Confessions of a benefits manager: Computer says no

Finding herself locked out of her computer, Candid sets out on the epic journey to find the way back in with a new password

This morning, my computer refuses to speak to me. As in any long-term relationship, this happens every few months. I come in on a Monday morning, only to find my network password doesn’t work any more. I am locked out. There is no good reason for this. Those sadistic IT guys, suddenly and inexplicably, reset my password over the weekend.

The thought goes through my head, as it always does: have I been made redundant? Could the IT department be conscientiously following the process for leavers, and Big Bad Boss hasn’t yet got round to telling me? It seems unlikely. Not that I wouldn’t put it past Big Bad Boss. He is in the US for a meeting, so something as trivial as letting me go could have slipped his mind. I know the Higher Beings are putting pressure on everyone to meet their culling targets, and there is no reason why our department should be spared. Logically, if anyone could be spared, it would be my colleague Lazy Susan, but Big Bad Boss is not always logical. I reassure myself it is hardly likely the IT department could be that efficient. They just do not work to the same kind of timescales as the rest of us.

Special coffee shops

Network passwords are dealt with by a special team in Amsterdam. I ring them up. They are all lovely boys, not one of them aged over 20, but they are relaxed, to say the least. Sometimes they take a while to answer the phone; even longer to do anything. I often wonder if they stop off on the way to work at one of those special coffee shops they have in Amsterdam. They just don’t seem to take anything very seriously. Luckily, Geert, the guy who finally answers, speaks excellent English. I tell him my woes. I am locked out of the system. Can he get me back in? No, he says, not without authorisation. Authorisation from whom? My manager? But he is away in the US and, given the time difference, will not even be up until this afternoon.

Geert is very sorry, but I could be anyone calling. He is not allowed to give new passwords to just anyone on the phone. Surely he can see I am calling from an internal number? Yes, he can, but I could be a visitor using someone else’s desk. This is silly, bordering on conspiracy paranoia. I am tempted to ask if he thinks the Apollo moon landing was faked as well, but then I remember he works in IT, so of course he does.

We all start laughing

He asks if I can send an email to verify I am an employee. Send an email? Of course I can’t send an email – I am locked out of the system. That is why I called in the first place. I am finding it hard to stay as relaxed as he is. Geert goes very quiet, then starts giggling. He really must have been to one of those special coffee shops on the way to work. He giggles for a full five minutes, and actually it is quite contagious, and I start laughing too. My colleague Lazy Susan gives me a funny look, and then she starts laughing along with me.

We have not had this much fun at work since Big Bad Boss was last away. A secretary comes through on her way to the copier, and she starts to laugh. Another bloke from finance passes by and joins in. Before long, it is quite a chuckle party. When the laughter dies down, everyone asks me what is so funny. I don’t know what to say. I can hardly tell them I got the giggles from some stoned bloke in Holland. Passive joking is probably against company policy.

Resetting the password

Finally, Geert agrees to reset my password once he has received an email from Lazy Susan to verify who I am. This is hardly a security procedure, as Lazy Susan will do whatever you tell her to do, without the slightest discernment, as long as it doesn’t look anything like work. But at least Geert’s company conscience is satisfied.

He resets the password, and finally I am in. However, I am immediately prompted to reset it again to a password of my own choice. A box pops up to warn me never to show it to anyone or write it down. That is quite ridiculous – how else am I supposed to remember it? It is not like they let you choose something simple, like your pet’s name. Oh no. It has to be at least nine characters, and contain a number and a special character. No four successive characters can be the same as a previous password ever used.

Forbidden words

Worse, there are forbidden words. They don’t tell you what they are, but if you choose them, a buzzer sounds and you have to try again. I try ‘Welcome-1’. Buzz. That is a banned word. It turns out ‘Hello’, ‘Morning’ and ‘Password’ are all naughty words, too. I don’t like things being forbidden. It makes me feel like a five-year-old. I wonder what happens if you actually type in something rude? I try a particularly ripe swearword. Buzz. It is like some silly word game, where the rules have been made up by some sadistic computer programmer, which, of course, is exactly what it is.

I remember the power of the subconscious mind. If I am going to type something in every morning, it should be something positive. ‘1day-OutofHere’ it is, then.