Lock-in to legacy code is a thing. Being locked in by legacy code is another thing entirely

Welcome to the coding couch. We hope you sleep well

On Call As Friday rolls around and the prospect of fleeing the office looms, The Register brings you another instalment of On Call, our weekly reader-contributed stories in which techies are asked to help – but too often end up needing to help themselves.

Progress bar

Boss put project on progress bar timeline: three months … four … actually NOW!


This week let's catch up with a reader we've already Regomized as "Alessandro", who this time shared a tale from the early 1990s when he worked for a developer of data warehouses.

The product he worked on had accumulated years of coded cruft. So much cruft that it ran painfully slowly, and customers were complaining. Alessandro was asked to sort things out by rewriting some ancient C in assembler and ensuring that one customer got the fix fast.

Alessandro corrected the code, tested it, and felt it was ready for installation on the customer's machines.

Doing so involved loading his code onto a 5¼-inch floppy disk and driving it to the customer's HQ. Once there he installed his work on the marketing manager's PC.

The manager perceived substantial improvements, at which point Alessandro volunteered to install his fix on more PCs that very evening.

His motives were not entirely pure, because it was by then around 17:00 and Alessandro didn't fancy returning to the customer's office the next day.

But after gentle inquiries, he learned that the building was open for another two hours, so decided to stick around and advance the job.

All went well, and by 18:15 Alessandro had finished and was ready to leave.

But the lifts weren't working. A nasty journey up and down many levels of fire stairs followed, including many dead ends, and even attempts to exit the garage on the ramp used by cars.

Alessandro eventually found his way into the building's lobby. From there he could see the outside world, but was unable to reach it – all exits had been locked.

Thankfully the lobby included a reception desk with a working phone.

Alessandro dialled emergency services, explained his plight, and was asked – rudely – "What do you want us to do about that?"

Our hero explained that he imagined someone might pop around and force open a door.

He was told Police don't do that sort of thing, so he should find somewhere to sleep. And then emergency services hung up on him.

A night on a corporate couch is never much fun, so Alessandro called the ambulance service, which told him to call the fire brigade, which asked for his address.

That information produced an unkind description of the building's owner. It transpired the landlord had failed its last fire inspection because it had not provided any keys to the fire department. Another reason for the failure was that the lobby had been clad in bulletproof glass without attendant safety improvements – so while the fire crew quite fancied popping a pane, it wasn't a feasible option.

By this point Alessandro was more than a little worried.

But fire departments are clever, and the chap he spoke to remembered that Alessandro had visited the car garage. Had he seen a bump there, on the ramp near the exit? Asking because jumping on those often triggers the garage door.

Which was how Alessandro walked to freedom.

He quickly drove back to his office and called the fire department to let them know he was safe. That information produced news that "the entire Brussels fire department was rooting for me, and their commander even dropped by with a thermos flask of warm soup (to be poured through the letter box if they saw me)." Alessandro had of course made it out by then, so missed out on the soup.

But he did get something nice from this odyssey: after telling his tale to the boss, he was handed a brand new mobile phone.

The boss told Alesandro it was the first mobile phone he had ever acquired, but "You deserve this more than me."

Have you been locked in, locked out, or rescued while working in tech? If so, click here to send On Call an email and we may feature your feats of escapology on a future Friday. ®

More about

More about

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like