back to article A hotline to His Billness? Or a guard having a bit of a giggle?

You can never be sure who is on the other end of the on-call phone. It might be a minion... but sometimes it might be the master. Or maybe not. Today's story is another from Register reader Alessandro (not his name) and takes us back to the glory days before Microsoft Exchange, when Microsoft Mail was all the rage (sort of). …

  1. John Sager

    Not anything like that. I once found it impossible to find the reference book for the SPARC instruction set, so in pure frustration I emailed Scott McNealy, pointing out that Intel had all this stuff on their website. He emailed me back and the book arrived by return of post. I don't suppose I would get the same response from good ol' Larry.

    1. PM from Hell

      Sunos Documentation

      I was managing a Business driven project around that time. The Director of IT was in a turf war with the director of the division I was working in and had refused to co-operate on the project. I was brought in by an IT Division Program Manager to manage the Project with a team of developers employed by the Energy Trading Division. All the SunOS documentation (paper manuals and CD's) was locked in a filing cabinet in thew IT offices and we were based at the HQ building.

      The Tech Support team refused access to the documentation and although I had experienced developers on the Unix O/S they were being caught out by SunOs's idiosyncrasies As the technical support team wouldn't, at that point, register a support account for me with Sum we had no access to any technical documentation.

      In the end I found copies of the documentation we needed on the University of Alaska's student support site which thankfully didn't need any credentials to log-in.

      The Turf War was sorted out in the end after a stand up fight between my boss and the Director of IT who finally realized failure of the project would come home to bite him. Once relations were re-established I was offered copies of the manuals, I just rejected them telling the techs that I had an on-line source.

    2. 20TC

      In a similar vein, I was having big, on-going problems with an expensive leased line (about 15 years ago) and finally, in frustration, I emailed of the board of directors I found on their website.

      Problem fixed a day later....

      Still works even to this day for many firms, I'm sure. But they have a more efficient "We take your complaint very seriously and [insert bollocks here]" answer rather than just getting it done.

      1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

        If you email the CEO of BT with a complaint you get put through to an assigned English support bod.

        I tried it in frustration a couple of years ago thinking it was bollocks, but it actually worked. The person regularly phoned me up and let me know what was going on.

        My problem was actually fixed, which would have been impossible with the off-shore call centre. My problem was with BT taking over my phone line but not switching on my Internet, so breaking my previous ISP's Internet and the call centre repeatedly lying ( for example saying they booked an engineer to shut me up that the next support person couldn't find in the system ).

        This is the reply I got first:

        Hello Mr [redacted],

        Thanks for your email to Gavin Patterson.

        Sorry for the problems you’re having, one of the senior complaint team will be in touch on Monday.

        We’re here up to 7pm so don’t worry if it’s late in the day. It doesn’t mean we’re not working on it. We like to investigate and get things moving as quickly as we can.

        If you’re a bit worried or something’s changed just drop us a note to

        As we’ve now taken sole ownership of your complaint, can we ask you not to contact any other departments within BT, as this may cause some confusion.

        Many thanks for your patience in the meantime.

        Best wishes,

        Vicky [redacted]

        Chairman and Chief Executive's Service Team – BT Consumer

        1. cosmodrome

          I feel your pain. I had exactly the same problem with Deutsche Telekom some 15 years ago. Including customer support that kept on telling me they had resolved the issue which was impossible because they had no write privileges on their customer database (to change one single number from 10 to 11 that caused all the chaos). I was without internet for almost six months until I finally got through to somebody who gave me a (temporary) number for actual, working support after they had realized they had also been billing me for a non-existing number for two years and would probably lose a lawsuit and experience a(nother) PR disaster if I sued them. Which I would because absolutely everything else I tried had failed.

          1. PM from Hell

            Bloody Sales Databases

            I bought a house on a new build estate with the promise that broadband was on its way. We put up with months of disruption while Openreach laid a fibre from the exchange all the way through the town center to a Distribution point on the outskirts of the development. We then had to wait for another 3 months for someone to activate the postcodes on BT's sales database. Ironically my next door neighbor was a network tech manager for BT's outsourcing division but he was as powerless as the rest of us. When the sales database was finally turned on they missed off one post code. My ate who was relying on broadband arriving to reduce the number of 100 mile commutes each week was waiting for broadband for another 6 months.

        2. Cian_

          I actually worked on that support team well over a decade ago, it was outsourced and split between the UK and Ireland at the time, and also handled anything that had come in from Ofcom. Agents had refund capabilities and priority technician bookings.

          Would make you wonder why anyone would ever use the main system for support!

