Tech Interns Confess To The Most Disastrous Mistakes They Ever Made

China weird bicycle red flagREUTERS/StringerOne intern was caught spying for the Chinese.

One of the funniest ongoing threads on Quora, the wonderful question-and-answer web site, is, “
What is the most catastrophic mistake made by an intern at a tech company?

Skip directly to the confessions >

Among the people who have answered the question are former interns at Facebook, Microsoft and AIG.

Their confessions include being rude to Mark Zuckerberg’s wife, burning down an office building, and accidentally turning off the internet across large stretches of the Ukraine.

Some of the respondents have used their real names. We’ve excerpted and anonymized the best of their answers.


I trolled Mark Zuckerberg's wife.

While I was interning at Facebook we were testing Facebook Questions shortly before the official launch. I decided to answer few questions, just to see the flow. The second or third question was from a girl asking 'How to solve quadratic equations?'. Since I'm a big fan of XKCD (a sarcastic comic strip) my instant response was 'Have you tried logarithms?' (xkcd: Impostor) and I decided to actually write it. Well, after all, as any such platform it was expected to have trolls so it was still valid form of 'testing' and I thought it's not that bad. That is, until I realised that Priscilla Chan, the person who asked the question, was Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend and now wife.

'I burned down the entire office.'

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.

This intern switched off the Ukraine's banking infrastructure for 30 minutes by accident.

It was my second year in university and I worked for a local ISP as a junior system administrator. We had a large wireless network ~60km in radius covering our whole city and many rural areas around it. This network was used by all major commercial banks and many large enterprises in the area (~100 of bank branches, some large factories, radio stations, etc).

... When I wanted to shut down my local server I've switched to a terminal window that was connected to the box, typed 'poweroff', pressed enter and only then realised that I did it on a wrong server. I had that second window opened ever since the monitoring alert an hour ago and now I've shut down the core router of our city-wide network.

We had to grab a car and drive to the central station to power the router back on, our whole banking infrastructure was down for 30+ min and that was one of the darkest days of my career.

I brought down the Washington Post for five hours.

I have to be anonymous.When I was interning at the Washington Post,I brought down the post's website for good 2 hours and publishing to the website for 5 hours.

While making a change in a very critical XML file,I forgot/was not aware that you have to escape the semicolon in the xml file.

However,my boss was cool and they didn't make a huge deal out of it.I eventually got hired at the Post also and gladly accepted the offer.

This intern hit 'reply all' at exactly the wrong moment ... 'It was magical.'

The CPA firm I worked for always hired 4 or 5 summer interns and they just got picked up to help on miscellaneous engagements as needed. When they didn't have anything to work on, they were required to email the entire department with an 'available for work' email so people would know they were free.

When one of the interns sent their email, another intern friend of his accidentally hit 'reply all' with three simple words: Suck my d---.

The intern just told an entire department of 60-something people including partners, managers, department heads, etc. to 'Suck it.'

It was magical. Everyone got the email at the same time and you could see heads start to come up over cube walls one by one like prairie dogs. Managers slowly stepped out of their offices and everyone just stared at each other in shock.

They now offer 'reply all' training as part of intern orientation.

This intern unplugged his company's main server in order to charge his phone.

This confession is brief, but you get the point:

'Plugging out the main server in order to plug in phone charger.'

So this is why Facebook goes down ...

I brought down facebook messenger for nine minutes. Oops.

I accidentally persuaded my CEO to retire.

I got a CEO to retire. During one of my internships, I asked the CEO in a open-to-all meeting if he's doing his best to keep the company aligned with its mission and vision. He asked me who I was, thought for a few minutes (with about 200 people in the audience), walked out of the room, took a few more minutes, walked back in, and announced retirement.

More details about answer, since a lot of comments seem to be the same question:

+ This was not a mega mega company. It was a 500 people company.

+ The CEO was, afaik, not planning to retire. At the same time, there were already talks about the CEO being a possible candidate for getting fired soon as the company wasn't doing too well.

+ The CEO seemed to be in a state of slight depression; frankly, in his speech, he said that all he needed was someone to tell him where he lost it. And a question which most people did not ask (for not being on the CEO's let-go list), was asked by me.

This guy was busted spying for the Chinese.

(Person depicted is not a Chinese spy.)

… one day, the FBI swarmed down on our company. They came in fast and hard and all work came to a stop while we wondered what the hell was going on. It turned out that our intern had stolen the source code for our most precious and valuable techniques and tried to sell them to the Chinese for the pitiable sum of $US50,000.'

Unfortunately, the Chinese he was selling them to were undercover FBI agents. I never discovered how he set this sale up or how the FBI became involved, but here was a young man, not even a graduate of college, who was now heading off to prison for espionage, theft, and a dozen other charges, …

My officemate was busted stealing Microsoft's new user interface for Microsoft Exchange.

One day on week 3 into the internship our manager came in asking where my officemate was. I said I didn't know - probably at lunch. He said there was something going on with my officemate's PC... 'security had alerted him'. He didn't know anything else.

He walked over to my officemate's desk and hit a key, fully expecting the PC would be locked and he would have to wait for the guy to return. The computer was not locked. Right there on the desktop was the old-school Windows 'flying folders' UI of files being copied from one drive to another.

The from drive: unreleased version of Outlook on Microsoft's internal beta fileshare.

The to drive: some random external ftp server.

Needless to say the guy never came back from lunch.

'I brought down 3 floors of AIG's Wall Street corporate network -- for 3 days!'

I brought down 3 floors of AIG's Wall Street corporate network -- for 3 days! This is a true story.

… New management wanted to bring in ATT/NCR servers running the then new Windows NT. ATT configured a server for us to test. They sent it to me on a Friday.

Before I left for the long weekend, I decided to plug it in put it under my desk.

... Little did I know that the server was a DHCP server. Put 2 DHCP servers on the same network and they'll create a situation where all the clients get confused when they renew their leases. In a nutshell, my new server created so much traffic that nobody could use the network.

When I came in Tuesday morning, the CIO and several other big-wigs were hovering over my cube. It was not a pleasant week!

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