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Beware the fury of a database developer torn from tables and SQL

Not so much process privilege rings, more circles of hell

Who, Me? Be careful what humorous messages you leave in your app, for you never know who might see them. Welcome to Who, Me?

Our story today is a return for a reader Regomized as "Philip," who does not have the highest opinion of the sales profession.

"We had three developers," he recalled. "One was responsible for UI, another for the database, and a third for image display and capture."

"We [also] had a couple of salespeople, one of whom was entirely pointless and the other a classic over-reaching individual."

The company's systems were sold to local councils and dealt with property records. Business was good, and the list of clients was growing. Then sales did what sales does best and went hunting for an even bigger payday. In this case from overseas.

The potential client was an Italian council, which had been impressed with the boasting of a salesperson. Before any dotted lines were signed, however, the soon-to-be customer wanted to see this marvelous system in operation. Oh, and could it be in Italian too?

We imagine all manner of goodness was promised. However, our tale takes place before the time of handy resource files that could be popped into the mailbox of a translation company. The user interface was hard-coded, making a simple switch impossible.

"It turns out, our DB developer spoke some Italian and was pressed into service to translate a few of the important screens," explained Philip, "Enough for a demo and to prove we could do the whole application if needed."

The database guru was less than keen. He preferred to immerse himself in the world of tables and columns rather than user interface wizardry. However, the non-Italian speakers insisted and, to make matters worse, the salesperson had already sold the customer on the idea so something would have to be done.

Doubtless muttering about stored procedures and index optimization being far more interesting than fiddling with the visuals, the database developer got to work.

"Come demo day and everyone was on their best behavior," recalled Philip. "The developers wore shirts that just about passed inspection, tables were booked in restaurants. The trusty 386 demo machine was fired up and our glorious application creaked into life."

"Of course, even a simple task took time back then and we always covered this delay off with a 'Please wait, database initializing' screen."

Except that wasn't what the text now said. The database developer, doubtless realizing that would be the first text seen, had helpfully translated it. There was some nervous tittering from the guests as the updated text appeared.

"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate."

It appears the database developer was a bit of an intellectual and had elected to drop a well-known quote from Dante's Inferno into the splash screen. In this case, the Italian for "abandon hope all ye who enter here," which was supposedly inscribed upon the gates of Hell (and also Philip's property records application).

"Our sales chap explained that the system was still starting up and that great delights were to come, not realizing that our finest moment was currently writ large for all to see."

It reminds this writer of jolly japes in the past where a "secret" configuration screen was inserted into an application with a slider to control performance. The options were: Slow, Really Slow, Glacial, Plate Tectonics.

As for Philip, his tale ends on a happier note. After some ribbing about the professionalism of Philip's team, the Italians liked what they saw and bought a license.

And the database guru? He was left alone with his queries while a translation company was contracted to provide the necessary Italian words.

Ever had a developer's witty joke blow up in front of a client's face? Or had that amusing bit of test data put in an appearance when you least expected? We've all been there – share your stomach-swooping moment with an email to Who, Me? ®

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