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I kept getting flyers, emails from BT about how good their broadband was, but as a retired employee I knew better. I got so fed up that I worked out & checked on the net the e-mail of the guy who supposedly signed the flyer, listing all the features of a good ISP service that I already had and knew BT would be unlikely ever to provide. A day or two later I got a phone call from someone in the Chairman's office who deals with escalations and he explained that he could put me on a no-contact list but then I wouldn't get any marketing stuff from any part of BT. Suits me I said, and the stuff has been gone for a few years now.

        4. ITMA Silver badge

          I've done the same with the CEO of BT OpenReach and, after some carefully worded email interactions with the (very helpful) person assigned to resolve the problem, achieved what few others seem to have been able to do:

          Have an EO (Exchange Only) phone line's copper, rerouted so that it goes through the nearest FTTC enabled cabinet and thus be able to upgrade a site from plain old ADSL to 80/20 FTTC.

        5. irrelevant

          We had similar results emailing the chairman's office of Powergen some years ago over an issue that the regular customer "service" bods couldnt get their head around and kept kicking to the kerb. (Due to a sequence of takeovers, the company we had originally signed up with were no more, and nobody had sent us any bills for about 18 months, then powergen sent us an outrageous one. By quoting their own letters and procedures back at them, and with somebody dealing with it who actually had power to make decisions, it was reduced considerably, then compensation for all the errors reduced it still further, to the point where it was cheap!)

      2. Liam Proven Silver badge

        Can confirm

        I was for a year the last line of support and complaints for a prominent Czech antivirus vendor. (I was old; I needed the money.)

        This is 100% true. There was a special route that led from the CEO to the VP of customer services to me. If someone mailed the CEO, it led to a brief in-person visit, followed by all-out effort to get it fixed ASAP, come what may. Money back, extension of contract, lifetime free product, free remote-control cleanup service, whatever it took.

        I used this with SleazyJet once after being given the run-around by their customer-careless line. It worked then, too.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge is a useful resource. Usually the issue gets referred to an escalation team. Sometimes the escalation teams work and sometimes they're utterly useless. An example of the latter is one of the major courier companies that insists on their drivers using GPS coordinates instead of addresses and after extensive correspondence have still failed to correct those for our house.

        I discovered the power of chairman/CEO complaints the wrong way. We used to send out work orders by fax modem (IIRC we shared the queue berween 3 of them). The fax numbers were in the database so there was no chance of fat fingering the number. Or so we thought. One of the recipients had two faxes and for some reason set up call forwarding at night. Manually. So one night the fax we were sending to was forwarded to not quite the same number which was a private line. The next morning I was trying to work out why the fax queue had failed when the rocket from HQ arrived.

      4. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: Still works even to this day for many firms

        Exactly! Once I had a cable TV installation crew break a transom window in my flat (the guy got shocked and flew from the ladder into the window) They said they would get in touch to fix it and I tried contacting the company several times being told over and over that they would "look into it".

        I got fed up and one morning faxed the company's CEO complaining about it and had a (his?) secretary call me that same afternoon scheduling a glazier's visit the next day.

      5. anothercynic Silver badge


        This used to work (I haven't tried since he left) at Amazon.

        As a 20+ year customer at the world's most favourite tax-ahem-efficient book and everything else bazaar, when I found that there were issues with customer service or things in the web flows that led to some bad handling of parcels, I used to email Jeff the man himself.

        Although he didn't respond himself, his executive assistants and later the 'executive customer care' team would respond and endeavour to resolve the problem.

        Of course, things change... I don't think emailing the Jeff will quite work the way it used to anymore now that he's spending all his time building space ships and whatnot.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well...

          That'd be ECR or "Executive Customer Relations" team. They handle complaints directed to Uncle Jeff, or senior Amazon personnel, and also issues which are escalated beyond a regular "manager" (escalation line personnel).

          It still works, but honestly unless you really need them, it's almost always faster to explain to the appropriate team or escalate to that team's escalation line.

          Anon for reasons ;)

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: Well...

            That's the one!! Clearly you must be security to know all these things ;-)

            *rolls eyes at spectacularly bad joke*

      6. swm

        At Xerox, all top management had to spend 3 hours on the help line. The theory was that if they couldn't fix it something was seriously wrong. Also, this gave top management an idea of what customers thought of Xerox. Some of these top mangers said it was a real eye opener.

        1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

          That management technique has been around a while

          As I recall, several of the 1001 Nights tales begin something like this: "In order to learn how things were among the people, Caliph Harun al-Rashid went out one night into the streets of Baghdad, dressed as a beggar."

          Harun was a historical figure (b 763 or 766, d 809). Whether he actually did as the tales tell, I don't know, but even if not, those tales are themselves probably 1000 years old.

        2. JimboSmith Silver badge

          At Xerox, all top management had to spend 3 hours on the help line. The theory was that if they couldn't fix it something was seriously wrong. Also, this gave top management an idea of what customers thought of Xerox. Some of these top mangers said it was a real eye opener.

