Yes, I did just crash that critical app. And you should thank me for having done so

Quick thinking turned poor judgement into genius proactivity

Who, Me? Welcome once again, dear reader, to the well-trodden path that is Who, Me? – The Register's weekly column dedicated to the tales and travails of readers who strayed, but found their way back.

This week's traveller is someone we'll Regomize as "Harper" who many years ago was developing a Unix-based messaging system for a large IT provider.

How many years ago? Well, Harper didn't specify, but did mention that the system worked on dumb terminals with green text on a black background. So, not particularly recent.

At any rate, the system provided all the mod-cons like To: and Cc: and Bcc: fields, as well as allowing users to save email addresses as nicknames to avoid having to type out the whole thing (luxury!). It even enabled creation of mailing lists, all members of which could be mailed using just a short nickname. Beyond that, it was pretty basic, but functional.

One fine day, Harper received a message from a co-worker we'll call "Greg". The message read, simply, "Hi Harper". Being a congenial team-player sort of guy, Harper replied: "Hi Greg" and office harmony was maintained.

Then Harper got two more messages from Greg in quick succession, both containing only "Hi Harper". This seemed to Harper (and no doubt to you) a bit odd, so a short investigation ensued.

It transpired that what Greg had done, for whatever reason, was to put Harper's address in all of the To: Cc: and Bcc: fields – thus sending three identical copies of the same decidedly non-urgent communication.

It appeared that the system had no kind of validation in it to avoid sending duplicate emails. To test the theory, Harper and his colleagues in IT tried sending each other messages with their addresses in every field as many times as they would fit (there was a character limit thankfully). This resulted in each of them receiving masses of duplicate test messages and proving a) that there was no validation; and b) that validation was needed.

Harper made a note to fix that at some point in the future.

But first, there was retribution to be had. One must have priorities.

So Harper decided to send Greg some duplicate messages to see how well he enjoyed it. First, he gave Greg a nickname with only one letter in it. Then he created a mailing list with that nickname in it as many times as it would fit. Then he gave that mailing list a single-letter nickname as well. Then he added that single-letter nickname to the To: and Cc: and Bcc: fields of a message, repeatedly, right up to the character limit.

Then he wrote the message body – "Hi Greg" – and hit send.

You can imagine the chaos that ensued at Greg's end, as he started to receive literally thousands of copies of the same banal greeting in rapid succession.

And while Greg was drowning in emails, Harper and co were wiping away tears of laughter and congratulating themselves on their jolly jape.

Until the phone call came. Someone in the server support team was wondering why the mail server had just "fallen flat on its arse" while people were trying to get work done.

"Quality assurance," replied the silver-tongued Harper. "We're load-testing the mail system, checking if validation has been put in place, that sort of thing. Turns out it hasn't, and it's lucky we caught it now before this went into production."

Thankfully, they bought it – no punishment was meted out for the nefarious prank. In fact, in the years since, Harper told us he always encourages the QA team "to be as dastardly as possible" in testing systems!

What's the best excuse you've ever come up with in the heat of the moment to justify a tech SNAFU? Click here to tell us about it in an email to Who, Me? and we'll probably immortalize your work on some future Monday morn. ®

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