It was September 1986 and I was settling into my job as the microcomputer manager at the Pasadena corporate headquarters of Avery International (maker of binders, office supplies, colorful stick-on dots). The office was appropriately opulent for a Fortune 500 company; artwork on the walls, floors of marble and chestnut.
Most of my day involved showing people how to do things in software (WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Harvard Graphics), replenishing supplies (I had cabinets full of dot-matrix ribbons, some toner cartridges, and boxes of 5¼ inch diskettes), or setting up and burning in new equipment.
Half the staff had dual floppy IBM 5150s, about a quarter had the new Compaq luggables, and a lucky few had the new IBM XT's with their magnanimous 10 megabyte hard disks. Color monitors were reserved for those with heavy graphic needs or up on the third floor (the executive offices). And, naturally, as the PC manager, I had an XT with a color monitor.
Obviously, this was before "the cloud," before networked hard drives, before Google Docs.
Halfway through one moderately busy afternoon, the fire alarms triggered—buzz buzz buzz and flashing strobes, which most people ignored. We were fairly accustomed to alarms sounding when someone left a burning cigarette in their office (yes, this was the ’80s, and people still smoked indoors at work). After about five minutes of this nonsense I looked up to see a larger than usual smattering of employees milling about outside, so I went to see what was up.
Most of them were from our tax department on the second floor of the building. Apparently, not only had somebody set off the alarm, but the overhead automatic sprinklers in that part of the building had been activated as well. Oy. Immediately my mind jumped to the possibility of wet monitors. I reentered the building and quietly slid behind my desk, waiting for the disaster reports to roll in. My phone lit up. A distraught sounding vice president of the tax department was on the other end.
"Can you come over to Peggy's office?"
I inhaled and reluctantly headed up the stairs. I was rather expecting flying sparks and smoke wafting out of a monitor, but when I entered the office I was greeted with a somewhat dampened Peggy, her boss the vice president, and a very wet wood desk with two layers of soaking 5¼ inch floppy disks.
"Now what?" the VP asked.
I shrugged and looked at the disks. Peggy chimed in, almost choking, "I was right in the midst of organizing our tax records when the sprinkler went off."
"Do you have any backups?" I asked.
I didn't have to ask. I was looking at the only copy of our corporate tax records for the last couple of years, all entered into Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets, all drenched. Big trouble.
"Let me see what I can do," I sighed, gingerly stacking the soggy diskettes into a pile. I carried the disks back downstairs to my desk and thought.
First, I picked up one of the drier looking victims and slid it into the diskette slot, latching down the door.