Rookie's code couldn't have been so terrible that it made a supermarket spontaneously combust... right?

We'll never know but he was spared the whiteboard of shame


Who, Me? It's March again and we're still (mostly) indoors. Let us take your mind off the long, dark teatime of the soul (to paraphrase Douglas Adams) with another reader confession in The Register's Who, Me? column.

It's back to school for us today as a reader Regomised as "Harry" regales us with a tale from a late-1990s work experience placement.

Harry had been hired by a major supermarket to work in its IT department, then based at the chain's head office.

Things were different in those days, and every store in the chain enjoyed a certain level of computing autonomy. Code updates came from the mothership and were gradually rolled out; first to one store and then to all the supermarkets in the chain.

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The IT department also had its very own version of Who, Me? in the form of a wall of shame, a whiteboard in sight of the programming team listing all the cock-ups created by iffy code.

"One unlucky programmer caused frozen food to be delivered to a chilled warehouse," said Harry, "which ranked number one at the time. He no longer was in the company, he apparently fled in shame of his dire code!"

Seems a bit harsh to us but, as we said, things were different in those days. The whiteboard also had the desired effect on Harry: "As a rookie, I went 'Omg, I don't want to be on that whiteboard ever!'"

Time passed and Harry showed himself to be reliable enough that he was entrusted with his first bit of production code: a minor update to one of the in-store applications.

A supermarket was selected to be the guinea pig for Harry's first foray. He sent the code, tested it, saw that it worked, and went home. A job well done.

Except...

"Not an early riser, the next day I arrived in to sour faces and suspicious looks."

The server he'd deployed to was inaccessible. Nobody could even connect to the machine, let alone back out whatever borkery Harry had inflicted. The interrogating came thick and fast: "What code did I send down? Was it compiled to the correct machine type?" and so on.

The central system was festooned with red alerts and, although Harry insisted he really had tested his code, his elders were understandably suspicious of the rookie.

This kept up, right up until the moment, almost an hour into the grilling, that another manager passed by the meeting room and said: "Did you IT guys hear one of our stores burned down last night?"

The server had been reduced to ashes and was certainly unable to connect to the mothership.

There is no record of whether Harry's new routines featured an arson interface. Regardless, he was asked to try his deployment again, at a different store. Hopefully one with some decent fire prevention. You know, just in case.

The following morning he was not greeted with the same hostile stares. The code had worked and nothing burned down. His name would not be troubling the whiteboard of shame. Not that week, at any rate.

We can't help but note that the year before Harry's tale took place, The Prodigy's "Firestarter" was topping the popular music charts. Coincidence, we're sure.

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