In 1999, I was a new tech at Net Friends, enjoying my time supporting dozens of research departments at Duke University. After a few months on the job, I started to notice that I was not being equally utilized by every research lab. In particular, I was getting frequent support requests from a small lab of only 8 people nearly every other day. Granted, it was a time when Windows and Mac computers alike were routinely crashing or having trouble printing and required a lot of attention.
But this one lab called me in far more often than any other, something I couldn’t help but notice, because it was such an outlier. I would later discover that it was a conspiracy... a good-hearted one by several people in the lab attempting a little matchmaking between me and my future wife, Liz (who was a 23-year-old lab research tech at the time).
There were two ladies in this lab, Sharon and Angelika, who decided between themselves that Liz and I would be perfect for each other. So, they called me into the lab multiple times a week for any IT request they could imagine. It was so extreme that I was even called in to clean mousepads and mice for them, because they claimed that I likely had special cleaning solvents and techniques to extend the useful life of these items. It turns out, I did know a trick or two about cleaning out the inner wheels that can accumulate sticky crud. But still, it’s hard to imagine these days someone putting in support requests like this on a regular basis!
The lab had quite a bit of older and expensive equipment on the work benches, and much of it was jerry-rigged to connect to workstations and the network in the lab. Notable for this story, there was this old-school dot matrix printer that was connected to a specific lab device, and the printer was the only way to get output from it. One day in the fall of 1999, Liz had run an experiment and needed to print out the results, only the printer would not respond. Encouraged by her two lab mates, she put in a support request for me to come check out the printer. My memory might not be crisp on this, but I do believe this was one of the first times Liz directly called me into the lab.
I had already gotten wind of the little matchmaking scheme going on in the lab, and I have to say I wasn’t at all opposed to it. I jumped at the opportunity and rushed down to the lab. I hadn’t seen or serviced the printer in question before, but I wasn’t at all worried about being able to troubleshoot an older technology. “It printed once before, I’m sure I can make it print again,” I recall thinking. Once I arrived in the lab and Liz showed me the situation, I immediately suspected what was wrong.
In a moment that would have made MacGyver proud, I said “Hand me a pipet tip and some tape.” I had noticed that a little plastic tab near the paper feed had broken off where it once covered the sensor. I wanted to see what would happen if we hit print after the sensor was blocked again. Sure enough, when Liz hit print with the pipet tip securely in place, the printer roared to life and loudly produced the experiment’s results. I played it off like it was all in a day’s work and I was out of the lab in less than 15 minutes round trip.
This story has long been in our family’s lore and while it wasn’t the only thing I did along the way to woo Liz, it was one of those notable moments that put me on the map in her mind. There is no doubt this event was one of a few that helped land me that first date months later when the opportunity arose. I’m telling this story not to draw a line between novel IT solutions and future wedding bells, but to show that from the beginning, we here at Net Friends have all looked for creative ways to solve problems. You don’t need to come up with clever ways to get anyone on our team to prioritize your needs – it’s just in our nature to help and be your Net Friend.