          Had the same at another company where somebody used the suggestion box. They thought it would be interesting for the executive board directors to spend a day doing a job in their division. Brilliant idea because it gave them all a chance to see what their staff were complaining about. When for example someone said the software they had to use was sh!t or a procedure was full of pointless steps, the directors now had experience of it and listened. One of them was treated as a full team member for that day. He was invited out for lunch with the team and Friday night drinks that evening

          1. ITMA Silver badge

            "They thought it would be interesting for the executive board directors to spend a day doing a job in their division."

            That would be a brilliant idea for a TV series :)

            Bollocks - some bugger has thought of it already...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not work related, but I once bought an old game on budget re-release. The activation key didn't work, so I contacted support. I was basically accused of piracy and got a bit pissed off. As the publisher was a plc, I could get the name of the CEO fairly easily, so guessed his email address and emailed him directly forwarding the email trail with the support guy.

      Got a working key and profuse apology from the tech rep shortly after.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I emailed Scott McNealy, pointing out that Intel had all this stuff on their website. He emailed me back and the book arrived by return of post. I don't suppose I would get the same response from good ol' Larry.

      Larry maybe, not Safra.

      McNealy had a famous open-email policy, anyone in the company could mail him with a business question or suggestion and would always get a polite response. If it was a dumb question or idea the response might be "Talk to your manager.", but no worse.

      Not long after the acquisition, someone decided to mail Safra with a suggestion. The response, CCed to his manager, was something like: "How dare you email me directly. If you do it again, you and your manager will be fired.". Says it all, really.

  2. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    A bit disappointing, actually

    Getting BillG on the phone on a Friday night is amusing as an urban legend. If true, the "automated escalation" procedure is impressive (was it in place only for Mail?) for the times before the invention of Tech Support. So, all in all, a good story.

    Having said that, I understand that the poor Alessandro was a bit uncertain of himself and quite a bit whacked out at 4AM on Saturday. But I am still disappointed a bit that he missed the opportunity to continue with "Well, Mr. Gates, so would you mind terribly to help me with filing this bug report?" and see what would happen next...

  3. Mishak Silver badge

    the (painful) Microsoft system

    I remember trying to report a bug I ran into with VS6. I called the support number and, after a long time in a number of queues, I finally got through to someone of the support desk.

    Me: "I would like to report a bug with VS that is holding up our project".

    MS: "Sorry, but you are not qualified to say it is a bug; I will have to arrange for the engineering team to collect some data before we will accept your report as a defect. What makes you think it is a bug"?

    Me: "Well, it just spat out "Compiler internal error. Please contact support""!

    1. haiku

      Re: the (painful) Microsoft system

      In the pre-PC daze of yore I once tried to report a compiler error for an HP3000:

      HP: Sir, you cannot report a compiler error via the telephone.

      Me: Why not ?

      HP: Your bronze support level does not allow telephone call support !

      Me: I am trying to do you guys a favour ...

      HP: I am sorry sir ...

      Me: Ah well, I will have to speak to the company's lawyers about being sold defective goods.

      HP: Defective goods ??

      Me: Yup, the compiler that sold us has bugs and is not fit for purpose.

      HP: Every compiler has a bug or two.

      Me: I know that and you know that, but will the judge know that ?

      They accepted my bug report via the telephone ... :)

    2. Mast1

      Re: the (painful) <insert company name> system

      Last century : Using a new analogue chip, I found that in order for it to work, I had to have two conditions satisfied, rather than just one, as the data sheet had implied.

      Phone call to technical support, UK importer :

      Me : I have an issue with a new chip of yours. The XXXX.

      Them : Oh, have not heard of problems with that.

      Me : I would like to report a bug

      Them: We do not have a procedure for that.

      "Data sheets: an expression of hope rather than fact." (source : a friend)

      1. Mishak Silver badge

        Data sheets: an expression of hope rather than fact

        I was recently selecting a CPU for a new project. One from Company A looked good. I then found the 56 page "Errata Sheet"* that showed a lot of major features didn't really work, even with the latest silicon revision.

        There was no workaround for one of these, so I asked if there were plans to fix it in the next revision. I was told "no", so, as the project would not be able to meet its functional safety requirements (which the device claimed to support), the search resumed...

        * I would call that a book, not a sheet.

        1. Mast1

          Re: Data sheets: an expression of hope rather than fact

          "book, not a sheet"

          How about "a compendium" : a very nice but under-used word.

          1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge


            As in The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing? The word "algebra" is derived from its Arabic title, al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabr wal-muqābala. (al-jabr, it seems, refers to the operation of adding a number to both sides of an equation.)

