Lint-Trap 5/22/01: Stupid Programmer Tricks


Stupid Programmer Tricks


The Universe continues to give me a hard time--my home (central) air conditioner has now cut out, on the same day I got my car back. I know even less about air conditioners than I do about cars, so this looks like another triple-digit expense.


But the subject of this entry is rather lighter than that. When I was out to dinner on Sat., the subject of stupid programmer tricks came up. We laughed until our sides ached at the wonderful things computer programmers sometimes do when confronted by human beings instead of computers. So I thought I'd mention a couple of them.

My hostess told of one of the people in her group who needed to make a trip to Boston to work with a supplier on a driver for their hardware. This guy typically works from 11PM to 8AM, mostly, I suspect, because that way he doesn't have to interact with any people. He's pretty sharp techically, so my friend had no qualms about sending him off to Boston for a week.

Her first hint that there might be a problem was when he told her that he had rented a van for the week. Since he had little or no luggage, she asked him why he had done so. He said "so I can sleep in it"! He simply anticipated working long hours and thought it would be convenient to crash in the van rather than having to go to a motel room! After some, she persuaded him that the motel room was the better option.

This, of course, reminded me of the story of a famous guy who worked for a Boston-area software house, now defunct. He was one of those brilliant guys who were so other-worldly that you were careful to keep them out of sight of customers and upper management. In fact, the company did have to institude a "bathe at least once a week" rule specifically for him.

He was a brilliant programmer, though, and his specialty was debugging. Once, a program he had worked on was failing in the field, in Seattle specifically. The company tried several things and got nowhere, and finally figured that the customer account was in such trouble that this guy couldn't make it worse, and he could probably fix the problem in a few minutes.

They called him in and explained the situation. He got the address of the customer, and left for Seattle.

The next day, no sign of him in Seattle. Ditto the day after. After he had been missing for almost a week, the company put on a full court press and were able to fix the customer's problem. Twelve days later than expected, the guy showed up in the Seattle customer's office, looking like hell--a beard, dirty, torn jeans. The customer suggested that his boss was worried about him and would appreciate a call, which went roughly as follows:

"Where were you?"

"It took me twelve days to get to Seattle. I couldn't believe it! I was stuck in Montana for almost four days before I could get a ride!"

The guy had hitchhiked!

The boss exploded: "That's the most rediculous thing I've ever heard. When we travel on business, we don't hitchhike! We are a major, respected company! We fly on a jet! Now get yourself back here!"

So the guy went to the airport and came back on a jet. A jet he chartered!

Thank you for reading.

Copyright © 2001 Pete Stevens. All rights reserved.