Boss swore by 'For Dummies' book about an OS his org didn't run

So a developer de-bugged his personality with a long-range hack


On-Call Welcome again to On-Call, The Reg’s usually-on-Friday column in which readers share tales of being asked to do nasty jobs at nasty times, often for nasty people.

And yes, this is Thursday. But Friday’s a holiday (in some places) and lots of you read On-Call, so they made me do one before I started eating too many chocolate eggs.

As ever, your fellow reader who sent in a story has asked not to be named. But “Jeffrey” was unusual in that he gave us a reason for anonymity, namely “so current associates don’t know the lengths I will go to.”

To understand those lengths, know that Jeffrey’s story started when he was just 24 and worked for a local government that wasn’t a happy ship. Staff came and went at a furious rate and after just three years in the job he was the senior staffer.

Bosses turned over fast, too, and Jeffrey says they were never any good. “But they thought they were God’s gift,” Jeffery wrote. “The new people usually had an attitude that they were better than any government employees, who must be dopes. That they had just become government employees themselves was beyond them. Of course I was young and dumb myself, but still...”

Into this environment came a new boss, “Roger,” who Jeffrey said “came into work every day with a briefcase containing two items and nothing more. Item one was a peanut butter sandwich and item two an ‘IBM MVS for Dummies’ book.”

Sadly, however, the local government didn’t run IBM MVS, the OS for IBM’s S/370 and S/390 mainframes. Yet four months into the gig, Roger was still nose-deep in the book and liked to think he could teach Jeffrey a thing or two about doing his job.

Jeffrey wasn’t enjoying that, so when he noticed Roger struggling with report generating application Easytrieve, he decided to have some fun. “I hung around after everyone had left, and went over that program with a fine tooth comb,” Jeffrey told us. “I found the problem in ten minutes, tested to make sure I was right, and covered my tracks.”

Come the next day, Roger again struggled to get his code working when Jeffrey offered some help but was rebuffed: Roger thought he was the better man. So Jeffrey admitted that his meagre skills would probably not solve the problem, but suggested Roger could do worse than take a punt on a long shot.

Roger agreed, hauled over the printout of his code and started schlepping it to Jeffrey’s desk. Which was when Jeffrey pounced and from several feet away loudly proclaimed he had found the bug on a single line of code.

“It’s so obvious,” he said, selling it hard and advising that Roger’s world would improve if he made just one change.

Roger was dubious because who can spot a bug at arm’s length, never mind insist that the first bug they spot will sort everything out? But Jeffrey insisted, and Roger did as asked. Then he looked at Jeffrey “with wonder and great bewilderment” as the newly debugged program worked like a charm.

Jeffrey says he told Roger, “I thought that would fix it. I’ve always had a knack for debugging.”

Which is pretty accurate because he de-bugged his relationship with Roger in an instant: Jeffrey says “From that moment on Roger treated me like I could fix anything, and came to me with all problems.”

Have you de-bugged a boss? Or had one who knew less about what he bossed than Roger? In either case, let me know and you could appear in a future edition of On-Call. ®

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