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 …

  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Now that-

    - is real-world work experience!

  2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Userbility

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

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

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

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      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?

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      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?

    3. Mark York 3 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      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.

    4. Jedit

      "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.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. Dr. G. Freeman

        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.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          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.

          1. heyrick Silver badge

            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

          2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

            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.

          3. VanguardG

            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....

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          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.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          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?

        4. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

          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.

        5. Brenda McViking

          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.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      3. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
        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).

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          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.

        2. Glenturret Single Malt

          Re: Being on a placement myself...

          An example of the Irregular Illogical Illiterate Apostrophe:

          "teas and coffee's".

      4. JimC Silver badge

        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.

        1. Chris King Silver badge

          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.

        2. Chris King Silver badge

          Re: Being on a placement myself...

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

      5. eJ2095

        Re: Being on a placement myself...

        Very very true....

        Might bring in a xbox for the next one

      6. Anonymous Coward
        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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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).

      1. wowfood

        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)

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      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.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        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...

        1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

          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?)

    4. Tom 38 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      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 :)

    5. VanguardG

      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.

      1. AlbertH

        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".....

      2. Kurgan
        Thumb Up

        Re: Being on a placement myself...

        @VanguardG:

        "Except avoid *US*".

        LOL!

    6. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      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.

      1. Alistair Silver badge

        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.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        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????

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Being on a placement myself...

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

        Alternatively, Rocket Propelled Grenade.

        1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

          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.

        2. ChuckInCA

          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!

      4. John R. Macdonald

        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.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        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"

        1. Brett Weaver

          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..

    7. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      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?

    8. TeeCee Gold badge
      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.

    9. tlhonmey

      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.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.)

    1. psychonaut

      Re: Ancient history

      quality mate!

      did it look like this?

      to start it press start

  7. chivo243 Silver badge
    Pint

    ...with my creativity and on-the-fly subtraction skills.

    Gotta love a guy who can think on his feet! I'll raise glass to this one!

  8. bondyboy
    Pint

    Enemy Territory

    Have a beer for mention of Enemy Territory - such an awesome game

    1. Xamol

      Re: Enemy Territory

      Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory.

      I was going to stop at a six pack but getting beer has never been so easy...

      EDIT: Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory...

      Just to be on the safe side. It is Friday after all.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Enemy Territory

        Can you get proper beer in 6 packs? And are they proper sized 440ml, ~pint sized cans or are they what our Ozzy cousins call stubbies? You me need many more for a proper Friday :-)

        1. stucs201
          Pint

          Re: Enemy Territory

          440ml is not a pint!

          A proper pint is 568 and a bit ml

      2. Xamol
        Coat

        Re: Enemy Territory

        You go for some cheap up votes and some sod down votes you...

        Ah well

    2. LINCARD1000
      Alert

      Re: Enemy Territory

      It has to be said that playing against Simon in ET, he is bloody lethal with that freakin' annoying noob-nade chucking gun.

      And the laying of mines.

      Grrr...

      Ve need covert ops!

      1. Helldesk Dogsbody
        Trollface

        Re: Enemy Territory

        "noob-nade chucking gun"? If you're referring to the rifle grenades then I beg to differ! Seeing the perfect bounce shot with it was a thing of beauty :D Using it to lob grenades through the bunker window from the beach was incredible amounts of fun.

        And land mines? Deep joy was had on many an occasion with those beauties! Place a little wide on corners to get the smart arses that think they're going round them, before or after doorways to get those that think they're going to jump over them. Mining downed enemies rather than finishing them off also provided some amusement when the medic went for the revive and heard the ominous "click".

  9. TRT Silver badge

    ... my sole output for two months a couple of years ago is in fact just over 500 lines of code - the majority of which was cut-and-pasted from a web example. I think I knocked the whole thing off in one afternoon ...

    This. I didn't think I had it in me to become a BOFH, but ... this.

    Also, I think they've employed the same security system on the DevOps here. AGILE seems to be, somehow, the wrong word.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      I used the term 'AGILE' the other day to pour scorn over the mismanagement of a project I'm working on.

      First time I've ever used it - I previously wasn't aware that it was synonym for 'Cowboy mode' :)

      1. HereIAmJH
        Facepalm

        Oh, for the days of Cowboy mode

        Decimating cowboy mode has been great for employment. I must be supporting a dozen guys whose sole purpose is to stop me from getting anything accomplished. I spend more time in meetings than I do coding. And let's not even talk about server auditing, which wouldn't be so bad if it was actually accomplishing anything. Seriously, monitoring for file changes but excluding the whole OS? And now we're going DevOps and Agile, with a bunch of people who don't know the difference between a scrum and a sprint. Not sure how we're going to do it, we have more gates than the stock yards. But hey, it gives them an opportunity to buy Jira, which they might be able to get installed, eventually. Got to have a meeting on it....

  10. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Happy

    I detect a new PFY in the making...

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      @RyokuMas

      two sidekicks? I thought the Sith only worked in pairs? The PFY better watch his step?

      1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        @chivo243

        "two sidekicks? I thought the Sith only worked in pairs? The PFY better watch his step?"

