3. The ol’ “kicked out the power cord to all the servers”:
I used to intern at a national hotel chain at the corporate headquarters. While sitting at my desk, I put my feet up on some wires and cables and such. A few hours later, the servers in the building went down, and the 3,000 employees in the building could not log into the database and it may have been tied into all the hotels, reservations etc.
While researching the issue, an Engineer went into my cubicle, and flipped a power strip under my desk which apparently had all the servers plugged into it on the other side of the wall.
Basically, my foot hit the power switch and downed all the servers.
4. The “nearly killed thousands of people”:
I was doing research at London’s Heathrow Airport, working in a room just below the control tower.
We were listening to the control tower instructions and timing how long the pilots took to respond.
My colleague left for lunch one day having turned his radio onto ‘broadcast’ by accident. As radio is one way, it meant that no one was able to send or receive messages on the frequency that was being used to give take off permission.
I returned back to my desk and started to eat my lunch to discover that all departures from the airport had been brought to a standstill by someone who sounded like they were eating their lunch.
The realisation that it was the sound of MY lunch being eaten hit me about 10 minutes later. I rushed over and flicked the switch to off, and one of the busiest international airports in the world started to work again.
5. The “arsonist”:
This office was an accounting firm with about 20 people in it, and it was lunchtime, so a lot of stuff was going on. I plugged the terminal in and…
It made a huge electrical short sound, and sparks jumped out. Everyone started to look at me. “No problem guys, just a little short” I said. THEN THE THING CAUGHT FIRE.
6. The “did I do that?”
I joined at the beginning of my internship under the username www (they are my initials), and all the engineers’ sandboxes started to redirect to mine because of the url address.
So yes, I managed to break things without even writing a single line of code.
— Winnie Wu, Facebook intern in 2013
8. The “towering inferno”:
In my first high school coding job — I guess that made me a tech intern — I burned down the entire office due to a cabling mistake.
It was a total loss, displaced 100+ people, and destroyed lots of files, records, artwork, and a lot of the CEO’s memorabilia. He never blamed me, but I think he knew it was my fault.
10. The “oops I sent that joke email to all the customers instead of my buddy”:
I was 21 and at a multinational IT consulting firm. Target was one of our clients, and at that time, used the IBM dumb terminals for communication. The ‘Message Send’ command was used similar to IM now-a-days, but if you do not provide an id, it sent the message to ALL users (which few people knew about).
One Friday I sent, what I thought was a joke - “To commemorate Blaise Pascal’s birthday, all your computers will be run at half-speed today”.
I thought it sent the message to all IT folks, but what I did not realize was that the message was sent to ALL users - retail stores, Target business users, management teams etc.
And that Friday turned out to be the 13th. So Target security thought it was a virus attack, and traced the origin of the message to, naturally, my cubicle. I was called into work by my CTO at 2 AM, and I, with a pale face, explained how it was supposed to be a harmless prank. Then the CTO and with the CEO on the phone crafted an apology letter to the Target CEO/CIO with me right there. I was pretty sure I was fired, but I wasn’t.
On the plus side I became famous and made lot of new friends in the company :). And Target implemented a change to the IBM send message to prevent this.
When I was interning at Baylor College I set the entire Human Genome Project back a week. I was writing my first program to make use of a grid to align human and mouse genomes. I was sending large amounts of data around the network. A bug in my code caused my program to fork infinitely and eventually burnt out the controller running the network array.
It took down the college’s connection to the internet for two days. When we got it back I did it again and that was the last time they let me use the grid.
Answers came from this Quora post: What is the most catastrophic mistake made by an intern at a tech company?
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