back to article BOFH: The Boss, the floppy and the work 'experience'

"Ah! Simon, Steven - this is James," the Boss burbles, pushing a young lad forward like a ritual sacrifice candidate. "James is doing a 2 week placement with us as part of his further studies." "James!" I say, holding out my hand. "James is here to make some modifications to the software that imports people into our security …

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Now that-

- is real-world work experience!

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Userbility

Thanks Simon, finally I understand the newfangled user interfaces of MS Office, Outlook, Skype and the like. It all makes sense now!

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After receiving a disclosure like that I suppose James is now rolled in carpet under a layer of quicklime.

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I too was wondering about the "he knows too much" aspect. Can't risk him going to the boss but maybe he could bought off?

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He is a student, with nothing to do on a Friday with the BOFH and PFY. Why go to the quicklime trouble when a simple challenge of crawl around the local pubs is going to wipe ant credible story from him?

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Potentially bright lad, I thought.

Wet behind the ears but a BOFH in the making after a time spent as an apprentice moving eventually to PFY status (they ain't getting any younger (Sorry Simon)).

I’ll mention what you said to my aunt.

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"James is now rolled in carpet under a layer of quicklime."

I read that as "a layer of QuickTime", a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone.

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Anonymous Coward

He's probably learnt more in that 2 weeks than he would in a year of normal work.

Keep up the good work.

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Anonymous Coward

Being on a placement myself...

...it's amazing the different attitudes to students. Most in the IT industry remember that when they left University they weren't instant coding Gods, but unfortunately some belittle students trying to learn. What really grinds my gears are people who recon you can't possibly be any good because you're at university post 2000's and apparently that's an issue?

Granted this guy was just trying to hide his dark secret but I reminds me of stories from my peers on their placements. My view is respect who have more experience and be patient with noobs.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Being on a placement myself...

If we got guys like you, I'm sure you'd get the respect , trust and resposibility due...

... but we get high school age morons who didnt want to come anyway and have no interest in I.T. , obviously cant be trusted with anything including fetching things or making tea. I dont know why they send them - It would be criminally negligent to let them anywhere near any of the systems.

We just have to lock them in a cupboard for 2 weeks with some junk from the store room to play with.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Being on a placement myself...

Being on a placement myself...

...it's amazing the different attitudes to students. Most in the IT industry remember that when they left University they weren't instant coding Gods, but unfortunately some belittle students trying to learn

That tends to be a big giveaway that you have entered the aura of someone who is clueless but somehow managed to wrangle an IT job regardless. In other words, management material.

In my opinion, what gives away the True Expert™ is that she or he will happily answer your questions, welcome it if you ask something that cannot answer immediately (because that means they get to learn something new or refresh some synapses that clearly didn't get a recent workout) and can in general explain what they are doing in a way a non-expert can get a handle on. IMHO, anyone who seeks obfuscation and bullying is signalling that they are afraid that you as fresh student already know more than them.

Sure, we'll need to educate a student about life at the coal face, but that can (actually must) be done with good humour and a firm dose of Dilbert, XKCD and BOFH material.

Personally, I think education ought to be mandatory for key people. Not only does that make them even better, it also institutionalise their expertise to lower the company's London bus risk (key person getting under a bus and thus taking a chunk of the company with them).

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

"We just have to lock them in a cupboard for 2 weeks with some junk from the store room to play with."

Wish my work experience had been that, got left in a Pharmacy for a week as it was "sciency" when I was at school.

As for making tea, how come for PFYs these days it's like asking them to do some unknown arcane ritual ? Not met one who hasn't given the Dog-like confused head tilt when told to put the kettle on.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

I welcomed many new graduates over my career. I may have even belittled many of them. What used to grind my gears was the fact they thought they were good and yet couldn't do basic programming and engineering things - I found one guy with a first sweating his tits off over a relatively simple problem but he didnt know how to run the remote debugger on it to see that a variable was not what he thought it was. He had a first class honours degree for fucks sake and couldn't run a debugger!

You should be clear on one thing - the three years you do at uni are to prepare you for the 15 year or so apprenticeship you are about to embark on if you want to be a proper programmer. I know its frustrating but you have to understand you will do more damage than you are worth for quite a few years - but only because those mentoring you wont have enough time to do their own job properly let alone assisting manoeuvring your round peg into the square hole HR made for you against our recommendations.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

Most in the IT industry remember that when they left University they weren't instant coding Gods, but unfortunately some belittle students trying to learn.