            The book's author was Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī. From his name, we get "algorithm".

      2. ibmalone

        Re: the (painful) <insert company name> system

        You : I would like to report a bug

        Them: We do not have a procedure for that.

        You: I would like to report two bugs.

  4. TiredNConfused80

    Hunt Groups

    "Back in the '90s," Alessandro told us, "a 'hunt group number' was a special number that grouped a number of phone numbers.""

    Pretty sure that's still true in 2021..

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Hunt Groups

      Very likely. The mere mention of it raised memories.

      One of the problems with over-escalating them was the realisation that if you picked up on the hunt-group ring (all the phones ringing simultaneously* is the big clue) it might well have been escalated from some group for which you couldn't possibly substitute. That made it a good personal policy not to answer any hunt group calls.

      * That might not necessarily be the case. The unanswered phone on the builders' merchants counter yesterday started passing the call round several extensions in succession so that it could be serially ignored.

      1. Colonel Mad

        Re: Hunt Groups

        Whenever I've been in a Builders Merchant, the phone, the coffee, the cat, anything, takes priority over the poor sap standing at the counter.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: Hunt Groups

          Yes, tends to be because walk-ins are the worst for the staff to deal with, and bring tiny amounts of custom.

          Builders merchants are sending out orders for £10k-100k of materials to big sites, and those don't come from some guy walking up to the counter. I've had trouble trying to buy a few k worth, solved by walking away from the counter and phoning in...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hunt Groups

      The first company I worked for had hunt groups but generally setup to ring each number in turn rather than all at once.

      Woking late once (in the open plan office) I heard a phone ring and then transfer to another desk so I pressed star whatever it was to accept the call rather than wait for it to get round to me and I got a call from the floor above - the one in my office continued to ring.

      I discovered, that after a certain time at night, the entire building went onto a single hunt group that would ring one phone per office so the security guard could answer any calls made to main reception even when on his rounds.

    3. Edwin

      Re: Hunt Groups

      Indeed, and hunt groups don't all ring at once, but they 'hunt' from extension to extension if I remember my Nortel days correctly. It seems unlikely you'd set up your PBX hunt groups to hunt to extensions all over campus, if for no other reason than that the accounts department can't help you with a bug report and his billness can't help with a billing inquiry.

      I'm not saying it's impossible, but it seems unlikely the PBX would be set up this way.

  5. GlenP Silver badge

    Not in the same league but...

    I was getting the serious run-around from a a junior techy at our managed services provider, he was asking stupid questions then disappearing for ages.

    Apparently he was somewhat surprised to have their marketing director* turn up at his desk, tap him on the shoulder and proceed to give him a right b********g! I got an apology and he left the provider not that long afterwards.

    Advice to any juniors reading, think about who you're talking to, they may have been in the industry since before you were born and may well know you're senior managers.

    *He'd previously been an account manager and had continued to look after us rather than had over to someone else.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Not in the same league but...

      I feel for the poor sod on the other end of the phone in this instance. If my experiences are anything to go by, he will have been trying to simultaneously get your problem solved, along with putting out 20 other competing high-priority dumpster fires.

      Having a marketing director swan in from the golf course to give him an earful will probably just have earned you a mental note to charge wanker tax on your next order.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Not in the same league but...

        "If my experiences are anything to go by, he will have been trying to simultaneously get your problem solved, along with putting out 20 other competing high-priority dumpster fires."

        IME, the reason you're firefighting like that is because your colleagues are thick, lazy, or both - as the youngster is in the story.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: Not in the same league but...

          I don't know how it is where you work, but in my experience, most of those dumpster fires are because the sales and marketing people lied to the clients about what the software does in order to make a sale, and it falls on the "little people" to make their lies into fact so that they don't lose their bonuses.

          It's only the author's assumption that the techie in question in this story was lazy or incompetent, and that the marketing person with whom he had a business relationship was entirely honest with him. Both are, in my experience, unsound assumptions.

          1. RockBurner

            Re: Not in the same league but...

            "I don't know how it is where you work, but in my experience, most of those dumpster fires are because the sales and marketing people lied to the clients about what the software does in order to make a sale, and it falls on the "little people" to make their lies into fact so that they don't lose their bonuses."

            Yup, last place I worked at for any length of time, if you hadn't called the Sales guy* a "see you next tuesday" to his face by the end of your first year then you weren't really cut out for the place.***

            * Also the MD, Owner, and son of the Accounts lady, lovely fella, but prone to client pleasing**

            ** Bloody lovely old lass she was.

            *** Makes it sound worse than it was, I lasted nearly 10 years, but eventually left because of one genuine, certified "See you next Tuesday".

          2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Not in the same league but...

            I've been one of the few people working in a dozen-man office. Because the others were useless lazy sods.

