When you work at TAC, you are required to be “on-shift” for 4 hours each day.  This doesn’t mean that you work four hours a day, just that you are actively taking cases only four hours per day.  The other four (or more) hours you work on your existing backlog, calling customers, chasing down engineering for bug fixes, doing recreates, and, if you’re lucky, doing some training on the side.  While you were on shift, you would still work on the other stuff, but you were responsible for monitoring your “queue” and taking cases as they came in.  On our queue we generally liked to have four customer support engineers (CSE’s) on shift at any time.  Occasionally we had more or less, but never less than two.  We didn’t like to run with two engineers for very long;  if a P1 comes in, a CSE can be tied up for hours unable to deal with the other cases that come in, and the odds are not low that more than one P1 come in.  With all CSE’s on-shift tied up, it was up to the duty manager to start paging off-shift engineers as cases came in, never a good thing.  If ever you were on hold for a long time with a P1, there is a good chance the call center agent was simply unable to find a CSE because they were all tied up.  Sometimes it was due to bad planning, sometimes lack of staff.  Sometimes you would start a shift with five CSE’s on the queue and they’d all get on P1’s in the first five minutes.  The queue was always unpredictable.

At TAC, when you were on-shift, you could never be far from your desk.  You were expected to stay put, and if you had to get up to use the bathroom or go to the lab, you notified your fellow on-shift engineers so they knew you wouldn’t be available.  Since I preferred the 10am-2pm shift, in 2 years I took lunch away from my desk maybe 5 times.  Most days I told the other guys I was stepping out, ran to the cafeteria, and ran back to my desk to eat while taking cases.

Thus, I was quite happy one day when I had a later shift and my colleague Delvin showed up at my desk and asked if I wanted to go to a nice Chinese lunch.  Eddy Lau, one of our new CSE’s who had recently emigrated from China, had found an excellent and authentic restaurant.  We hopped into Eddy’s car and drove over to the restaurant, where we proceeded to have a two-hour long Chinese feast.  “It’s so great to actually go to lunch,” I said to Delvin, “since I eat at my desk every day.”  Eddy was happy to help his new colleagues out.

As we were driving back, Devlin asked Eddy, “When are you on shift?”

“Right now,” said Eddy.

“You’re on shift now?!” Delvin asked incredulously.  “Dude, you can’t leave for two hours if you’re on shift.  Who are you on shift with?”

“Just me and Sarah,” Eddy said, not really comprehending the situation.

“You left Sarah on shift by herself?!” Devlin asked.  “What if a P1 comes in?  What if she gets swamped by cases?  You can’t leave someone alone on the queue!”

We hurried back to the office and pulled up WebMonitor, which showed not only active cases, but who had taken cases that shift and how many.  Sarah had taken a single case.  By some amazing stroke of luck, it had been a very quiet shift.

I walked by Eddy’s desk and he gave me a thumbs up and a big smile.  I figured he wouldn’t last long.  A couple months later, after blowing a case, Eddy got put on RMA duty and subsequently quit.

If you ever wonder why you had to wait so long on the phone, it could be a busy day.  Or it could be your CSE’s decided to take a long lunch without telling anyone.