Oh sure, I know that now. When I actually left Uni though, I thought I could make the world spin in a different direction with my supreme programming skills, and sadly so do most of the graduates that I come across these days too.

But I give them a bit of a break, because I remember how much of a dick I must have been :)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Being on a placement myself...

"but we get high school age morons who didnt want to come anyway and have no interest in I.T."

A very good point. I'm on placement from University and have completed two years study already. Some on apprenticeship here seem to have chosen the subject randomly from a list. My new recommendation is to check which avenue the office IT noob has taken.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

" the three years you do at uni are to prepare you for the 15 year or so apprenticeship you are about to embark on"

Weird, I was under the impression those three years were supposed to launder into legality the decade-or-so of actual learning that you should have been doing on your own prior to that...

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Mushroom

Re: Being on a placement myself...

"We just have to lock them in a cupboard for 2 weeks with some junk from the store room to play with."

How dare you, although I did get my first go at having a micro Windows NT 4 network. I must have done well as I was allowed to fetch teas and coffee's and was let out of the cupboard to the general staff areas after a few days (Work Experience of 2 weeks in my youth).

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

"Not met one who hasn't given the Dog-like confused head tilt when told to put the kettle on"

Its because their mums do that for them at home, probably before they've even got out of bed.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

Mihto, patience and respect is good, but its far from a universal attitude. What you experience has three causes.

1. Other placement workers have come in with attitudes of "I am learning new things, you only know ancient garbage. See how brilliant I am at everything". Only to crash and burn in the real world. That makes people a bit...grumpy.

2. Some older workers feel threatened. People who've been in IT a while know that, from time to time, management decides IT is a "cost center", and that the costs must be cut - usually by slashing the hardware budget, but often by replacing experienced workers who command healthy salaries with new college grads willing to work for considerably less. The people who lose their jobs are understandably bitter, but the ones who survive such a purge are also often angry because they have their workloads increased since they have to try to ensure the work still gets done while riding herd on the new hires. So any new, fresh faced soon-to-be college graduate may be a threat.

3. Some people are just jerks.

Most fall into category 1...you'll win them over with a bit of humility, but with such a short time, you may not have the chance. Those in category 2...well, you can try talking about how you have offers for jobs in other companies (even if you don't) but that can backfire if you *do* want to work specifically at the company wherein you're placed. You really can't do anything about the people in category 3 except avoid us.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

...it's amazing the different attitudes to students. Most in the IT industry remember that when they left University they weren't instant coding Gods, but unfortunately some belittle students trying to learn

That tends to be a big giveaway that you have entered the aura of someone who is clueless but somehow managed to wrangle an IT job regardless. In other words, management material.

We had one of these as our software architect. 3 years on a project with "you just don't understand it" and "You can't change that it'll break everything" etc etc. We're now starting a new project, reusing code from the old. Pretty much everything we're scrapping is the stuff he worked on exclusively. Stuff we're keeping he had nothing to do with. Guy was just hot air and buzzwords (and missmanagement loved him for it)

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

Well, I didn't feel like a coding god, because the first thing that happened in my first job was that I was sat down with a audio training course (on cassette) to learn RPG-II that they did not have the books that went along with it.

Up to that point, I'd been schooled in PL/1, APL and I'd taught myself C and BASIC and some FORTRAN (this was 1981!), and was reasonably familiar with UNIX already.

BTW. RPG is/was a business language. It stands for Report Program Generator, and was about as usable as an intermediate level macro-assembler with some automatic I/O formatting (a bit like COBOL) code added. I believe it's still available in some form.

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Facepalm

Re: Being on a placement myself...

Granted this guy was just trying to hide his dark secret

Didn't they teach you any I.RONY at your place?

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

@PeterG:

You sir, have forced me to "enhance" my morning coffee. Mentioning RPGII. I have nightmares..... <entire business application written in RPGII, and a tax law change!> I hereby blame you for all typos in my work for the rest of the day!

:giggle.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

The one that was really lucky to survive... actually turned out to be bright and competent. But reading the comments on some code I dragged out to be modified for a new task and saying "when you wrote that I was just starting primary school" was definitely not a good start.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

...Report Program Generator, and was about as usable as an intermediate level macro-assembler with some automatic I/O formatting..