          3. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

            Re: Not in the same league but...

            "the sales and marketing people lied to the clients about what the software does"

            Indeed. At one place I worked, "SWAT" was the motto that we tech types wished we could drub into the marketroids' heads.

            Sell. What's. Available. Today.

        2. marcellothearcane

          Re: Not in the same league but...

          Look up "the fundamental attribution error"

    2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Not in the same league but...

      "Advice to any juniors reading, think about who you're talking to, they may have been in the industry since before you were born and may well know you're senior managers."

      I met Jimmy Wales back when Wikipedia was his personal side-project. Had some interesting discussions with him about the wiki-games we could both see would become a problem, and how to stop people playing them.

      He had a bunch of accounts without his name on, for research purposes. Every now and again someone would abuse him for being a newbie editor, call in all their wiki-admin friends for a pile-on, etc. Ended about as well for them as you'd expect.

      Don't abuse 'the newbie'. He may not be new. :)

  6. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    Not anything like this but when I was a junior salesdroid I went to a client (big international corp, makes headphones & speakers much favoured by travelling salesdroids like myself) to meet with somebody low on the IT ladder to talk about a minor deal. In the cafeteria having a coffee with their IT chap when the chairman came in with entourage including legal, finance and a scribe. He was over from the States, had heard that the 'vendor' was in the building and thought he'd take the opportunity to air some grievances and exert some pressure regarding our ongoing global relationship.

    Cue some rapid downloading of brownware and a quick return to the office to return with some bigger guns. And new undergarments.

  7. DrBobK

    Again, nowhere in the same league, but something that surprised me nevertheless. I was a very junior postdoc in the UK doing some programming on a project in vision science on a new Mac II. I was having trouble manipulating colour tables in the vertical retrace interrupt which didn't seem to behave in the way they were described in 'Inside Macintosh' so I posted a question to the appropriate usenet new group (including my academic affiliation, address and phone number). The next day I received a phone call from someone who said they were with Apple and would like to try and help with my problem. The phone line wasn't great and was getting worse so I offered to call back after about quarter of an hour - they bloke on the other end said not to try unless I could get free international calls as he was calling from Cupertino. I was bowled over. Also we sorted out my problem.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Calling from Cupertino..

      Somehow, reading your post, I expected the last line to be "it was a bloke called steve, calling from Cupertino"

      or, maybe....

      (in a barely decipherable Nigerian accent)

      "Hi, This is Steve, calling from Apple, about the problem we have detected on your computer...."

  8. herman Silver badge

    In the mid eighties, I worked on a military project in a strange country and found a bug in an Intel C compiler. Before I could speak to the support guy, security talked to him first and told him not to ask my name, where I am from, what I am working on, etc - only stick to technical questions about the compiler. They fixed the problem in a few days.

  9. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

    I once called the big boss of a client to confirm that they really, really wanted us to go ahead and delete every backup older than 6 months. Big boss didn't pick up the phone; serious fraud squad did. Unsurprisingly they told us not to delete anything.

  10. Bobbins

    Back in the eighties when I was an on-site support engineer in central London it was common for us to phone up a customer to get a better idea of the problem (and attempt a fix over the phone) before blindly attending site.

    Late one day a colleague picked up a fault call at the Really Useful Theatre Company for a laser printer that was refusing to print bar menus for that evening's performance. They duly called the customer's contact number and had a pleasant chat with the bloke who answered the phone. It was clear that a replacement part needed fitting so my colleague asked the bloke on the phone who to ask for when they arrived on-site.

    "Ask for me" was the reply.

    "And your name is?"

    "The Prince Edward"

    Yes, it was *The* Prince Edward - he worked there for a while!

    1. JetSetJim
      Paris Hilton

      Is his title usually prefixed with a "The"? A bit objectifying, isn't it?

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        It was a different time ;-)

        But at this time, a lot of pubs and restaurants are "The Prince Edward"...

    2. TomPhan

      Rather than *A* Prince Edward?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Pretentious so-and-so (though I gather he's toned down a bit these days). Surely "Edward Windsor" would have been more subtle?

      When his nephew William was flying rescue helicopters out of RAF Valley, he was known, I gather, as "Flight Lieutenant Wales", and even Harry was just "Lieutenant Wales" when he joined the army.

      1. dinsdale54

        A friend works at the company where Wills did his rescue helicopter training and work. My friend is also a keen supporter of Gloucester rugby. At the time Mike Tindall was playing for Gloucester and due to being married to royalty they used to sing the National Anthem when he scored.

        My friend recounted this tradition to Prince William. The answer came back, with a smile -

        "Gran won't be happy about that"

    4. PRR Bronze badge

      Who is your boss?

