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05 August 2008

Tell me your most collosal work fuck-up ever. [More:]I'm in the mood for these stories, because last night I tried to run about 4000 back-dated payments for my job (I write and maintain software for a financial services company), and totally effed it up. The payments were supposed to post Friday, but posted Monday, so we're going to have to un-fuck about 4000 customers now. It's the sort of thing that we could let slide, were it not for that whole inconvenient ethical thing.

That's probably not my best, though. My best is probably when I was in retail and totally deleted my boss's customer database by accident.

Hmm. Typing both of those out side by side, I'm wondering if I'm in the right business.
I was working on this ENORMOUS translation for a large multi-national credit card company. The report was issued by their Brazilian office and needed to be translated into English as quickly as possible. I struggled with the translation, putting in lots of extra hours to get it done in their impossibly slim time frame. I was confused by their liberal use of acronyms with absolutely now explanation of what they may mean. Sometimes they would use the English acronyms, sometimes Brazilian ones, and it was up to me to decipher which acronyms needed to be 'translated' and which ones didn't. Long and short, after a week of killing myself with this translation, research and subsequent revision, I didn't catch the stupidest screw-up, which I actually committed twice: I translated the word 'empresa' as 'country', not 'company', which is the correct word. It was a silly mistake, two words, same number of letters, both start with a 'c' and end with a 'y'. Typing in a blur, it's just the sort of stupid mistake I would make in a rush, and I didn't catch it. The client did, though, and I got a thorough reaming for it. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid! I will never forget that one. I felt awful.
I got over it, though, and lived to translate another day!
posted by msali 05 August | 09:12
A long time ago I was a late-night DJ at a small town radio station. One Friday night some friends had come by (as happened a lot), and we were having a grand old time.

Until we decided to plug in a blender to make margaritas right there in the control room, and tripped the circuit breaker, knocking us off the air.

(The transmitter was still on, but there was no sound going out until I got the circuit breaker flipped back and a record playing again. Yes, "record," it was a long time ago.)
posted by BoringPostcards 05 August | 09:13
Back when I was a kid, I worked at a produce stand before and after school, unloading trucks of fresh fruit and vegetables in the morning, then unloading a truck full of the day's garbage into a nearby dumpster in the evening. Hard, character-building work.

But, like any work, you let a couple boys do it, and they'll figure out a way or two to liven it up. Mostly by throwing things around. Big rotten melons, tomatoes with bruises, peaches way past their prime, all served as ammo for the battles we waged. Most of the garbage made it into the dumpster, and what didn't, we swept up when we were done.

Once I took aim with a pomegranate (they explode in a most amusing manner), hurled it, and missed; the grenade flew past my coworker and smack into the windshield of a police who was just cruising by. So I got hauled back into the store around quitting time by this big cop, who was probably pretty amused at how apologetic I was, and I had to spend a Saturday at his house, washing and waxing his cruiser and his private car as well. His wife laughed at me when he told her why I was there, and gave me my first iced coffee.

I guess it all came out okay in the end, but that was a big cock-up that coulda ended real badly.
posted by Hugh Janus 05 August | 09:24
I've slept through a few semi-important morning meetings over the last 5 years. I've only done it once at the current job. I came in about 11am, completing missing the 9am meeting. My boss asked where I was and I said, "I don't have an excuse, I just slept in." And now he really seems to enjoy telling that story to anyone who'll listen. For some reason, it really tickles him that I told him I had no excuse. I think he respects that for some bizarro reason.
posted by mullacc 05 August | 10:12
Lots of chances for big fuck-ups in science. Probably the time I loaded a vial in the autosampler for the HPLC upside down and broke an injection needle. Which would have been bad enough, but then it jammed up the whole system somehow and ground down some machinery and several thousand dollars of repairs later...

And I've accidentally killed plenty of rats, but that's pretty normal.
posted by gaspode 05 August | 10:17
When I worked in retail, there was an old computer (it was running OS/2 Warp in 2001) that we used for printing up sales signs. It seemed like it froze up when I was trying to run my batch so I hit control-Alt-Del a few times, thinking "hey if they don't want us to reboot this computer, they wouldn't allow that option."

Well, it turns out I ended up rebooting all of the little hand-held scanners and non-register computery stuff in the store.

I never heard a manager sound so angry in an overhead page.
posted by drezdn 05 August | 10:20
Oh, it's too painful.
posted by Miko 05 August | 10:23
I have actually done the whole "del *.* /s" whilst in the root drive of a machine which was used to hold EVERYTHING.

For those not in the know, it's one of those things that'll delete every file off your hard drive. Without any way of getting them back.

