WTF? Potty-mouthed intern's obscene error message mostly amused manager

Who's going to complain about free labor?

Who, Me? As the year gets into gear, so does Who, Me?, The Register's weekly reader-contributed column in which we share your stories of getting away with tech shortcuts that should really have led to long career detours.

This week, meet a reader we'll Regomize* as "Chuck" who sent a story from the late 1990s, when he worked for an electronics manufacturer.

"In addition to manufacturing electronic assemblies, we also designed and built custom test systems to verify that we were shipping good products to our customers," Chuck explained. Those devices were PCs equipped with an array of I/O cards that drove bespoke hardware.

When Chuck worked at the company it had started to code test software using Visual Basic, and that newfangled tool – which had replaced Pascal – meant an engineering intern was brought aboard to write the software for "a relatively simple test program."

Chuck told us the intern was fresh from completing some CompSci courses and was "meticulous about catching error cases, including the ones that were 'impossible' to occur."

He was also "a rather cheeky lad" who liked to pepper error messages with profanities – a proclivity known to Chuck and his colleagues. And he made sure the test tool included an especially foul message for an error considered impossible to trigger.

The intern was also efficient: he worked well with the team and a new test machine was duly devised and delivered.

"After the test hardware and software were completed and debugged there were congratulations all around. Praise was lauded upon the intern for working at such a high level, upon the regular staff for their patience and mentorship, and upon the managers for their foresight to cultivate future employees," Chuck wrote. Management also congratulated itself for having an intern do a job that a contractor would have charged plenty of coin to complete.

To properly acknowledge the great achievements of the team, the senior veep of engineering was asked to behold and praise the team's latest effort.

"He was that rare case of senior technical management that possessed and retained strong tech skills," Chuck explained. "He also was notorious for finding edge cases. If your design had a 1/1,000,000 chance of failure, it would fail every time he walked by."

So of course the veep used the test tool, triggered an error, and was confronted with the potty-mouthed intern's foul error message.

"Fortunately for the intern, the VP was known for salty language," Chuck reported. "I believe he chuckled, concurred with the error message, and suggested that the intern had some more work to do."

Have you cursed at the right moment, or rescued an intern? Click here to send Who, Me an email and we'll consider it for a future column. ®

*That's our made-up portmanteau of "The Register" and "anonymize," not a typo as some readers have recently assumed.

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