Bombs, bad Chinese food and Pranks

I have a story to tell, I am not sure if I am still connected through LinkedIn with Mark, but if I am, this story is about you. 

I used to be the team leader at Tele*** (nowadays Spark)New Zealand in the late 90s and had a great team of Sys admins (they paid me to say this), most were good and one of them (lets call him G) was a bit of an a.s – he was older than the rest of the team and a legacy of the old business. An ex army sergeant with an attitude which did not help connecting with the younger and newer team members, in this story though he did the right thing despite having known who sent the printout (hang in there) ……


The other critical character in this story was ‘M’, now M was a real joker and as a team we pulled a lot of pranks, simply to keep work interesting and also to pass the time. 


For today G and M and the Netware Print queues and HP printers are the story along with the Police, SAS, Army, Ambulance and the Fire department ……


I, like many of the personalities I have had the fortune of working with like a little prank especially in the workplace as it makes it fun and keeps everyone on their toes and of course I know there are things you just can not do as they have the potential to escalate out of hand. 
But M was a little younger and more immature and did not have the same sense of Catastrophic Consequence Awareness (Capitalised for effect), today CCA was going to be at 100%.
Day to day activities for our team mostly involved a help desk support queue and managing calls related to Netware 3, Netware 4, GroupWise 4 and 5 as well as managing the printers for the organisation, NDS for those of you who have experienced it was equally wonderful and problematic at the same time!
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On this fateful day M receives a Netware Print Queue support ticket and immediately starts on fixing the problem, Printer queue is not showing any errors and so he sends print job to the printer, at the same time I decide its lunch time and as was our practise, call for whomever wants to come along for sit down Chinese (not good Chinese food!) for lunch, four of us including M head down the road to this upstairs restaurant/karaoke/bar – not at the same time of course. 


Lunch was great as always (because of the company not the food) and strangely midway through while we were still eating, a fire engine with sirens went past, then police cars with sirens blaring, then a few more emergency vehicles, finally a couple of Grey Nissan Patrols with roof frames and blacked out windows also zoomed past our lunch venue – I later found out these were the Bomb squad.


Weird situation for Wellington Central (Panasonic house for those who remember) we are all thinking when it dawned on M that maybe this was due to him, immediately M’s face turned pale almost white, as the blood drained from his extremities to protect his vital organs as happens in a “fight or flight”, you know – facing a tiger in the jungle with only a stick as a weapon, or in a “do or die” horror situation …… when M quietly states “F..k, I do not Bloody believe this” and something along the lines of “I am dead” and “Oh My God”.
Wellington NEC house now, Used to be Panasonic House
Our hearts racing, we ran back to Panasonic House in Wellington which now had a large cordoned off area surrounding the buildings and all major intersections. All buildings had been evacuated and at least 500 office workers are standing around on the streets waiting for news or to be allowed back to their desks.
In attendance from the official side was the who’s who of any terrorist response to a major infrastructure threat, very impressive to look at when you are not caught up in the reason for their attendance.
What M had done to test the printer queue before we left for lunch was to send a “comical” print job to the printer and had asked G to go and get the print output, the print job he had sent contained the words “There is a bomb in this building” obviously not a smart choice of test print but he expected G to take the paper, laugh and know it was M’s attempt at comedy.
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As G was much more experienced and bombs are not something to joke about, especially when you are ex-army or moderately intelligent. G picked up the print job read the message and immediately called the Police, for good or bad he could not have known for sure that it was M’s test print job…..
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M was still white as a ghost in the knowledge that his career as a sys admin was about to be over while we were standing on the roadside and asked me what to do, I suggested he should probably go and talk to the police which led to a rapid de-escalation of the situation. 
As for the outcome to M’s career? He was suspended for 2 weeks, many managers tried to constructively fire him and in the end he came back to work to never pull such a stunt again (that I know about)….
What I learnt from this experience is:
Know everyone on your team – their weaknesses and their strengths, work hard together, have fun together but always let your colleagues know when they are going too far. It is so easy to have an explosive escalation that can be career changing for people….. oh and Netware really was rubbish! But so was Windows NT 4

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