The Professor, his hard disk, and my cheating.

One fine Sunday evening I was preparing myself for the Monday morning. I get a call, and thanks to my Lumia 710 which synced to LinkedIn contacts, I got to know it was the professor from a reputed institute in Ahmedabad. The last time he called was on the day (or night) before his PhD review where he had forgotten the administrator password for his Netbook which contained his research documents for presentation. So I figured, this time also it would be a similar case.

However unlike last time, this issue was different – his hard drive had crashed. I got to realize that unlike last time I couldn’t solve it on phone. I needed to check things personally. Hence I called him at Pratikar, Monday morning.

I skipped my morning jogging and reached office @9:00 so that I could start off quickly, and he was here at some 10:00 am. Fortunately I wasn’t alone, Kunj came early, too.

It was a HP Netbook. We opened it, after seeing some online video on Youtube, and we then removed the hard drive. It was a Toshiba 320 GB Laptop hard disk. I knew it meant trouble, but still I connected it to our machine.

For a moment it seemed that I was saved. We had a release that day and the quicker I fix that, the faster I can get done with the release. However closer inspection showed that the disk was “clicking“. This problem is common and it is known as the “click of death” – sometimes your hard drive is detected in the BIOS, but not by the OS. In this case, however, the OS was detecting only two partitions – Windows and Recovery.

The professor told that the data was in partitions named PhD and Data. I couldn’t detect them. He had limited time since it was his due-date.

Moments later, the disk got undetectable – not being seen in the BIOS, too. The problem just worsened, the drive was weak.

So I sent him to Micronics data recovery apparently for two reasons:

1. I wanted to focus on the release of our software.

2. I would take more time in diagnosis since problem was new for me. Micronics people are experts in hardware-level diagnosis and also associates of Pratikar, so they would be able to fix the problem easily.

Also, it was important to get it fixed asap since otherwise the professor would have to be “detained for six months” as he said.

However, the Micronics people said that it would take them 3-4 days at least, and minimum Rs. 8000-10000 (which is pretty normal for a hardware-level recovery). The professor asked me what to do. I thought, in 3-4 days even I can fix it.

Kaushal, I trust you. I would trust you more than someone else. If you can do it, I will bring it to you“, the professor said.

I agreed. My mistake.

He dropped it at office. He asked me how much it would cost. I didn’t reply. I didn’t know whether I could do it! I asked him to give me some time.

The professor is now all over my communication channels – SMS/Calls/Whatsapp. On all places, he repeared the same things –  Please keep this in priority, I need it. And yes I took it seriously. The day was over mostly in unsuccessful attempts.

The next day was Rakshabandhan. I had promised a day off to my family; I already had a jam-packed situation since my aunt was here after three years and then leaving for Canada later in the night. I wasn’t able to touch the hard disk. The professor called me. I promised him that I would inform him about the recovery possibility by 11:30 AM the next day.


The next day I shook off my holiday hangover and I went to office early as in around 7:00 AM. I needed to fix the disk.

It was a common BSY error. What happens is that sometimes due to firmware issues a hard disk goes into BUSY state, being too busy to accept replies from the BIOS, hence getting undetected. To solve this error, you need to run a set of firmware commands, which again, vary by models of hard disks. These commands are run by connecting the hard disk to Hyperterminal by connecting the disk to the PC via a specially crafted serial cable. If done improperly, it can erase all data on the disk.


I took the risk. Soon I was able to see the partitions PhD and Data, too. I was excited to inform the professor – I called him. He might be in a lecture so didn’t reply.

I left him a message that his data has been retrieved. Also, I needed to charge him, so prepared an invoice and sent him.

Ideally what we do is, once we determine that we are able to retrieve the data we give the client a quote, and the client can then choose to either pay, or not. If he doesn’t want to pay, we don’t charge him and he can happily take his disk back.

A regular BSY fix recovery costs Rs. 10,000 anywhere in Ahmedabad. I had to show some sanity so I created an invoice with the same amount and I mailed the professor, after which I SMSed the details.

