Forget GameStop: Keyboard warriors and electronic trading have never mixed well

Big Bang? More like Big Bork thanks to a warning shouted too late


Who, Me? This week's Who, Me? is dedicated to that moment when you realise you're about to do something silly but are unable to stop yourself.

The year was 1986. Halley's Comet had graced the skies (and the European Space Agency's Giotto probe had taken a close look). "West End Girls" by The Pet Shop Boys was troubling the popular music charts and a software company called "Microsoft" went public at the price of $21 per share.

It was also the year of the UK's Big Bang, the moment London's stock market would be deregulated and an electronic trading system replace the open-outcry traditions of old.

It is difficult to comprehend the colossal impact the change would have, and the financial houses affected were frantically testing the systems required to do business in this brave new financial world. Which is where today's contributor, "David" (not his name), comes in.

"Yours truly was working on a completely unrelated application whilst the Big Testing was being carried out at what was then the biggest institution in the city.

"All the work was being done using virtual machines on IBM mainframes, so in theory it was all isolated from each other."

Theory was, however, about to run headlong into the reality of that split second between thought and action.

As is often the case in the IT world, David needed to reboot the virtual machine he was working on. He checked with the operators if that would be OK and was told all was fine. Go right ahead. "I had no second thoughts," he told us.

"There is a time," he said, "between when your brain commits to a physical action, such as pressing the return key, and the actual action taking place.

"During that time, I heard one of the operators suddenly shout 'NO!'

"My brain knew not to do it, but my finger carried on."

Oh dear. It transpired that a critical bit of low-level communications were being routed through the VM David was working on: "For no explainable reason apart from the fact that it was there."

The result of the reboot was catastrophic. The stock exchange (or rather the test version) fell over into a heap. The financial media had a field day and David noted (with a bit more pride than is strictly necessary): "I can claim that I made the pages of the national financial papers."

An early example of "this is why we test" – one can but hope that when things went live nothing was reliant on a VM being prodded by David.

As for the repercussions following David's reboot and the subsequent downing of systems, "the internal investigation yielded little result," he said, "since the only people in the room had either restarted the machine or given permission for the machine to be restarted and it was deemed better that neither side say anything."

Until now, that is.

Ever experienced that slowing of time when your digits inched toward "Execute" while a co-worker cried out "Noooooo" in comedy fashion? Or were you that co-worker, powerless to stop a colleague from doing something very, very silly? Share your tale with an email to Who, Me? ®

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