      I've heard of this happening in another field. Peavey Electronics (musical instruments) has a history somewhat like Microsoft. Not as lucrative but big in its field and all about the boss-guy.

      So a friend had an amplifier problem and called the support line number in the manual. Not his first boogaloo. He expected to have to work his way past 1st and 2nd level dweebs to reach someone with a clue. Peavey support was usually good, but they can't keep all their staff updated on all their MANY products, eh?

      No, the guy who picked up the phone knew the product, knew the part numbers, took his time, knew what the symptoms suggested. My friend was very impressed. "If I need to call back, how can I get back to you?" "Oh, they all know me. Just ask for Hartley."

      Hartley Peavey founded and has run Peavey since 1965 (before MS). Like Bill, he has been controversial, and his company has waxed and waned.

  11. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Are these joyful stories about BG just a PR pieces to counteract the allegations surfacing on the internet about BG relationship with JE?

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      No. Don’t be a dick.

  12. ColinPa

    Just the opposite

    I was talking to some one who worked in the help desk area. We had a senior executive who had a reputation. If you went to a meeting with him, and you had not come prepared he would let you know very clearly - you only did it once. He had a distinctive name let me call him Jo-shu Blogg-ings. One day the phone rang and this very junior guy took the call. When the conversation got to to "and how do you spell blogg-ings" the area went deathly quiet. After an amiable conversation where the help desk guy fixed the executive's problem the call ended, and there was "you know who that was?!" etc.

    Next day Jo-shu Bloggings came through the area with the manager of the area, met the junior help desk guy and said "Thanks for your help yesterday - it solved my problem" and continued through the area. People who knew the executive said that he refused to have the reserved executive parking spot, and he got his own coffees from the machine etc. and was a very nice person - he just expected every one to be professional.

    1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Just the opposite

      "Jo-shu Blogg-ings"

      Hah, that reminds me of the cow-orker who took down someone's name as 'Ajrry, pronounced Harry'. I know 'H, A' and 'A, J' sound quite a lot alike, but you'd think the second part might have clued them in.

  13. adam 40 Silver badge

    Just a grunt

    A while back I was contracting at TTPCom-Motorola, and this is the complete opposite of Allesandro's story.

    Motorola had installed their corporate HR web-clickable database on the internal network, so you could click around and see who worked for whom.

    So out of interest I clicked on my boss, then his boss, etc etc until I reached Ed Zander at the top.

    It took 11 clicks - so that's 12 levels in the organisation, from the top, down to me, who did the actual work! It wasn't hard to see where this was heading.....

    1. aje21

      Re: Just a grunt

      An assumption is that org charts are not cyclic... something which isn't always true. Fixed an issue years back when a client complained that their CEO seemed to be reporting to one of the cleaning staff (who had a manager, so on up the chain to the CEO again). Turned out the CEO had a blank "manager's personnel number" attribute and the IT system had matched it to the first temporary employee who didn't have a personnel number... was a nice easy fix that one :-)

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        DO NOT


    2. Jonathon Green

      Re: Just a grunt

      Ed Zander was omnipresent in (what later turned out to be) the latter days of Motorola,

      I was working as a contractor with the team which used to be Sendo at what (from the mention of TTPCom) I suspect to be around the same time, and at one point when money got tight all of my timesheets had to go to EZ to be signed off. I assume that this actually meant someone in his office rather than The Man Himself but still…

  14. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

    I mis-dialed our laptop suppliers number in Germany & found myself talking to the Libyan Embassy.

    Two Acer Aspire laptops bought for Christmas for the kids (Prior to emigrating).

    I've moved across to prepare the way for the families arrival & the now ex Mrs Scorn reports an issue with one of the laptops to me she takes it to Comet to have it sent for repair under warranty with the big red note that it it is to be shipped to the closest branch to her sisters.

    It gets sent back to the originating branch, cut a long story short, its agreed for a replacement with the upgrade fee to a Windows XP version after sending a e-mail to the CEO of Comet, as the Essex sales guy is being awkward beforehand (He won't accept the return\exchange is at another branch) & despite the CEO's PA taking personal care of the matter.

    Daughter got her new laptop in time for the journey to the airport & sales guy got his ear chewed out & possibly shown the door.

    as shes now at her sisters 200 miles away from our former home. Take it in

  15. Anonymous Tribble

    The best I have is that the Raspberry Pi Forums were having a hiccup and I reported it via the usual links with a mesage and got an email reply from Eben Upton.

    1. Old Used Programmer

      Not Liz?

      Eben responds to posts from time to time. He also responds to comments on the blog posts. Still, for a problem with the forums, I'm mildly surprised it wasn't Liz Upton responding. She is, after all, Director of Communications, while Eben is CEO...of the wholly owned subsidiary, Raspberry Pi Trading (Ltd.).