IIRC (it's been a while), RPG was created so that computers wouldn't terrify folks who had, up until that point, been creating reports by wiring 403 Accounting Machine panels and running decks of cards through the machine.

http://s7.computerhistory.org/is/image/CHM/102691208p-03-05?$re-zoomed$

// no punched card icon????

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

"As for making tea, how come for PFYs these days it's like asking them to do some unknown arcane ritual ?"

There is hope for the future. My grandson who hasn't even graduated to the PF stage yet has not only learned to make tea but also to drink it.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

"RPG is/was a business language. It stands for Report Program Generator"

Alternatively, Rocket Propelled Grenade.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

"As for making tea, how come for PFYs these days it's like asking them to do some unknown arcane ritual ? Not met one who hasn't given the Dog-like confused head tilt when told to put the kettle on."

They probably assume that because it's an IT department that everyone is gadget mad and have one of expensive to run Tassimo et al type things just like the work experience kid have at home instead of a kettle.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Being on a placement myself...

Wish my work experience had been that, got left in a Pharmacy for a week as it was "sciency" when I was at school.

Wow. And after that week of being locked in a Pharmacy you'd discovered a new level of concsiousness?

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

I had one idiot yoof call me an "IT dinosaur" recently because I started my career before he was even born.

"Yeah, that's right... Big head, fat body, little arms. That must make me a fuckin' T-Rex and WAY higher up the food chain than you !"

Apparently, I have the kind of Stare that makes people back off. I haven't seen him since.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

At least he didn't say "Put down the VT100, Gandalf !"

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

@PeterG.

RPG was the main language on the 360/20 for commercial applications. BAL was available of course and, if you had the necessary hardware (12 (!) KB memory and a disk), a subset of PL/1.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

"Alternatively, Rocket Propelled Grenade."

Or Role Playing Game.

It is also at the top of the list of things you should not say are in your luggage while at an airport.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Being on a placement myself...

Ah RPG

I remember it well, if not fondly.

One place I worked, they had written their payroll in RPG.

The RPG compiler was 'free' and they would have had to pay extra for COBOL or FORTRAN (end of list, BTW), so RPG it was.

Shudder

A fine example of the principle "to a man with a hammer in his hand, all problems are nails"

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

RPGII was a great language - I wrote commercial applications in it for the S/3 Model 6, and Model 15, S/32 , S/34, S/36, RPGIII on S/38 AS/400...Have not used it much since 1993 though. It was brilliant for normal ERP applications but you would not write a game in it... Several international banking applications still have an RPGII core..

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

Not met one who hasn't given the Dog-like confused head tilt when told to put the kettle on.

What do you expect from a poor intern? One needs to configure the kettle's IPv6 address (or DHCP), set up creds to connect to the network, make sure the NAC allows it, the firewall lets the kettle report to the Mothership-in-the-Cloud on a custom port... It's all IoT these days, you know, and the intern is not a competent IT professional yet...

It's up to you to train him in these essentials.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

"has not only learned to make tea but also to drink it"

I almost always make my own tea. Biggest mistake in life[*] is to have somebody else make your tea. It's never exactly right.

* - some exaggeration, maybe

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

"There is hope for the future. My grandson who hasn't even graduated to the PF stage yet has not only learned to make tea but also to drink it."

Yes, there's still hope. One of them much-vaunted millenials pulled off a nice feat, being 10 years old at the time.

One morning he woke up and discovered that there's no electricity. Something he's seen only once in his life. Instead of panicking he set out to find things to do. No TV or computers obviously. How about a cup of tea? With kettle and stove out of commission that'd be a tad difficult.

But here's the bright part: he quite correctly assumed that 4 or 5 candles should have just enough power for boiling a cup of water, so he took 4 teacups, put 5 short candles between them, and put a small pot of water on the top of his improvised heater.

I bet that this was the best-tasting cuppa he's ever had.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

Transport for London is going through an ill-managed Number 2 (how appropriate) in Vanguard G's post. The collapse of morale and the ill-will towards the clueless management who - ultimately - are just trying to justify their unearned wealth is astonishing to see. Any staff with any real engineering ability are resigning or taking "Voluntary Severance", leaving behind the mindless pen-pushers and useless management morons - it won't be very safe to travel around London soon.