He was there at 4:30 PM to take the data. I asked him if he checked his email for the invoice. He said he didn’t get time to check the email. I happily copied it to his external hard drive from his problematic drive. Kunj was staring at me. We don’t normally give the data before client pays.

I was waiting for the “How much should I pay?” question. Finally he asked.

“Normally, I would charge Rs. 10,000. However since ______________________, you feel free to pay whatever you want.”

He said that his data was important, and that he would have paid any amount. He also told that he’d give me a nameless cheque within two days.

He leaves.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Four days, no contact with the professor. I don’t like asking for money from professors since it was, and partially is, a profession I respect. I asked Kunj to dial a call. The professor told that he has sent an email. We checked it, and I was shocked.

The email is shown here, unaltered and privacy-protected:

Dear Kaushal,

It has been really surprising to know that you charge almost 10 times compared to market rate.

I have inquired at other places, and given the same hard disk for the retrieval, person has just charged me Rs. 700 for complete data retrieval ( including songs, movies, and back up).

Rather I am bit disappointed that u waste my two days before retrieving my data and i missed my deadline.  If you want to charge exorbitant amount then you should have retrieved it on the same day.

I could feel that you unnecessarily send me to micronics systems to get the idea about your charges.

On the same day, i have inquired at other places about the charges, none of they have given me estimates more than 3000 for my HD retrieval.

You promised me that you will carry hard disk at home on tuesday and work out over night.  It was my mistake, i blindly trusted you and didnt ask for your estimate.

The another person was ready to come at home and take hard disk and retrieve on the same day.

I really feel its been cheating from your side, and your are taking undue advantage of the situation even though we have came to know each other with reference of ______ sir.

The maximum reasonable charge what i can give you is Rs, 1000.


Now, those who know me, know that money isn’t a part of my game. I would be happy to get that Rs. 1000/- too. Except that he called me a cheat and held me responsible for the time delay. Tuesday was Rakshabandhan btw.


This incident is rotating and revolving in my mind. I need to re-evaluate myself.


p.s. Thanks for taking the time out to read this, it made me feel better.





13 thoughts on “The Professor, his hard disk, and my cheating.

  1. That’s ok. It does happen and I’m sure you’ll take this incident as a learning. It is hard for a techie to think pure business especially when the (so called) “customer” walks in with a credible reference so strong. At some point They need to be made “aware” that if they need a solution there’s a cost attached to it. Take it or Leave it.

    In general business practice, It would be counted as your fault since you did not discuss the quotes and payment terms up front, But at the other side of the so called business tactics, it was your honest tech-instinct that refrained you from quoting or mis-quoting something you were not sure if you could do it then. And That’s a right thing to do at least for a Techie. The Business-man will evolve eventually with the help of experience. And that will be a killer combination.

    But above all no matter what that guy would say to save his money (Believe me people will go to any extent to to pay you less or not pay at all), He would surely remember for life that It was your help at the moment that got his invaluable data back. And that is your win! (if not the money for the time-being). You can smile at him when you meet him next and he’ll get the message. God Bless!

    1. Yes, I learnt a lesson from this. I will be more cautious about the quote next time. It was a good learning experience.

  2. Kaushal, my dad says, “Dusron ki majburi aur kamjori ka faayda utha pana hi business hai!” (My dad isn’t a businessman btw.) I didn’t believe him until I was cheated too in a similar manner. You too should start believing in this tenet beginning now or risk being cheated as well as face being a classic example of ‘Ulta chor kotwal ko daante!’

      1. Who said business is bad? Its such people who make u feel bad. And at the risk of sounding rude, I didn’t invite you to agree with my comment. If you read between the lines, you’ll understand the crux of what I (or my dad) said, which means that decipher the early signals and treat people the way they treat you. Its difficult for the first time, but being a little cautious helps.