Thank god for Backup that works. If the rest of the team hadn't been so diligent, I'd have screwed the entire company into the ground.

The only thing I've done that's close to that (in a work related context) is accidently break about 5000 eggs. For some reason I got fired from that job.
posted by seanyboy 05 August | 10:36
Let's see: I ran into the overhead door with the barest top part of the lift once, knocking said door off it's track. When I was by myself and had to force the door to close enough so I could reach it. And then I had to get it back into the track without tripping the laser sensor that would try to pull the door back up out of reach.
I mixed green apple and mint chocolate chip syrups at Rita's and didn't realize it until after I'd already sent it out to the front. (They were both green and right next to each other on the stand. I'd be working for 10 hours at that point and was highly frazzled because I had only 1 helper.)
I've recalled books to the wrong patron before.
I dropped a roll of film from wayyyyyyyyyy up high.
posted by sperose 05 August | 10:40
My colleagues were at a conference in one city and I shipped all the marketing and display materials to our office in a different city. Didn't realize it until the morning of the conference. I also let an invitation for an important event go to print and get shipped out with major typos in it. Fortunately, I caught the brochure where the designer had misspelled "PUBLIC" on the cover (hint: it was missing an L).
posted by desjardins 05 August | 10:48
When I worked at a fast food restaurant, my hand slipped while using a tomato slicer. It was the first and only time I literally squirted blood. I was several feet away from the wall, but you could follow a red trail of blood on it from the slicer to the sink.
posted by drezdn 05 August | 11:36
heh. back in like 1998, in the bad old daze of QuarkExpress and PowerPC/G3 macintosh desktop publishing, I once moved / reorganised an entire directory of logos and graphics which completely fuxx0red their links to the associated documents. In my defence, they HAD told me to "clean it up" and knew I was only about halfway mac-literate at the time OMFG what a fucked-up system THAT was anyhow... most of the desktop publishers in the dept. ran Windows 98 on a Novell network yet I somehow got elected to deal with the 2 Macs in the mix and do all the document conversions... fuck that with a red hot monkey wrench, I say!

I didn't last long there but I honestly couldn't leave fast enough - it was the original Job From Hell.
posted by lonefrontranger 05 August | 11:53
Started playing around a bit on the walkie-talkies while directing traffic at a new-student orientation thinking we were the only people on the channel, only to hear the campus fire chief come on, berate me for using the channel that way, hear my boss respond and apologize over the walkie, and then ask me for my walkie back over the walkie. Whoops. *cringe*
posted by mdonley 05 August | 12:40
Oh, I was working as a PA on a big expensive commercial shoot (for a Bahamas commercial where a guy gets out of a cab, runs down a pier, and leaps to the Bahamas) and they needed rain. Of course, it was a beautiful day, so they had to bring in a rain tower, so there were fire hoses everywhere in amongst the electronics.

In reaching for a little meat pie some catering dude was carrying around on a tray, I kicked the handle of a firehose valve, sending a thick jet of water about a yard from the VTR setup, a big stack of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of electronics. I kicked the valve shut, raised my hands, and said, "My bad, is everybody okay?"

The VTR guy came over and said, "I've never seen a PA take such quick credit for fucking up. Lemme buy you a beer later." Some producer-type with too much time on her hands came over and tried to berate me, so I countered by asking her if any of the equipment was ruined.

So she went over and asked the VTR guy if anything was ruined, and he said, "No. Keep [Hugh] near me all afternoon. He's a good guy and I need his help." So I got to spend the balance of the day in a lawn chair on a Brooklyn pier shooting the shit with some salty dudes, all of whom found my near-miss hilarious. Every time the producer-type came over to demand something from me, the tech guys closed ranks, tossed a cable or some switch into my hand, and said, "He's busy."

Maybe they were just protecting their equipment.
posted by Hugh Janus 05 August | 12:55
I totally shot the wrong guy, once. Now, normally, a little collateral is no big deal, but this guy happened to be the client. Oops! Boy did the gang back at the office rib me about that one!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson 05 August | 13:03
I hung blood and I don't know what the hell happened but I came back and there was blood everywhere. It looked like a murder seen. The tubing came disconnected at the bag.

That's the only thing I can think of that was a huge eff-up. Thank god. You really don't want a big fuck up in the field I'm in.
posted by LoriFLA 05 August | 13:22
The service user I was supporting had a heart attack and died on my second shift as a support worker, age 18. That sucked (only marginally a fuckup on my part, though, if at all). I've caused a few epileptic seizures too, from not being organised (letting someone get too wet in the rain because I didn't have an umbrella, for eg).

