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You Will Learn Or You Will Burn

, , , , , , | Working | August 5, 2022

I worked in a call center, and after a few years, we had a girl from another project transfer over to our project and take over as team leader.

Something she was stringent about was security. Admittedly, when you have a room of twenty-odd people you work with every day (and hang out with after work), you subconsciously trust each other, and we’d become far too lax.

If we had a piece of paper out on our desk with customer information printed on it, [Team Leader] would stand next to us and glare at us until we finally guessed it and put the paper safely in a folder or in a security box to be shredded if we no longer needed it. Something else she was strict about was employees stepping out of the room without locking their computers, as we didn’t like having to enter an annoyingly long password after coming back from simply grabbing a cup of water from the cooler in the hallway.

This was a bad habit we needed to break, especially since our previous team leader never enforced it. But it seemed like no matter how hard and heavy she’d come down on us, we’d just keep forgetting.

Then, one day, I made a quick dash outside after noticing the project manager passing by in the hallway. After a brief forty-five-second conversation, I ducked back in to see the team leader comfortably seated at my desk and humming to herself. My first guess was that she was examining a transaction I had done, so I didn’t think anything of it… until I sauntered over and immediately noticed that she had my email client open and was emailing the human resources manager:

Email: “Hey, jerk! YOU SUCK! And your wife is fat as a cow! Your daughter is so ugly, it gives Freddy Krueger nightmares!”

Me: “What the h*** are you doing?”

She pressed the send button.


I tried to reach for the keyboard, but she nudged my hand away.

Team Leader: “Nope. Stand right there.”

She then opened a browser and started Googling things like “big booty girls,” “panty sniffers support groups,” and, “Is it weird that I’m attracted to my sister?”

Me: “I don’t what kind of a joke this is, but the IT department sees things we browse on the Internet—”

Team Leader: *Big grin* “Mm-hmm! They sure do!”

Me: “I’m trying to see what’s so funny here because, so far, I’m not laughing.”

Team Leader: “That’s because there isn’t anything funny to laugh at. LOCK YOUR COMPUTER WHEN YOUR RUMP IS NOT PLANTED IN FRONT OF IT! You have no idea who is doing what on your computer when you are away. You can talk all you want about how you all know and trust each other, but what about people outside the project? A year ago, someone in the accounting office stepped out to smoke a cigarette and left her computer open. Someone dipped in and sent a rude message to a customer that had been aggravating him. How many late-night shifts have there been where there were only two or three of you, it had been hours since anyone called, and you both took a quick break outside?”

Me: “Oh… I guess if you put it that way… but are you gonna tell them—”

Team Leader: *Getting up* “The HR manager already knows about the email and Google searches. I cleared it with him first because I just can’t seem to get through to you guys that this is serious.”

Point definitely taken! People began being vigilant about locking their systems when away after that.

About a week later, I casually logged onto my workstation and saw that my wallpaper had been replaced with a photo of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, and the desktop themes had been changed to pink and glitter. (Note: I was a thirty-five-year-old man!). My web browser had been changed with pink Hello Kitty themes. My files had been replaced with Miley Cyrus photos.

I looked over at the team leader and just folded my arms.

Me: *Deep sigh* “How did you get into my system?”

Team Leader: *Smiling* “It wasn’t very hard at all!” *Nodding toward my desk*

Me: *Looking around* “What?!”

Team Leader: “Warmer… warmer… definitely heating up… There ya go!”

Me: *Picking up my notebook* “This?! It just has all my work notes from cases I was working on.” *Flipping through the pages*

Team Leader: “Mm-hmm…”

Me: *Flipping further* “Just notes!” *Pauses* “Oh.”

I found a sticky note that I’d written my password on and attached to a random page, but I had forgotten about it.

It took two more Justin Bieber/Hello Kitty/Miley Cyrus stunts with other employees to get them to stop writing their passwords down and sticking them in inconspicuous places like under keyboards and calculators or writing them in notebooks that were left out on their desks.

Eventually, we got along with [Team Leader], and we all became aware of how important data security really is and that intrusions really, really do result from simple carelessness.

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