What could be worse than killing a golden goose? Killing someone else's golden goose

When fixing legacy bugs turns out to be a career-limiting move


Who, Me? The weekend is no more so start your working week with a Who, Me? tale about the hazards of simply trying to do the right thing.

Our story comes from "Anne" and takes place many years ago in what she described as "a rather large bank," the identity of which will remain anonymous to spare the blushes and the need for legal instruction.

She'd been working as a programmer for nine months at the august financial institution when an email turned up from a senior vice president. Addressed to a team member, but cc'ed to the entire team, it was effusive in its gratitude and praise. The recipient had "saved the bank," according to the email, "by fixing a problem and allowing the bank to post to accounts."

Medal

Why yes, I'll take that commendation for fixing the thing I broke

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Anne explained: "If a bank cannot post credits and debits to accounts, they don't know which checks to pay or return and how much money is in each account including their own with the government."

Such a cock-up would likely end up as national news.

"That type of attention is a bad thing," she added drily.

It had been the third such email she'd seen during her time at the bank. "Coming close to disaster three times in nine months is bad," she recalled.

"Someone should do something. I've got some free time so..."

She pulled up the code and quickly found the problem. A mere 15 lines was all it took to handle the exception and log things accordingly. No more heart-stopping saves would be needed.

Anne fired off an email to the senior VP and the rest of the team explaining how the problem could be prevented. Everyone would be delighted, surely? "What," she said ruefully, "could go wrong?"

It did indeed go horribly wrong. Anne's basic error, as a bit of a "noob", was not realising that a fundamental part of the organisation's culture was "get your own golden egg-laying goose" and she had inadvertently killed another's.

"Your own best interest was more important than that of the organisation," she remembered. "Things were purposefully not documented, important source code was stored in private libraries, etc..."

Anne had made a senior team member very angry and retribution was swift and brutal. A bit of unstable code was mysteriously uploaded to production during times when she was on call, resulting in call-outs at midnight, 0200 and 0400. The working environment became progressively more unpleasant. And management? "Only interested in filling forms and going to meetings," sighed Anne.

No good deed goes unpunished, and eventually the same senior team member succeeded in having Anne escorted to the door via a number of sideways departmental moves.

Sadly, there is no happy ending to this tale except to reassure anyone looking askance at their banks that those involved have all long moved on. And anyway, we're sure that nobody in today's IT world would dream of taking credit for dealing with the fallout from their own explosive code? Right? Right?

Ever found yourself the proud owner of a goose that lays golden eggs? Or did you accidentally wring the neck of someone else's? Confess all with an email to Who, Me? ®

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