If you fire someone, don't let them hang around a month to finish code

Beware the terminated techie: Revenge is a dish best preceded by an asterisk


Who, Me? With The Great Resignation upon us, depending on which survey you read, we present a reminder that when a programmer has to go… just let them go. Or face whatever form their vengeance might take. Welcome to Who, Me?

We go back to the 1970s for today's tale, courtesy of a reader Regomised as "Thomas". Thomas was working for a consultancy dealing with a national healthcare provider. The lumbering libraries of today did not exist in those halcyon days. No, back then code was optimized to within an inch of its life to make the best use of very limited resources.

"All the code was written in assembler," Thomas explained, "machine code for those who have never got that deep and dirty."

"The code also had to be as small as possible so many tricks were used to reduce bloat, something maybe we have lost nowadays." Far be it from this writer to nod sagely and stroke a beard of purest gray.

Thomas was a freshly minted programmer and was to take over from a predecessor he opted to call "Dick" for reasons that will become clear. Dick, Thomas told us, "was very bright but obnoxious," likely a consequence of wrestling with unachievable deadlines set by managers that lacked a proper grasp on the challenges involved.

Still, Dick persevered. He put in 100 hours a week or more in order to get the code finished. "He naturally wanted overtime," recalled Thomas, "but the management said no."

Dick reacted badly. So did the management, who promptly fired him. They gave him a month's notice so he could finish off the code.

While some might have left a bomb or two in the source in order to make their feelings felt, Dick took his revenge a little differently. You think C is sometimes hard to read? Assembly language is impressively obtuse. Good commenting is therefore essential.

So Dick changed all the comments in the code. Sure, they all still looked OK to the casual observer but bore no resemblance to what the code actually did.

Enter Thomas.

"I took over and my first job was to add further functionality to Dick's stuff and of course failed miserably because I looked at the comments to tell me what the code was doing," he told us. Unsurprisingly, management was not impressed, and Thomas feared he too might be for the chop. However, a second, third, and fourth check of the code confirmed it: the comments were all nonsense. Nobody could work out which bits of the code did what.

"So in the end we removed all the comments and black-boxed Dick's cr*p," said Thomas. "I left the project after a year but the black-boxed code ran for another five years until a new consultancy took it over."

It might still be running somewhere even today. After all, black-boxed code does have the tenacity of a cockroach.

And the moral of the story? "When you fire someone get them out of the door immediately!"

Ever been terminated but still had to work your notice? Or were you that manager unable to figure out why productivity declined during a notice period? Share the creative (and non-destructive) ways you got your own back after harsh treatment with an email to Who, Me? ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • An international incident or just some finger trouble at the console?
    All routers are equal, but some are more equal than others

    Who, Me? Welcome to an edition of Who, Me? where some configuration confusion left an entire nation cast adrift.

    Today's story is set in the early 2000s and comes from a reader Regomized as "Mikael" who was gainfully employed at a European ISP. The company had customers in multiple countries and Mikael's team was responsible for the international backbone.

    "Us senior network engineers were widely regarded as consummate professionals," he told us, before adding, "at least amongst ourselves."

    Continue reading
  • A discounting disaster averted at the expense of one's own employment
    I know what this process needs: Microsoft Access!

    Who, Me? A tale of discounts and process improvement via the magic of Excel, Access and a fair bit of electronic duct tape we imagine. Welcome to Who, Me?

    "James" is the Regomized reader of record today, and continues the theme of running the risk of doing a job just that little bit too well with an ancedote from the end of the last century involving his first job out of university, at a certain telecommunications giant.

    The job involved a process of calculating the discount received by big customers (the ones with multiple branches). "For the life of me I can't remember what the main DB was called," he told us, "but it was the old style green writing on a black screen that took forever to download the necessary data."

    Continue reading
  • In IT, no good deed ever goes unpunished
    When being helpful can mean being shown the door

    Who, Me? Going above and beyond in IT can sometimes lead to also going directly out of the door, as one Register reader found when discovering that sometimes efficiencies can be less than rewarding.

    A reader Regomised as "Will" told of us his days working at a now-defunct company that produced large telephone switches. In those days whenever a major software revision occurred, customers were expected to send in their configurations and Will's group would merge them into the latest and greatest. A new load would then be returned to the customers.

    It was not a fun process, not least because of constant hardware and software failures during the merge process. "When I first started, there was a constant grumble about how unreliable the machine used for the merging was," Will told us.

    Continue reading
  • An early crack at network management with an unfortunate logfile
    It's a backronym, right?

    Who, Me? Come with us on a journey back to the glory days of Visual Basic 6, misplaced enthusiasm and an unfortunate naming incident. Welcome to Who, Me?

    Today's tale comes from a reader Regomised as "Stephen", who was working in the IT department of a Royal Air Force base. "My duties were many," he told us, "from running daily backups of an ancient engineering system using (I kid you not) reel-to-reel tapes to swapping out misbehaving printers."

    This being the early 2000s, his boss loaded up our hero with more tasks. He could change printers and tapes, so Visual Basic (and its bedfellow, Access) should present no problem.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022