      (One can see why the Uptons staunchly refuse to have a "smart speaker" at home...listening in.)

  16. a_yank_lurker

    Opposite Situation

    I once worked for a German company with English Managing Director at the time in Feraldom. I was the last person in the office late on day and got a phone call asking to speak to the MD who was in the Fatherland. I tried explaining to the idiot that the MD was not available and I did not have his personal US number (which did not exist). The idiot called back several times always getting me. The idiot was trying to sell some useless software and got our information because the MD had used the US office for his contact information on some software he had bought while visiting us.

  17. Dr. Ellen


    Why, yes. I think it was the eighties. I was having royal trouble with the dBase III manual -- so I called the mothership. And got somebody high on the totem pole. I reamed that handbook out for twenty minutes: "Don't you think it might have been nice to have "print" in the index, instead of hiding it under "Set Print"? If you needed that "Set Print", couldn't you put a pointer in the index under "Print"?

    I think he was rather shaken by having contact with an actual customer. He sent a copy of the dBase III+ manual, which did help.

  18. red floyd

    Worked with AMEX ... Twice

    It worked for me with American Express, twice.

    Both times were cock-ups with their travel services. The agent claimed they could not help me. The customer service people claimed they couldn't help me.

    I sent a snail mail letter to the CEO, and -- wonder of wonders -- suddenly my problem was solved.

  19. dmesg

    It could have been Bill

    I worked as a perma-temp contractor at MS in the late 90's. Seattle at the time was a fabulous city, but I didn't have many close friends. So, one Christmas or maybe New Years, having nothing to do and not wanting to get drunk yet again, I drove to the Redmond campus to work on a project -- this was a time when even contractors were issued 24/7 swipe cards for their building. The parking lots were completely deserted, save for one car. I parked my used, slightly beat-up green Plymouth next to Bill Gate's golden Jaguar (with one of that era's mobile phones resting on leather seats) and went inside. When I came out several hours later it was dark and my car was the only one there.

    During that time I also chanced to see him up close, once in a cafeteria and once in a hallway. Both times he was surrounded by 5 - 10 people and engaged in intense conversation, looking like he hadn't slept for two days. (BTW, I was surprised by how short he is -- everyone around him was taller).

    Consider, too, that if it were security that answered Allessandro's call they would have identified themselves as such.

    It was also known throughout the company that anyone could email Bill directly about a problem or issue. But there were two conditions: it had to be worth his attention, and if it was a technical matter you HAD to be right. People who weren't right, even high-up managers, could be pilloried in a humiliating all-company email coming right from the top. I remember one. After naming the culprit and describing the offense, the email concluded with something very close to "... if we are to succeed as a company, we cannot afford to make these kinds of mistakes."

    Icon for irony.

  20. Marty McFly Silver badge

    "This is Kevin Mitnick calling..."

    I got to play liaison & Sherpa for a corporate event where Mr. Mitnick had a speaking engagement. To refresh your memory, 1990's law enforcement was convinced he had the ability to "start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone".

    Like a good corporate citizen, I suppressed my inner dialogue from saying "Is this where my cell phone melts and the bombs go off" when he called me directly. That would have been poking the bear, and I probably would not have enjoyed the response.

    It was an interesting interaction, the details of which are best shared over beverages in private...

  21. Death Boffin

    Right across the Pond

    I had the opposite experience. After a frustrating weekend of trying to get some electrical equipment to work for an upcoming test, I got up especially early to call from the US west coast to the English valve company that was at the heart of the problem. The phone rang and rang. Finally someone answered it. I started to lay out my problem to him, only to be interrupted and told "I'm the security guard. Today's a bank holiday, call back tomorrow."

    1. ortunk

      Re: Right across the Pond

      We used to do that in tech services department when we didn't want to work and prefered to go off for a pint

  22. groMMitt

    Talking to the Boss - or at least, his closest representative...

    Had a mate, back in the 80's, wanted to get married in a church far from his own parish - seemed he needed the permission of every parish between his own and that one...among others, he found he needed to call The Archbishop of Canterbury...he called the Secretary for the Bish, and had a long and pleasant conversation with an old gentleman there, who said he'd get it dealt a letter form the Bishop who said that after the conversation he'd had with my mate, he had no difficulty granting said permission...

  23. MOV r0,r0

    Jerry Pournelle used to tell that story, he said he'd take late night bets in the bars of Comdex that he could get Gates on the phone. This was in the early days of Microsoft and Bill always worked later than anyone else and generally answered the phone - Pournelle claimed he dialled the number, quickly handed the handset over and cleaned up.

  24. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Never knowingly been in conversation with the CEO of a major company. Watched a few from the audience in conference presentations, but that's the nearest I've got.