        To paraphrase Darth Vader: "Intern, you can destroy the BOFH. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the data center as new BOFH and PFY."

  11. A K Stiles
    Joke

    Change documentation

    Surely there would have had to be full documentation of the changes they wanted to implement which would need to be reviewed and agreed at a local level, and then a senior change board, before the design for the changes could be architected, again to be approved at 3 separate levels and then the developers could look to implement... Oh, is your two week placement over already? never mind, we can take your good start and progress it from here!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Change documentation

      Yes, you start with collecting the business requirements, and getting those meetings alone with the higher ups will absorb most of that time as they all have to pretend they have a full agenda (kinda hard with IT having a feed of their Free/Busy status, but it serves both to maintain the illusion)...

  12. Conall O

    amazing. The intern sees through him and lives to tell the tale. few have that privilege.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      @Conall O

      Well, the intern did play along for a while, and didn't seem to have too much attitude when the coin dropped. He just seemed to shrug it off, not making a scene worthy of the carpet and lime treatment...

  13. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Sounds like a provisioning system I once wrote. Everyone thought I was a god (obviously I am!!) but for some strange reason, as soon as I left, someone come in, looked at my code and rewrote the entire system from scratch!! Seemingly my self-documenting code wasn't :-)

    And yes, most was cut 'n' pasted from the web. After all, why reinvent the wheel !!!!

  14. Lee D Silver badge

    Ah, I remember when I left my last workplace.

    And they asked me how one of the access control integration features worked.

    This was after I'd given them my "hand-over" time (chargeable because of the circumstances), during which they basically announced the intention to replace every system in the place with "their" systems. Which were universally just off-the-shelf products, in their default configs, losing almost all the features I'd had requested over the years and which the company were now reliant on, and each replacement system cost about 2-3 times more than the purchase price of the kit they were replacing, not counting their ongoing annual licence fees, etc. Oh, and with consultancy fees on top. If they'd had that kind of money available for projects when I was there, maybe they wouldn't be saying goodbye to me after 5+ years...

    Well, I wrote the part that does that useful feature you demand, but which you couldn't find on the software feature list of your white-box, off-the-shelf junk that costs twice as much. Yep, it does basically what this story says - pulls in from AD, correlates with access control, does some jiggerypokery based on a number of complex company-specific conditions that you can't select in the interface, and then changes entries to make it all work automatically and seamlessly. A handful of SQL combined with a bit of scripting, but it worked.

    Their techies didn't know how to support it.

    Their engineers couldn't understand it (and, hell, it was only SQL and a script, come on!)

    Their consultants couldn't match it.

    They talked to the manufacturers of the system. A model that could do that existed, but required complete replacement of the whole system and software upgrades for everything, and didn't really work the same (I know, because I'd wrote integration scripts for that too), and was basically the same scripting in a prettier interface.

    Then they talked to the access control people we used until they took over (who they were supplanting with their own contractors), the same people who put it in the original system and supported it. Guess what they told them?

    "Oh, yes, we can do that - there's this guy who works for one of the places we support who wrote a piece of software to do that for you. We can put you in touch with him if you like, he's sold it to our customers a few times, and he's really good friends with our engineers."

    (Guess who that guy was...)

    For £1000, you can buy the license rights to my code so you can find ANY SQL coder to take it and do what they like with it.

    For an extra £1000, I'll document that tiny little script I wrote so even non-programmer idiots can understand it (they'll try to change it and break it, obviously, but that's not my problem).

    For £1000 a year, I'll provide support and "upgrades" for that script to continue to do what it currently does (new features or changes in working will cost you more, obviously).

    Oh, clauses on intellectual property created as part of my work, you say? I refer you to the amendment in my contract that your predecessor put in after I insisted that they do so because that exact piece of code that I wrote was so valuable and they rescinded all rights to it. Leaving you only with "the right to use that particular version, on that system, for that company, without warranty or support, for free", which I gave them. Which is basically all you've got already - there's the script, it works.

    I estimate they must have spent thousands at least fixing that, or doing without that functionality entirely (which all staff were dependent on). But it probably cost them 20x more than that to replace everything they'd seen with their white-box hardware, and they would have lost a lot of functionality and configuration along the way so it would be lost in the noise and chaos.

    And, yes, every decision made while I was there was in collaboration with the bosses - when presented with "You can pay £10k for off-the-shelf that anyone can manage, or I can knock you up something equivalent for free with the caveat that nobody will support it", they always take the gamble knowingly. They saved TENS OF THOUSANDS by doing so, even if you include the above costs. Those bosses were really techy IT guys and understood the risks, but more often than not said "It can only be ten lines of code, or so, surely?" and then had me make it. We melded really well together.

    When those guys were forced out, and the attention turned to trying to get me out (I was actually warned by one of those nice bosses it was going to be tried), I took on an IT audit (still have a copy of that), proved my systems were good, got them through to a good point of the year, and then when they failed to meet a single recommendation of the audit (that I aced) that was written for them, I left. And the only people left carrying the can were the "We can replace ANYTHING for less cost!" consultants that were brought in to replace me.

