I’m not in IT, but in auto repair, but since cars are technology (sorta) and modern automobiles are basically poorly-designed computers with barely-controlled explosions powering them (kinda), I hope my stories will fit in, at least a little.
A few years back, I worked for a small, questionably honest used car dealership and repair shop. I’m a service writer, which means I’m the interface between customers (who are idiots) and the technicians (who are mostly felons). Think Tom Smykowski from Office Space. I will warn you ahead of time, I am not the hero of my stories, just the protagonist. There are no heroes in the car industry – we are all villains in our own ways.
It was a typical grey rainy day in my part of the world. My horrible old Windows Mobile giant brickphone lit up with the number of our “computer guy” who was a blatant insult to IT professionals everywhere. No one knew why he got hired nor why he managed to still be employed, given that things like Macintoshes and Linux completely baffled him. We’ll call him Incompetent Tech Guy, just to avoid besmirching the term IT by associating him with it.
Me: “Service, this is 36055512.”
ITG: “How… how do we do the numbers for the cars?
This was fairly typical for one of his questions. Barely a sentence, much less something with any discernible meaning.
Me: “I’m sorry? I’m not sure what you’re asking.”
ITG: “The numbers for the cars. Do we start with 1 and work our way down, or what?”
Me: “Oooooh, the inventory numbers. I gotcha. No, we just take the last four of the VIN.”
Every car sold in the US and Canada (and most other countries as well) has a 17-digit code stamped everywhere on the car that provides details about it (make, model, engine, serial number, and so forth) that is unique to the car. At a dealership, it’s really important to keep track of what car is what, so you don’t get all the silver Golfs mixed up (which is another story). We just used the last four digits of the VIN to keep track of who was who, and since our inventory was never more than 30 cars or so, we hadn’t yet had an issue with it.
My conversation partner hung up abruptly, which was typical for his stunted social skills, and I went back to shopping for parts for my Jeep. Just as I was about to drop a new set of offroad lights onto my Amazon Wish List, an e-mail popped into my inbox.
“ATTN STAFF: From now on, inventory numbers are to be the last SIX numbers of the VIN, not the last four. -ITG”
The ITG was known for his grand proclamations that rarely were connected in any way to reality and even more rarely were actually approved by the owners. I got on the horn with one of the owners who we shall call Rom, since he so precisely matched both the demeanor and dental hygiene of the DS9 character.
Rom: “ITG says that the last four digits isn’t good enough, that there could be duplication, and that would be a whole clusterf***.”
Me: “Well, he’s not wrong, but it’s like a 1:10000 chance for each car, and we only ever have 30 or so cars. It’s never happened, and it’s going to be a mess to change every record in the computer system to all new inventory numbers. Why not leave it alone and if we have a collision, worry about it then?”
Rom: “No. Last six. Fix it by the end of the day.”
Whatever. I had long since given up arguing with Rom. It never went anywhere, and I was getting to the point where I was burnt-out enough that the fallout from his poorly thought-out decisions was beginning to be less irritating and more just plain entertaining to watch. I spent the afternoon making new key tags for all the cars and updating all our records in the database to have the new six-digit inventory numbers.
The next morning, my IM lit up. It was Rom.
Rom: “Can you give me a printout of the paperwork on #9721?”
I felt my face curl into the biggest grin since the Cheshire Cat. It was time for the full idiocy of this unnecessary renumbering scheme to be truly known.
Me: “I need the last six of the VIN.”
Rom: “Why? I don’t have the last six of the VIN, just 9721”
Me: “Well, as you’ll remember, we’re using the last six now. I can’t look it up by the last four anymore.”
My phone immediately rang. I made it less than one word into my customary greeting.
Rom: “What the f***? Why do we need the last six of the VIN?”
Me: “You remember yesterday when we switched over at the behest of ITG? Well, I switched over all the records like you wanted, so I gotta have all six digits to look anything up.”
Rom: “F***! I have this paperwork from last week, and it just has the last four.”
“How about that.”
There was a long pause. I started to feel a little bad for Rom. No doubt he had a customer in his office at the moment, trying to negotiate pricing, and he needed one of our patented fake inspection forms to “prove” that the car was a peach. I remembered the car, a fairly rare diesel Passat wagon in a lovely grey. It would have been a nice car if it weren’t a Volkswagen. I could perfectly well have looked the car up by the last four, since I knew exactly what it was and there was only one diesel Passat wagon in the inventory, but after spending most of an afternoon putting ITG’s stupid plan into action, I thought better of it.
Rom: “What am I supposed to do with this?”
Me: “Well, you could find the car and give me the last six off the VIN tag. Otherwise, we’re stuck.”
Rom: “The car’s not here, it had a wobble on the test drive, so I sent it up to the alignment shop. I’ve got a customer about to walk, here!”
Me: “I dunno, man. Wish I could help you, I really do.”
The line went dead, and I went back to pretending like I was working. An hour later, my mole in the sales department texted me to let me know the customer had walked and we had lost a big sale. She asked if I had any idea why Rom was in ITG’s office and what all the shouting was about. I started to smile, but just then an e-mail popped into my inbox.
“ATTN STAFF: From now on, inventory numbers are to be the last four of the VIN, not the last six. -ITG”
Victory. It tastes so sweet.
EDIT: Removed profanity. The car industry involves a lot of colorful language, but I forget y’all are probably at real jobs with people who don’t come in smelling of cheap beer on a daily basis. Sorry ’bout that 🙁