    I have, however, had direct contact with the team maintaining the help system in Photoshop 6, when I reported that in our deployed install (deployed using the standard Photoshop installer with relevant config file), pressing F1 consistently failed to display anything (it was supposed to display the help page). When I reported this, I got an email from the team asking how to produce the problem. By then , the answer was simple, as 'F1' wasn't working with the standard installer either, so I just told them to run the installer with the default options. I also provided the requested System Info. In the mean time, I adjusted the deployment we were using to include a shortcut to the help (which was just a series of HTML pages stored locally). Not sure what the problem with Photoshop 6 was, but it was fixed in Photoshop 7, so I like to think I contributed to that.

    I have also had responses from two Apple development teams when I submitted bugs on their forums. The Remote Desktop team emailed me when I reported trouble adding machines to the system, and the iOS team responded when I reported repeated crashes and powerdrains on my iPad on ios 13. Even though Apple Support hadn't spotted this, it turned out the problem was a faulty iPad, and they advised I send it off for repair.

  25. Diogenes

    Outdated phone trees and coincidences

    Back in the 90s I was working for a well-known Aussie company in System38/AS 400 circles.

    We finished a big project on which I was the most senior developer (and DBA and Architect and Business Analyst & Dev Team Leader (20 staff). We did not get a support contract and I was moved on to other projects and left about a year later. Fiveish years later, I was working for another company, as a PM and the company I had worked for had been taken over by another and then another (coincidence 1 - that company was the one on whose account I was working) and one day I get a call on my mobile that goes something like this ...

    Caller: "Thank heavens somebody finally picked up. My name is xxx and I am working on (name of old big project) and I have called every number on the escalation list, but those numbers are disconnected, yours is the 2nd last name on the support sheet, and the last is (insert name of former CEO) I have tried everybody else, anyway we are having trouble with the zzz subsystem, we don't understand why it is doing abc."

    Me: "Er Iook mate, I don't know where you got that list from, but I haven't worked on that project for 5 years, and I now work for another company entirely"

    Caller: "(expletive) sorry Mate, I'm from (lets call it Big Blue) and we have just taken over the support, and we were given this list as part of the handover"

    Me : Oh look, I am on the (big company) account for (Big Blue) in Brisbane, I would love to help, but as I said I haven't worked that project for years probably a lot has changed, can you email me details and I see what I can remember, but no guarantees - gives email" (coincidence 2)

    Caller ... "thanks mate "

    An hour later the account manager (normally based in Melbourne, but visiting Brisbane), and State Manager are at my desk "Diogenes, how would you like 2 weeks in Sydney helping out the (big project team). It looks like your name is all over the documentation, and they really are stuck, is there anything urgent your team is work on?" , "Let me check with SWMBO."

    Next morning I am in Sydney, at my desk from 5 years before (coincidence 3) , looking at my old (need I add never updated) documentation and comparing with code & db entries for zzz subsystem, and about an hour later I spot the problem, somebody had turned off referential integrity on some of the tables & put in a bad entry, and get them going. PM then asks, as he is paying me for the 2 weeks, if I could spend a week preparing a system induction, to be delivered in the 2nd week (ie the logical DB vs physical, the main flow of the subsystems , ie it is a periodic thing where things get done once a year and output data from one is the input to the next etc etc

  26. richdin

    Happened to me once...

    A long time ago, before it was a thing - I was at a demo at Microsoft Israel (at the time it was a very small subsidiary and way before I worked for MS) - someone who will remain nameless to protect the guilty was demoing the email capabilities of a product and for an example send a missive to billg@microsoftdotcom. It was in Hebrew as this was supposedly a demo system. A few moments later, Bill replied with a note saying that if we would send him the mail again in English, he'd be happy to reply. Oops.

  27. Tim99 Silver badge

    BBC (Before bean-counters)

    A long while ago, one Saturday morning, I was trying to set up a punter’s Exchange Server on a MS SBS. I had followed the documentation but could not get the server to connect to the internet. MS support was hopeless and told me to try the punter’s ISP, iiNet (originally started by two people in a garage). I phoned technical support and spoke to a gentleman who asked a few technical questions. I told him that I couldn’t get Exchange to connect - He went through the documentation with me, but still no joy. I told him that it was the SBS version, and that we needed it as a SBS fax server too - He thought that it should be possible, but it was the first time that they had come across it. He said that they would get back to me. Before he hung up I asked if he could give me his name - Micheal Malone (the Managing Director). About half an hour later he got back with a suggestion that *worked*, and stayed on the line while I checked it. He then asked how long I expected to be on site (a couple of hours), and phoned back about an hour later "to check everything was OK"). He left after iiNet had become the second largest ISP in Australia; and as is often the case, the service seemed to go down after a techy founder leaves and the sales and marketing bean-counters take over.

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