“I Think You're Lying”

Posted on March 10, 2019 by Brian Jaress
Tags: story, work, people

These days, my job is focused on software, but when I was younger I had jobs where I was an all-around “computer guy” handling software, networking, repair, backups, and more.

At one job, we had a pile of discarded computers near my desk. It had been there since before I started. When someone’s computer broke, we’d try to fix it using parts salvaged from the pile. If that didn’t work, we added their computer to the pile and ordered them a new one.

Then our CEO announced that, for security reasons, we could no longer keep the pile near my desk. We must move the pile into a locked storeroom, to which the office administrator had the key. If we needed to get parts, the administrator would let us in and record both the part we took and the serial number of the computer we took it from.

The administrator, the other computer guy, and I moved the pile into the storeroom. We had no carts, so we walked back and forth many times, each person carrying one computer each trip.

A week or two later, my hard drive died. The administrator let me into the storeroom, gestured at the pile of beige computers, and said, “Which one do you want?”

“One of the newer ones, I guess. There’s a better chance the hard drive works.”

I found a computer without much dust on the vents and a trendy curve to the plastic accents. Back at my desk, I took out the hard drive. The administrator took the rest of the computer to her desk to write down the serial number.

The other computer guy was out sick, and there was a lot of software to install on my new hard drive, so I was sitting alone and bored, watching a progress meter when the administrator came back.

“Hey, what part did you take out of that computer?”

“The hard drive.”

“What happened to the files on it?”

“I deleted them. Wiped the drive clean, then reinstalled the operating system. Now I’m installing other software that I need.”

“Did you make a copy of the files before you deleted them?”

“No, we would have copied anything important when we added it to the pile, so the person could use the files on their new computer.”

“Oh, OK.” She left. And then came back.

“Did you look at the files before you deleted them?”


“Is there a way you could get them back?”


“Could anyone else get them back?”

“Maybe the NSA. Why?”

“That computer wasn’t part of the pile, it was just next to it. It was the CEO’s old computer. He just bought himself a new one without telling me, and he had the other computer guy set it up for him without telling you. He locked his old computer in the storeroom until he had time to copy over the files. He didn’t trust the other computer guy to do that part because the files were secret.”

“Well,” I said, “they’re secret forever now.”

“Could you talk to him? He doesn’t believe me that it was an accident.”

I hurried over to the CEO’s office.

“I just heard we had the wrong computer,” I said. “I deleted all the files on the drive. Sorry for the mistake.”

“I think you’re lying,” he said. “I think the two of you did this on purpose.”

“Why would we do it on purpose?”

“You tell me.”

I thought about it. “There is no reason we would do it on purpose. We didn’t know anything about that computer.”

“I think you did. I think the two of you planned it.”

“No, it was a mistake. I’m sorry.”

The conversation seemed long, but it must have been short. Although we went back and forth with more accusations and denials, nothing new was actually said until he ended it with, “There’s no proof, so you can leave.”

I went back to my desk, and we never spoke of it again.

Different people I’ve told that story to have remarked on different parts of it. Some mention the total failure of the new security policy. Others talk about the nature of the CEO’s accusation or who is to blame for the outcome. One person speculated that the secret files might have been illegal or obscene.

What stands out to me, looking back on it now, is the way I interacted with people back then. The memory of my younger self sounds a bit blunt and unkind. Of course I must have been under stress, but I hope I’d handle it with a more human touch if it happened again today.