Foreword

This story was originally written in January, 1998, in Tartu, Estonia. It is based on Estonian folklore and the everyday life of the company I was working for at that time. We were doing lots of systems analysis, hence the mention of CASE tools and diagrams. It was a tough crowd, not like something that can be seen in today's companies and we were really spending nights in sleeping bags on a regular basis. And we actually had a guy who gave electric shocks to others. I could tell you long stories about it...

 

 

THE OLD PROGRAMMER

 

The new guy was brought to the company in the darkness of the night.

"So they got you to sign up," said one programmer, "Probably got you drunk, just like all of us. Who would ever come to a company like this one sober!"

"Do you know what happened to the guy who filled this post before?" asked another. "The project manager killed him. Just struck him down and killed him. Many men have found death by his fist."

"Yes, it’s supposed be this way!" said the new guy calmly. "Who has ever seen a company without killing! I am an old hacker, I have tested all the operating systems myself, and there has always been some fighting. In the old days, men were real men! Everybody walked around with a high voltage cable in their hands, and zapped others whenever they could!

I was the only one who stayed alive, finished the project successfully and got hired at a new place. Yes, I know the customs of software engineering!"

And he crawled into a sleeping bag and fell asleep, snoring loudly.

In the morning, the project manager asked about the new man.

"Where is he?" he asked from an analyst. "I will introduce the rules of the company to him."

The analyst blushed and cast his eyes down.

"Well... how do I put it... Sits in a chat room... I told him but..."

"What!!" the project manager roared. "Idling! Does he think this company is a health resort or whatever! Thousand null pointers! Show me where he is!"

The programmer was indeed spending his time in a chat room and yawning greatly from time to time.

Seeing the project manager, he smiled sleepily.

"I was just thinking about the time when I was young," he said. "Men were made of pure iron. There were countless times when I had to find bugs from raw machine code. One time I saw a real tough one. God forbid! Three times I had to recompile everything. But I gave that bug a hard time in the end!"

"What!" the project manager bellowed. "How do you dare to say anything, you scoundrel!"

"Come, come!" the old programmer said angrily. "You shut your pudding mouth when talking to an old hacker. I haven’t finished yet. There was another time when we had to patch a database engine. The whole group went mad because of it, but then it found a worthy match. "Come on, you rotter!" I told the engine. "Now I will grind you!" That was also a coding that is still remembered."

The project manager listened and turned purple with rage.

"Do you know who you are talking to!" he screamed. "You are talking to the project manager himself!"

"You are not a project manager or anything." answered the old programmer. "I have seen managers like you many times before. You know, in the olden days, we had real project managers. They trampled in corridors, eyes bulged, and cursed so that all the machines gave GPFs. Script kiddies like you could not even enter the grounds because they brought bad luck. Go to your room and stay there; I will fix everything here. I know C++ like the seat of my pants."

"There," he told the analyst. "How many CASE tools are you using?"

"One," the analyst answered perplexedly.

The old programmer shook his head.

"Who has ever seen anything like this!" he said. "There should be at least seven CASE tools and all the diagrams have to be redrawn twelve times every day. It was always like this in the old days. Send all the men to draw!"

"I think that..." the dazed project manager started, but the old programmer told him to shut his trap.

Then he quickly used up all the disk space on the file server and ordered the CFO to buy new hardware.

"This way we will run out of money right away," the CFO dared to say.

“Companies are not supposed to have much money,” the old programmer replied firmly. “In the old times, when I was coding on FreeBSD, no one was paid a penny for seven months. What do all of you here know about software engineering?”

“Which vendor’s software are you using?” He demanded from the analyst now.

“Microsoft” he answered.

“Delete this at once,” the old hacker said. “Who has ever seen anybody using Microsoft software! This clearly will bring only bad fortune! All old programmers know that Microsoft is populated by evil spirits. Get that software off from the drives, quickly! I remember a case when another stupid project manager told people to install Microsoft software on their computers. The demons crawled out of the operating systems and sucked the blood of men in their sleeping bags during the night. I was the only one who made it back from this place alive.”

Horrified employees hastily formatted all the hard drives.

“Jesus and Mary!” the shocked project manager shouted. “Now our deadlines will fall! I am going mad!”

“In software engineering, you’re supposed to go mad, this is the only way,” the old programmer agreed. “In the old times we had a case where the whole company went mad.”

The project manager groaned and escaped to his office.

But the old programmer walked around until he finally got to the sysop’s room.

“The server is working incorrectly” he said after a moment’s thought.

“I’ve got a graphical tool here that monitors the server,” the sysop answered.

The old hacker whistled.

“This is it!” he said. “Graphical user interface! Who has ever seen anything like this! Nobody had graphical user interfaces in the old times. Command line is everything that a hacker needs. Graphical tools only mislead people.”

He pushed the sysop aside, deleted X-Windows, and being tired from hard work, went to sleep.

A little later the secretary notified everyone of an imminent power outage. The project manager whose face indicated that his last few hours hadn’t been the easiest, came out of his room and told everybody to save their work.

“Rubbish!” the old programmer said. “Let it be! You all shut your mouth, I will handle the data!”

Of course, the power went out and the data was destroyed.

Now, the company had been collaborating with Microsoft, and Microsoft representatives had to check the status of the project in the evening.

But the sysop could not do his work and the data could not be restored. The Microsoft reps got very angry.

“Now we will go bankrupt,” the CEO moaned.

“A company is supposed to go bankrupt,” the old programmer said, never losing his calm. “There is no company that doesn’t go bankrupt! As long as I have worked in the industry, all companies have done it. In the old times…”

But he couldn’t finish because a band of Microsoft lawyers arrived now, seized him together with everybody else and brought them to Bill Gates himself.

Bill sat on his throne, radiating dignity, and adjusted his round glasses.

“Nothing bad will happen to you here” he said. “You will just become coders on my projects, just like everybody else who has come to my domain. From now on you will all be my servants!”

There was a moment of silence and then immediately thereafter they could hear the old programmer’s voice who was patching MS Word. “Who has ever seen Word run on a PC. Word belongs to mainframes.”

“Isn’t this the Old Programmer!” Bill exclaimed, clearly frightened. “Here again!”

“Yes, this is me,” the hacker replied. “Why on Earth do you have round glasses? They have always been rectangular.”

“Take him away!” Bill cried. “Quickly!”

And the lawyers took the Old Programmer away.

 

The very next day, as he was sitting behind a terminal and MUDding, two men walked into his room.

“Our company needs an experienced programmer!” one of them shouted.

“Here I am,” the Old Programmer replied, and went out with the two men.

 

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