Failure, redefined

Programmer pilot fish is hired by this organization because he can write a mix of C and scripting languages to pull information from databases and generate web pages -- pretty straightforward stuff.

But that's not what he finds when he starts work. "The new job I was hired for used a big vendor's interfaces and coding tools," fish says. "It was a major enterprise-wide conversion, and the vendor consulting staff was essentially learning to do their jobs as we did ours -- and at our expense.

"Their applications were that new and untested. Nothing worked and the vendor's consultants couldn't seem to give us good answers when things failed."

It's soon clear that things are failing a lot -- which means a lot of try/test/fail/retry cycles. And even when things appear to be working correctly, a high percentage of the time they still aren't right.

As a result, it takes twice as long as expected to bend business rules with custom code around the system and get it to work. And once the system is deployed, there are endless calls with user complaints. Fish makes quick response time a priority, which means he works long hours making changes to please the users.

Meanwhile, he's also using the vendor's tool set to write custom web apps, including one that assigns and tracks developers' tasks. Fish talks to the users to make sure it looks and works the way they want it to. It's deployed and, after a few weeks of tweaking, fills the need just the way the users and management wanted.

But at review time, fish's boss isn't happy. It seems that with all the effort and customization to make the many apps work with those bent business rules, fish has had too many trials and errors and not enough successes. He's told he won't be needed any longer.

"There were openings in other departments, and I was successful getting a job as a systems programmer," says fish. "That was over ten years ago.

"My new boss still will tell me with a big smile on his face, 'I see despite your poor coding skills that tracker app you wrote is still in use, and the replacements they try to roll over it are rejected by the developers. How 'bout that. Glad you do better on my team!'"

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