Jon’s War Story: Beware of Trap Doors

Jon Innes, founder of UX Innovation has a story about getting – and maintaining – access to a secure location. Very secure.

Early in my career I helped a number of companies outside of the consumer space adopt methods from consumer design research for devevloping products sold to businesses. This is always a challenge because you have to explain to various people at the companies you visit what you want to do and they typically think you are crazy.

In this case, my project involved trekking to companies around the US to talk to telecom and networking geeks. My assignment was to study adoption barriers to Cisco’s Voice Over IP products, which meant physical phones, special servers to make them work like old fashioned phones, and some software to set them up to do stuff like retrieving voice-mail, and dialing extensions or outside lines.

On this particular day, I was onsite at an Ivy League university. I had just spent several hours talking to telecom guys who clearly didn’t like the idea of having to use some fancy networking gear or for that matter anything that was designed after Jim Morrison had died. I had just parked my stuff in the corner of a network operations center (NOC) that resembled NASA’s Mission Control Center in preparation for a series of interviews with the staff there. Getting in the NOC was a major coup. Most organizations do not like outsiders in the NOC, especially outsiders with cameras taking notes.

About 5 minutes before my first interview with a NOC employee, I decided to make a run for the restroom. My time-zone-adjusting caffeine intake was taking its toll, and the person I was supposed to speak to had yet to arrive. I asked someone in the NOC for directions to the nearest restroom and walked down the hall, not thinking about much but the call of nature. I passed through several doors and got flashbacks of an old TV show called “Get Smart” I watched in reruns as a kid.

I located my destination, but as I attempted to return to the NOC, I quickly realized I had a problem. In my haste, I’ve left the secured zone of the NOC. The doors I passed through require a special badge to get back through. Worse yet, I’ve left my bag with my ID and my notes of who I’m supposed to visit, and I can’t remember the name of who I’m supposed to be meeting with next.

While most companies make you sign in, I had not needed to that day. I had an escort from the IT group show me around, leaving me at each place for the time we agreed so I could do the interviews. So I’m now in an unknown part of the building, with no idea how to get back to where I was, or even how to get out of the building I’m in. I don’t have my cell phone with me, and there’s no one in the hallway to ask for help. Even if I do find someone, like a security guard or an employee, I realize it’s going to be really hard to explain this. After what seemed like an eternity, I talk a passerby into helping me contact my escort from IT, who kindly helps me return to the NOC. I manage to gather some good insights there during the time I have left.

To this day every time I’m doing a study in a corporate setting, I always hear the theme from Get Smart playing in my head as I walk down those hallways-and my trusty laptop case is always on my shoulder.


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