It's a sickening feeling. Your computer refuses to open your files. Is
all that work gone forever? To find out for sure, you need the help of an
expert -- an expert known as a data recovery specialist.
Computer technicians and programmers need to retrieve lost data from time
to time. There are consultants in the computer industry who make retrieving
information their full-time job. And data recovery is an important part of
the job for computer forensics experts.
Sometimes the specialist retrieves lost files by coaxing a broken hard
drive to give up its secrets. Other times, the software has to be decoded.
A hard drive fault is called a physical problem. If the glitch is in the
software, it's called a logical problem. A data recovery specialist is comfortable
handling either one.
Data recovery specialists should have a willingness to learn and do research,
says Mari DeGrazia. She's a computer forensics examiner.
"The field is always changing, so you have to keep up on it," says DeGrazia.
"Even though you may know how to do something one day, something completely
new may come out in another week. [Perhaps] a whole new operating system is
released. So you have to be willing to expand your knowledge, to research
and to learn, and kind of have a real hunger to do it."
Some specialists work as lone consultants who make house calls. Others
work for large companies with big laboratories. Clients may send in everything
from damaged hard drives to faulty disks or CD-ROMs. Occasionally, the whole
computer comes in.
"I think you have to be kind of personable, and you have to be able to
explain things in a non-technical sort of way," says Harry Elver. He's a computer
consultant who does data recovery. "I think you have to have good empathy
with people... because a lot of times they're seeing you because they're having
Even companies that back up their data are at risk. Backup systems don't
always work in an emergency.
"People are coming to you because they have a problem, not because they
want to hang out with a computer guy and shoot the breeze with you," says
Elver. "But it is sort of satisfying to be able to recover their data or get
their network back running again."
Data recovery is sometimes straightforward and easy. Other times, it's
"There are different levels," says DeGrazia. "There are some programs
that have automated the tasks. Sometimes it's as simple as pointing it to
a computer and running it, and sometimes you actually have to do some research
and some analysis in order to figure out how the data was stored previously
on the computer before you can figure out how to recover it.
"And then sometimes you have to write your own tools to assist with that,"
says DeGrazia. "If you have hundreds of things that need to be recovered,
you wouldn't want to go through that manually. You'd want to write some kind
of a program or a script to automate the process."
Data recovery specialists need good vision and an ability to stand or sit
for long hours. They work over a disassembled computer on a work table or
at a computer screen while they reconfigure scrambled data.