The infrastructure of our city is crumbling, the contractors charged with doing the repairs and upgrades are always the cheapest of a bad bunch, and we're now saddled with a Muslim Mayor who's more interested in carefully placing his cronies and "Fellow Travellers" than he is in improving London. No wonder people are leaving in droves!

BTW - you don't get a placement at TfL unless you're from a "minority".....

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

If they're in for work experience (and still in school), there is every chance this will be the first time they're introduced to these bitter tasting adult drinks called tea and coffee. You'll be lucky if they've ever made one before.

Then again, when you're still a PFY straight out of university at 22, it's not always clear if "making the tea" is just a office prankster on a power trip trying to show the new PFY who is boss by taking the piss, or whether it's actually an important contribution to the team's daily ritual and it's your turn.

The way I dealt with it was to deliberately make the absolute worst cup of tea/coffee I could manage the very first time around (either use a heaped tablespoon of coffee per cup or break open the teabag so that it had bits swirling around in it and let it brew for a whole 2 seconds). This drink of course would be rejected within half a second of the first sip. The "power trip" types call you useless (but will never ask you again), whereas the "team contribution" types roll their eyes and show you how to do it properly, then they all have some minor ammunition to tease you with going forward which breaks the ice.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

Very very true....

Might bring in a xbox for the next one

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

" the decade-or-so of actual learning that you should have been doing on your own prior to that"

So I should have started learning about programming in 1974? (OK, yeah, my mother learned about programming *before* nineteen SIXTY four, on a LEO III no less, but you get my point, right?)

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

An example of the Irregular Illogical Illiterate Apostrophe:

"teas and coffee's".

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

Only in the Army. I used RPG on an IBM 1410 system while on active duty in the US Air Force back in the 70s to create a bowling league record keeping system for one of the NCOs in my shop who was the secretary for the base bowling league. Punch card input with the bowlers last name first name and scores for the 3 games they bowled. The program would determine high scratch game, high handicap game, and compute each bowlers updated average and new handicap, with all of that data written to mag tape for the next run. Fun fun!

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Meh

Re: Being on a placement myself...

....you can't possibly be any good because you're at university post 2000's and apparently that's an issue?

Hmm. That would be about when the world changed so that every job spec from bog-cleaner upwards suddenly required a degree. This in turn changed the majority of Universities from educational establishments catering to exceptional students into certificate farms for the proles.

Then, just in case the dumbing down hadn't gone far enough, we got a shitload of political meddling thrown into the process to ensure that every University, regardless of standards, was obliged to join the race to the bottom. Presumably this to ensure that there is a large enough workforce with a degree qualifying them as turd-scrubbers to keep the HR box-tickers happy.

I call fair comment.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

The thing is that as the pace of technology increases, the Universities have fallen farther and farther behind.

At this point the knowledge you get from a university programming course is likely to be at least ten years out of date by the time you graduate.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Being on a placement myself...

ah yes, untangling network cables! Sometimes it's all they are good for. There are exceptions though.

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

@VanguardG:

"Except avoid *US*".

LOL!

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Re: Being on a placement myself...

Bit of "extra seasoning" in the tea and the temp might just create a job opening for himself/herself ready to walk right into....

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Ancient history

Many years ago I worked for a company which had an in house engine test system. The theoretical design was very good. The implementation of the hardware had been done by the designer...let's just say that there were 40 pin ribbon cables running from headers that were then split out and hand soldered to hardware. The cables were a uniform grey, with one having a red stripe. It was a rat's nest designed by a very untidy rat.

And the designer left, the boss was, I think, on a job in China, it went wrong, nobody could work out why, and it was needed for a 1000 hour test for a very important customer.

But all that was really needed was to turn a few things on and off at the correct intervals.

So, in a great hurry, we cobbled together a solution using an embedded microprocessor, a bit of interfacing and some heavy duty relays. Not having anything else, it went in a cardboard box about 20cm on a side. There was an LED to show it was working, a green button and a red emergency stop button. That was it. Lads, when you want to start press the green button, and if it throws a rod press the red button.

When the boss returned from China we expected congratulations for this brilliant improvisation. What we got was actually complaints that the engine test people had said that this was the kind of user interface they could get behind, and also if the whole thing could be fitted into a cardboard box in a week, how come the non-functioning system had taken two years and £££ to build?

(But he was one of the good guys and forgave us very quickly.)

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