From the depths of IT departments

Welcome to Shark Tank, where IT workers, also known as “pilot fish” share true tales about bungling bosses, clueless consultants and useless users.

What is a pilot fish? We can offer you two possible answers.

Mother Nature’s version: pilot fish are small fish that swim just ahead of sharks.

When the shark changes direction, so do the pilot fish. When you watch underwater video of it, it looks like the idea to change direction occurred simultaneously to shark and pilot fish. Thing is, sharks go pretty much anywhere they want, eating pretty much whatever they want. They lunge and tear and snatch, but in so doing, leave plenty of smorgasbord for the nimble pilot fish.

IT version: a pilot fish is one of the workers. Not a honcho, not a shark.

The tricks for both kinds of pilot fish are finding a shark they can live with and staying out of range of its teeth – and to always stay alert and away from those tooth-packed jaws. A moment’s inattention could end the pilot fish’s career.

We want our Canadian readers to share their shark tank tales. But first, here’s a sampling of a few stories from pilot fish south of the border, just to get you started.

The rules of the game. This pilot fish long ago gave up calling the not-very-helpful help desk when servers go down. But when the server he needs has been unavailable for more than an hour, he calls a buddy in the server room. “Yeah, we know it’s been down for 73 minutes,” his friend says. “All we have to do is reboot it, but the new outsourcing agreement says we can’t touch it until a user calls and opens a trouble ticket. We’ve been taking bets on how long it would take.”

You’re welcome. Support pilot fish gets tired of complaints from one office whose PCs are all five years old. Fish manages to upgrade tham all at once. He’s proud of his efforts, but now there’s a new problem. “It seems they don’t like the computers because they’re all black, and the users say they look very unprofessional,” grumbles fish. “I wonder if they’d like pink.”

Raising the bar. The IT shop at this manufacturer generates bar codes for different departments, and one day a manager’s sample bar code stumps this pilot fish. “Even our best scanner beeped back an error on the sample,” fish says. So he calls the manager – who admits he created it with a drawing program. “We don’t really use bar codes,” he tells fish. “We just thought it would look really professional.”

Out of sight… Fledgling HR rep e-mails IT manager pilot fish an Excel spreadsheet that includes his staff’s salaries, ratings and last merit raises. But fish notices some hidden rows, so he “unhides” them. “I was greeted by the same information for the entire division, from senior VPs down to the tape operators,” says fish. After he shows the HR rep the problem, she turns bright red and asks him to delete the e-mail. “I did so,” fish says, “after saving the file elsewhere – just to cover my bases, you know.”

Lookin’ good. Pilot fish is fed up with executives who say they need the latest technology, so he comes up with a new system. “Every six months, we have execs turn in their laptops for a technology refresh,” he says. “Their laptop cases and keyboards are cleaned and fitted with new, upgraded OEM stickers. They love their refreshed laptops, and never catch on that all they get are new stickers.”

We know you’re dying to tell us your true tales of IT life – just send them to We won’t publish your name or any other details that would reveal your identity – so go ahead, feed the shark.