The first real code eye opener I had was early on in my contracting career. We were working on a well known media celeb vanity project, and I was brought in to do some html/webby stuff back in the days before smarty and widely deployed css to get a new project and domain under the master brand up and done as it was in danger of hitting the rocks. Before that I had a tiny little web design shop cum minutest funded isp where I had learned my craft for a few small sme's websites and stuff before freeserve crushed that market, so I was nervous the first day there, but I knew the guy brought in to troubleshoot the whole project and he knew what I could do technically so assured me I'd be fine.
Week 1 I had my dev environment set up on a crappy old laptop, reformatted with linux running php etc, and templated the whole site I was working on with a little php template engine I'd done for the sme's, testing on the local apache server, running it through bobby and other validation tools and hand editing it all with vi in screen sessions, slicing up images to stretch 1 pixel wide images with img tags into bar decoration to cut load times down in the modem speed era and lots of other little tweaks, so I could just change a few things in my includes and bingo, everything changed style or font or whatever on a whim and it coped with resized screens etc, then because we didn't have php or perl in the live server, I sucked off a static archive of the whole dev site to flat html using wget in a one liner and checked it into the company cvs with comments as a release in the same script. I was working with some truly talented graphic artists and UI layout people and it was a pleasure to see how much better they were at visual stuff than clunky coder graphics/work that I had been responsible for. They didn't have much clue about image sizes and its effect on load times but one japanese girl quickly grasped it and turned out to be brilliant at mocking up the pages as one image like she had been used to then slicing things up very quickly indeed. I hope she's working somewhere in the industry still for vast sums, she was that good.
Having got ahead by delivering weeks early to everyones complete shock, I was called over to work on the main site alongside the experienced html guru, who turned out to not know html. He was morrocan or something and wore thick jumpers in the middle of summer and had a habit of avoiding showers. I think he had cats too, since he stank of cat pee to put it bluntly. Everyone told me he was a ninja of html, they never saw him work, then suddenly, bang something was finished. I suspect he used his aroma so nobody wanted to be near him in the office or come close enough to see his screen to see his workflow. But he was the established god and would be checking my work. Ok, bring it on, always up for being measured.
I'd always wondered why the site was massively slow and still frame set based in the era of tables and layout, and I found out why when I was asked to help debug some of the site during this phase. He used netscape editor (remember that!) to make the pages and his titles etc were all *drawn* in photoshop and served as one giant png with seperate images to replace the ENTIRE screen with that button lit, swapped in as a mouseover. We're talking 100Mb's of graphics on the homepage here in dial up 56k era being slowly jammed into a massive cache. Then I looked at the mess of code he had in the cvs repo and it was such a utter clusterfuck I didnt even think debugging it was possible. But... at a meeting I asked why he wasnt using any mark up to lay the different pieces out so he could just change one tiny image during a mouseover event, and he broke down and admitted he didn't know how to do html or tables, and his version of netscape editor coudlnt make them, so thats all we were getting.
After that I was saved by the client wanting a bit more development for a database backend on the subsite which I already had all the code to do tucked away from my sme stuff in a nice template with defanging on bad chars etc. He wanted me off the main project too, so quickly allocated it and off I went, suited me, happy days.
Not sure if they just felt sorry for ninjadev's circumstances or were just as clueless but once my updates were done decided it was time for me to move on rather than battle against the window pane of desolation like a bluebottle with its legs pulled off while wondering exactly how inept you had to be to get finished in the brave new world of a dotcom. And at that point I was the little fish in a big sea and he was the expert. 15 years later in the industry thats still not a unknown feeling...