journalists, colleagues describe her as always having a smile on her face and willing to help anyone.

Her winning story shows how she was able to drawn on all her hidden strength to rise to the challenge of helping the most difficult group of users: journalists.

Susan Walter's winning story
"We had a call come into our helpdesk from a journalist complaining that his monitor was blurry and he was sure someone had changed it overnight as it didn't look familiar. We explained to the user that we were currently doing no changes overnight, but it was possible that the monitor had defocused and that we would bring him a new monitor up. We took the new monitor to the user and as we got closer the smell of alcohol grew stronger. We approached the heavily-sweating journalist and had a look at the monitor, which looked perfect, but the user insisted that it was blurred. After a few minutes of polite conversation about the sharpness of the monitor a colleague of the user turned up, saying, "Hello Barry. You left your glasses in the wine bar last night."

Choosing the winner was no easy feat as helpdesk workers' daily battle to keep the nation working gives them plenty of opportunities to witness weird and wonderful behaviour. Here are some other examples of their heroic deeds.

Julie Dearsley
"A user requested that we change the sticky labels print as it was not fitting onto her labels. The same basic report was used throughout the company and all the printers were set up identically and everybody else's fitted perfectly. She sent us the said labels and, sure enough, there was a character offset. Two applications people, two database specialists and a PC support person spent hours over a period of days trying to decipher this problem.

"We eventually went over to watch her going through the process. She set off the print function from the menu, previewed the labels (everything fine so far) then she put plain paper into the printer. She printed the labels off on this plain paper and then set about photocopying them onto sticky labels!"

Patrick Naughton
"I was working on a helpdesk a few years back. We were remotely supporting large DEC Vax servers and we were none too well equipped with remote monitoring tools. These things looked like large metal wardrobes and were not very friendly. Most of the support calls had to be handled by phone, which didn't exactly help. One day a guy rang up in a panic and told us his 'box had gone over'. The support guy who took the call asked for the error message on the screen. 'There isn't one,' came the reply. 'Look I know you won't understand it but what's written on the screen?' The guy on the other end of the phone was getting quite perplexed. 'No you don't understand. We were playing darts and one went under the box. We lifted it up to get the dart back and the box went over'. Getting that box back up again was a real heroic act I can tell you - as anyone who's ever tried to lift one will verify."

Russell Levan
"A prospective supplier called to ask for directions to our office. He had got lost when using his satelite navigation system in his car. He had, in fact, entered in the post code for our office, but it is a postbox address.

This meant he was sitting outside the Bristol Central Sorting Office rather than our building. I had to talk him in - via mobile phone."

Some of the stories sent in simply reflected the hard work and dedication of our helpdesk colleagues.

Gayna Dennis
"It was a glorious sunny morning in a leafy Middlesex village. For some reason I decided to switch off the monitors attached to our three file servers. Several hours later, the sun disappeared and the heavens opened. A short while after the storm began, someone came into my office and informed me that 'there is a bit of water in the photocopy room'. The 'bit of water' was in fact quite a lot of water. Perhaps it was the leaky guttering funnelling the rain in through the window; perhaps the improperly sealed hole in the wall where some ISDN lines had been installed letting the water seep through; or perhaps both, since the room is four feet below ground level. All I saw was that water coming in through the window was pouring in on top of the monitors, the water on the floor was already about an inch deep - and, of course, the servers were all on the floor. Shouting to everyone that the network was about to go down, I ran into the room, and downed the servers as quickly as possible. I rounded up as many men as I could fit into the room (this IT haven is a mere ten by eight feet), and got them to lift while I propped the servers up on bricks. It was only later, on my hands and knees with a pile of newspapers mopping up that I realised what could have happened. If I had left the monitors on. Our data, e-mail and accounts servers would have probably fried."

Others were just simply ridiculous

Rory Isserow
"I travelled to the Far East for a client because their system had gone down 'dead with no sign of revival', only to find when I got there that the cleaners had removed the plug to do the hoovering. This call-out cost the client £3,500 for the flight and £1,500 for my three-minute visit. Suffice it to say this has never happened again."

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