This one falls into the category of, “I probably shouldn’t post this, especially now that I’m at Cisco again,” but what the heck.

I’ve often mentioned, in this series, the different practices of “backbone TAC” (or WW-TAC) and High Touch Technical Support (HTTS), the group I was a part of.  WW-TAC was the larger TAC organization, where the vast majority of the cases landed.  HTTS was (and still is) a specialized TAC group dedicated to Cisco’s biggest customers, who generally pay for the additional service.  HTTS was supposed to provide a deeper knowledge of the specifics of customer networks and practices, but generally worked the same as TAC.  We had our own queues, and when a high-touch customer would open a case, Cisco’s entitlement tool would automatically route their case to HTTS based on the contract number.

Unlike WW-TAC, HTTS did not use the “follow the sun” model.  This meant that regular TAC cases would be picked up by a region where it was currently daytime, and when a TAC agent’s shift ended, they would find another agent in the next timezone over to pick up a live (P1/P2) case.  At HTTS, we had US-based employees only, at the time, and they had to work P1/P2 cases to resolution.  This meant if your shift ended at 6pm, and a P1 case came in at 5:55, you might be stuck in the office for hours until you resolved it.  We did have a US-based nightshift that came on at 6pm, but they only accepted new cases–we couldn’t hand off a live one to nightshift.

Weekends were covered by a model I hated, called “BIC”.  I asked my boss what it stood for and he explained it was either “Butt In Chair” or “Bullet In the Chamber.”  The HTTS managers would publish a schedule (quarterly if I recall) assigning each engineer one or two 6 hour shifts during the weekends of that quarter.  During those 6 hours, we had to be online and taking cases.

Why did I hate it?  First, I hated working weekends, of course.  Second, the caseload was high.  A normal day on my queue might see 4 cases per engineer, but on BIC you typically took seven or eight.  Third, you had to take cases on every topic.  During the week, only a voice engineer would pick up a voice case.  But on BIC, I, a routing protocols engineer, might pick up a voice case, a firewall case, a switching case…or whatever.  Fourth, because BIC took place on a weekend, normal escalation channels were not available.  If you had a major P1 outage, you couldn’t get help easily.

Remember that a lot of the cases you accepted took weeks or even months to resolve.  Part of a TAC engineer’s day is working his backlog of cases:  researching, working in the lab to recreate a problem, talking to engineering, etc., all to resolve these cases.  When you picked up seven cases on a weekend, you were slammed for weeks after that.

We did get paid extra for BIC, although I don’t remember how much.  It was hundreds of dollars per shift, if I recall.  Because of this, a number of engineers loaded up on BIC shifts and earned thousands of dollars per quarter.  Thankfully, this meant there were plenty of willing recipients when I wanted to give away my shifts, which I did almost always.  (I worked two during my two years at TAC.)  However, sometimes I could not find anyone to take my shift, and in that case I actually would sell my shift, offering a hundred additional dollars if someone would take the shift.  That’s how much I hated BIC.  Of course, this was done without the company knowing about it, as I’m sure they wouldn’t approve of me selling my work!

We had one CSE on our team, I’ll call him Omar, who loaded up on BICs.  Then he would come into his week so overloaded with cases from the weekend that he would hardly take a case during the week.  We’d all get burdened with extra load because Omar was off working his weekend cases.  Finally, as team lead, I called him out on it in our group chat and Omar blew up on me.  Well, I was right of course but I had to let it go.

I don’t know if HTTS still does BIC, although I suspect it’s gone away.  I still work almost every weekend I have, but it’s to stay on top of work rather than taking on more.