        Digressing from business, you know why India was ruled first by Mughals and then by British? Not because we were any less stronger than them, but because we fought wars too with ethics. We didn’t fight at night. They fought at our most vulnerably opportune times. We didn’t attack women and children, they targeted them. We didn’t destroy cities and villages, but fought in large open barren lands (remember Kurukshetra?). They fought with deceit and treason of some of our disgruntled voices. Several examples include people like Siraj-Ud-Daula and Maharana Pratap who lost to ethics not aggressors. Then came Shivaji Maharaj, who gave these aggressors a tit for tat treatment. Thats the only reason he was more successful than others for taming the Mughals, Adilshahi and Nizamshahi and even the Portuguese and the British. Even bhagwan Ram killed Bali using deceit, as he believed ethics are not to be obeyed when dealing with people who don’t give a rat’s ass for ethics.

        The point remains, uphold ethics only for ethical people. And how to distinguish ethical people from unethical ones? That comes with experience, a bit of background study of the people we are dealing with and a close observation of human psychology and behavior.

  3. Hii Kaushal,

    Read your blog for first time looking your title…..Really disappointing thing…

    But every thing in the world has positive aspects and here is too….. like …

    U were able to solve a new problem just in limited time…….so some achievement….

    U got the new entrepreneur lesson that keep your emotional senses (i.e,respect for profession etc.) separate from Business……

    U got some added knowledge…..

    U came to know the competitiveness of market which u may have underestimated………

    Or else the mail send by Professor is like out of agression…….avoid it …as it is obvious human behaviour….ones in anger he/she would like to spell out words in such a way that it hits the right senses of the reader and then only he will relax…….so ignore it MAN……………….

  4. Welcome to life. It sucks. I hate people like this. If I was in this person’s place and I didn’t agree with your estimate, I’d still pay you, probably let you know (with a lot more respect) that I didn’t agree and not come back for business again.

    The fact is, you provided a service. A service he asked for and needed. What you quoted is your rate (over priced or not). It is your rate. You did your job. He needs to do his part. Not doing so is bad faith. I for one (much like you) don’t operate in bad faith.

    As for the cost you quoted, yes, you’re right. It’s a standard to charge that much. The fact that you can get a new hard disk in that cost isn’t the point because it takes serious effort to get data out and the effort (and pre-requisite knowledge/skills) is what you charge people for.

    As for giving data before charging people, you’re right, it was a bad move. One you took only because you knew the person/respected them. Asking for money first would be a bad thing as well (see, you don’t want to operate in bad faith either :)). Usually it’s a good idea to just tell them “oh you’ve not read the quote yet? It will cost you Rs. x which is the standard rate across the market.” but if you’re not in a position to do that, screw it.. sometimes it’s better to know what other people are worth more than the necessary pay check you might get (bad thing for a startup, but still, it’s a heck of a lesson to learn from :))

  5. Kaushal,

    You are truly techie at heart and what you have done is right as per your ethics. I will say what you have done shows how much you care for others – a true technologist.

    Now here is the flip side – you are businessmen too – you need to follow the business practices – quote – PO – delivery – invoice – receipt. This should teach you a lesson to be more careful in future.

    With all said – do not loose your sensitive side – this is what you are and should remain the same.

  6. Obviously this gives a food of thought that at the times we have good people with us, we also have bad people out right there to teach us disadvantages of over trust. Quotes first, approval second and work later – I guess that is the thing that needs to be followed in this kind of cases so that the chances of embarrassment get reduced to certain extent.

    On a lighter note, professor seems to be “chindi chor” 😉

  7. hi
    been a long long time since we communicated…

    Felt sad and disappointed on reading this incident.
    Its not business that is bad, its just some of the ppl we deal with that make business difficult.

    I guess all we can do to save ourselves from all this trouble is establish a protocol( like you said, first payment and then only data).

    We too faced a similar issue when few patients came up after the surgery and explained to us in detail how their relative/neighbor got rid of some advanced cancer by some quack’s help in a few hundred/thousand bucks and that we are being unfair by charging them the said amount.
    Explaining them “WHY” becomes a job more difficult then the surgery itself!!!

    Cant help it man, that’s life!

  8. Humm… I’m not surprised. It seems no one could be trusted when it comes to money. I have seen the best of people in past getting dishonest over money.

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