Otherwise my fuckups are people-related, saying the WRONG thing to the WRONG person at the WRONG time. Although I did once drive a forklift into a pallet of crockery (and I was training someone to drive it, oops).
posted by goo 05 August | 13:43
IRFH: I'm afraid to know what you do for a living!

I had to approve some text once for a cover of a book. Was shown the first copy off the printing press. Completely did not notice that a comma was missing (despite being a lifelong copyeditor). 500+ covers had to be thrown out, reordered, product delayed.
posted by Melismata 05 August | 14:44
I worked at a Canadian Tire (kinda like a WalMart but with it's own currency) in the customer service dept. Our phone died one day and we had to use one of the little portable ones the floor guys used. It was buggy. I tried to page someone to our desk but the page didn't go through, I pulled the phone from my ear and said to my coworker "How the hell does this stupid thing work?" Of course, that was broadcasted across the entire store. Many laughs were had but it was still pretty embarrassing.

Another time, at the same job, a coworker and I were talking in the bathroom about how much we hated our jobs. I thought she was in the stall next to me, until I noticed the lovely pair of gold pumps....belonging to the owner's wife. She just laughed and told me she could probably find something worse for me to do. I promptly told her my existing job wasn't that bad...
posted by LunaticFringe 05 August | 14:55
When I was temping as a radiological clerk, I mis-filed a transcription that delayed a man's cancer diagnosis by a month or more.
posted by muddgirl 05 August | 15:15
I know there are plenty. Why can't I remember?
posted by chillmost 05 August | 15:21
Many years ago, while I was working as a receptionist, I had to send out a bunch of documents related to upcoming job interviews for a new financial controller. I mixed all the documents up into the wrong envelopes, sending details of other applicants to each of them. It was a long time after that before my boss trusted me again.

Now, if you want to talk about fuck-ups that have ended up in physical harm to myself ...
posted by dg 05 August | 16:24
I managed to lock everyone in my company out of the networked computer system FOR A WHOLE DAY. The system crashed while I was testing a new user access-rights program -- which worked when I tested it on another computer, honest! I trembled for hours, waiting for the technical director (who had designed the system) to return from a business trip. Luckily, he had a good sense of humor -- and a back door into the system ...
posted by Susurration 05 August | 18:26
I finished the firmware for a new printer at my first job and deactivated the code that was supposed to format the nvram on the printer. For already formatted nvram (ie, my system and QA's systems), it worked fine. On virgin systems, it booted and then on the first read to nvram, induced the system call "CantHappen()" which reboots the printer, which then reads nvram, inducing the system call "CantHappen()". All printers with expensive masked ROMs (and a two month lead time) were fucked. I wrote a special "boot cartridge" that formated the nvram and my company paid to have expensive one-time-programmable cartridges made to fix my fuckup. On the good side, I made the fix in a day after the bug was reported...
posted by plinth 05 August | 19:21
I managed to lock everyone in my company out of the networked computer system FOR A WHOLE DAY.

The guy who got me this job did something similar. He was on call, answered an error message incorrectly, and so very badly fucked up the system that we couldn't let users on the system to transact business for roughly 24 hours. VPs were running to the office at 3 am like their asses were on fire.
posted by middleclasstool 05 August | 19:29
This post is great.
posted by box 05 August | 19:33
One of my uncles was the administrator of a Windows 2000 server that controlled/ stored everything to do with the drafting company he worked for until he forgot the Administrator password ...
posted by dg 05 August | 19:49
For someone who's been fired as many times as I have, there've been remarkably few gross examples of fuckuppery.

However, I can't help but think of a good friend who was working in biosciences... she had a centrifuge full of AIDS blood, and somehow didn't secure the machine properly before turning it on, sending AIDS-infected human juice all over the lab...
posted by jtron 05 August | 20:22
I've done the rm -R thing, too, on a system library because I thought it was a rogue student folder. I learned very quickly how to to a boot from CD and restore from tape backup on an IRIX system. I took down one of our primary patron systems. Luckily my boss covered for me.

My most expensive fuck up was when I de-vaccuumed a CRT on a Macintosh SE. Scary as hell, too. No flying glass, just a little hiss. then a little piss.
posted by lysdexic 06 August | 08:57
Way back to the night shift factory job. Printing IBM style computer cards. You had to stand at this ridiculously stressful high speed sorter, and hand pack the cards in boxes. You were supposed to fan them out to inspect them, but after working there for five weeks I'd never had a bad one so I skipped that step. The floor manager comes over, checs some of my cards. "These are blank! Haven't you been inspecting them?" "Ummm...."

Not just that box, not just that carton, not just that pallet, but 8 full hours of blank cards. Some had already been loaded on trucks.
posted by StickyCarpet 06 August | 10:33
This is a whining thread. || OMFG