Being the WTF person

At both this job and my last one I have ended up becoming the WTF person. The WTF person is the person people go to when things are acting strangely, they can't figure it out, and need another set of eyes. Preferably a set of eyes with a reputation for pulling rabbits out of hats.

WTF people are the kind of people that end up on level 2 or 3 tech support, because that's who you want to have at that level. People who solve weird stuff.

At a place like ours where the support relationships are largely informal, at least among people who dink around with servers, the concept of L2 or L3 support doesn't really exist. It manifests as phone-calls or emails from people with strange questions, looking for leads in their own inquiries. Or in the case of my immediate co-workers, a head poked around the door, and, "I'm lost, can you take a look?"

As I alluded to before, becoming the WTF person takes time. You have to make some awesome saves so people notice, and then continue to crack weird, hard to describe problems. It helps a lot to have a deep understanding of the technology you work with. I suspect being ebullient about how you found the problem and describing the problem once it was resolved helps in this.

Once you get there, though, you do get passed some strange, strange things. I've been asked advice on figuring out how something broke in that specific way when the symptoms described... have no causal relationship I can think of. I also get passed weird questions in areas I don't know much about (MS Office for one), but at least those can be deflected.

Honest to goodness bugs are perhaps the hardest to figure out. These are problems that take a few conditions to set up, and it isn't always clear that those conditions are in place. This skill got a lot of work back when I was working on the OES2 SP1 beta. On software that's already been through a beta-test and perhaps a service-pack or two, the bug conditions can be very arcane.

One-man IT shops tend to attract WTF people, simply due to the breadth and complexity of the environment. People who thrive in such environments definitely are. They do a little bit of everything, which sets them up to make connections that other people miss.

At the other end of the IT spectrum, highly specialized IT people in large organizations, you still find WTF people. They're perhaps not as common, but they do exist. And strange but awesome synchronicities can occur if WTF people from different specialties start hammering on a problem together. This kind of thing sometimes happens when I talk to L2/3 vendor-support.

I'm proud to see this happen, even if in the moment I'm also going WTF?? in my head.


I get some of that. Except all of mine tend to be problems with the electronic timesheet system. It's a COTS product with $5k a year annual support agreement. And yet, they come to me first to ask how to add holidays for the year.

yeah. nice to know there is another one out there, been doing the one-man-IT-band for almost 12 years now and its amazing the stuff you pick-up, forget, and have to re-pick-up again in the course of a year, much less a decade.