What's another six months, anyway?

Pilot fish is hired by this company to support an application that tracks orders on a manufacturing plant's shop floor.

"The application was written by a former employee who learned programming from a Dummies book and had then left the company," grumbles fish.

"The program was extremely buggy and was constantly crashing. But I was told not to modify the existing system in any fashion whatsoever because a new, better system was being written by corporate and would be delivered in six months."

So fish spends the next six months supporting the existing system, and tells his users to be patient, because a completely new version is coming.

And six months later, he checks on the new version's status -- and is told that corporate is scrapping all the work on the project and developing the new system in a different programming language. And they expected to have something in six months.

Six more months pass as fish placates his users, keeps the buggy system running and looks over the code.

"I was then informed that all of the developers of the new system had left for better paying jobs and it would be yet another six months before a new system came," fish says. "In the meantime, I was told not to make a single code change to the system I supported -- but it needed to be expanded on the shop floor."

By now, fish is spending all his time keeping the buggy system working and has all but memorized the code. He tells his boss he's pretty sure he can fix the code in two weeks and it'll be much more stable. His boss calls corporate. Answer: Absolutely not.

So the buggy system is expanded. Now it crashes more than ever, and fish is coming in at night to fix problems.

Six months later, another status report: More of the same. This time, fish's boss tells him, "Do what you have to do."

Fish codes like a madman for two weeks straight, installs the system -- and it works perfectly. So well, in fact, that other sites -- which have also been waiting years for the new system -- want code that works, too.

That's when the plant gets a visit from fish's boss's boss and the head of the corporate programming group, who is furious.

"They had spent over $2 million in two years with nothing to show, and we had a system written in two weeks that did everything they had promised," says fish.

"After a royal chewing out, we knew we were about to be fired when the vice president of the company walked in.

"He walked to my boss and shook his hand and said, 'Fantastic work on that shop-floor program!' and told my boss's boss, 'We need more initiative like that!' and walked out.

"My boss's boss was all but speechless when he told us to 'go back to work!'

"Oddly enough, my boss's boss was fired a few months later."

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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