    P.S. Had another job to walk into by that point, by word-of-mouth, via my ex-boss... Oh, he was good...

  15. creepy gecko
    Pint

    I look forward to the tales of BOFH & Co on a Friday. Entertaining, and a reminder it's not too long until Beer O'Clock.

    Have one one me ---->

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Incriminating Evidence

    get said Intern to commit or admit to an act that is usable for blackmail ( CEO's Daughter on work exp in accounts usually is a good one) or frame them if they are not future PFY material.

    if they play the game then go to option 1) if you have to frame them go to option 2)

    1) let them in on the secret and give them a machine and a copy of Risk to play for the remainder of their placement.

    2) give the incriminating frame up evidence to HR. then wave goodbye to Intern.

    (I did a months work exp Decades ago that for some reason got extended to three months. I was good at Risk by the end of it. and learnt lots about IT as well ;-) )

    1. psychonaut

      Re: Incriminating Evidence

      im not sure you can be "good" at Risk, you'll be sat there on iceland with a huge army defending northeast canada, youve got guys on alaska, maybe kamchatka if youve been clever / not fucked over by isolated tribes in asia, and you own all of south america too, so loads of guys in brazil, low overheads, lots of extra armies every go and somehow, the bastard with a third of your army in great britain will manage to make the dice fuck you over then go rampaging through north america and then you are fucked.

      or the guy sat in australia who sits there for the whole game just amassing 2 extra every go, for hours, doing nothing, and then splurges all over asia like some kind of honeymoon-balled dog with 2 dicks

      europe - fuck that, too difficult to hold. africa, not worth it. asia - no chance, everyone will hate you immediately.

      ahh Risk..

      1. psychonaut

        Re: Incriminating Evidence

        by the way, did anyone ever play supremacy? risk with Nukes....i loved the little plastic mushroom clouds.

      2. Spasticus Autisticus

        Re: Incriminating Evidence

        We added airborne troops to Risk, forget which card was used to enable that move, probably the all three 'joker' card. Oh the howls and tantrums when you attacked a place with just a few armies on it and took someone's continent bonus away.

      3. ArrZarr Silver badge

        Re: Incriminating Evidence

        Oh those good games, sitting in Austrailia. - No, don't mind me, I'm sitting here looking inconspicuous. Look, I'll even move my troops so that you'll have a turn warning when I expand my glorious empire with bioengineered mutant spiders.

        1. psychonaut

          Re: Incriminating Evidence

          @Spasticus Autisticus

          good call mate. thats a good rule...

  17. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Happy

    Like!!

    Nice episode, but Simon could have gone for the 8" floppy option. I still have one lying around somewhere (original CP/M 2.0 disk, entire OS on just 128 kB), but I doubt your average intern could find one. You could certainly defend that as a valid way of ensuring security through obscurity.

    1. tony trolle

      Re: Like!!

      about 6 bucks each on ebay, looking at the uk site someone has a drive.

    2. zuyq5def

      Re: Like!!

      James should've noticed that 57,000 lines of a code on a 5.25" floppy would mean each line is an average of at most 22 characters. Possible, but unlikely.

  18. Korev Silver badge
    Big Brother

    No blackmail?

    I was expecting that the reason why the BOFH was so cagey about his work was that it did a little bit of "detective work" and automatically created a dossier of material for blackmail gently talking round users to your point of view.

  19. Lord_Beavis
    Pirate

    We love college kids

    The first thing they learn is how to make proper coffee. The second thing they learn is how everyone of the SysAdmins likes their coffee.

    Once they've mastered that, they learn how to push change requests back on the requester for any asinine reason we can come up with.

    You know, true IT work.

  20. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Alternatively ...

    Just produce 400 pages of ALGOL code and ask the lad to implement it in Java, if he tumbles to the fact that the code is something else entirely just say, "Oh it must have been renamed, I'll see if I can find the previous version ... but don't worry, I've still got the flow charts ..." which of course was old faxes and now resemble Egyptian hieroglyphs after being left in the light for 10 years.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Alternatively ...

      Ahh, the good old stuff-on-thermal-printer-paper gambit...

      "Oh yeah, I remember it now, couple of years ago... on that day the copy machine was broken or out of toner or whatever, so we made copies on the old fax machine. What? No, they wouldn't let us use the new laser fax machine on fifth, or their copy machine. Something about printing important reports and faxing them to head office. Yes, I told them they could e-mail them, but they sad that that was too complicated, what with "having to scan everything first". Yeah, I know, I know, right? You can lead a horse to the river, but you can't make it drink, so to speak. Where was I? Oh yes, so we had to make copies on the old fax machine. Meant to copy those on proper paper when we had a spare moment, but you know how it is... Come to think of it, I think I actually told one of the interns to do that once... Anyway, I'm quite sure I can remember most of it, what do you need to know?"

  21. A. Coatsworth
    Unhappy

    You know how in movies they can get with graphically killing hundreds of persons, but hurting a dog is a very delicate matter that usually they can't even show it?

    It seems to be the same here... I never minded the line of dispatched bosses, the contractors, the it managers that ended up rolled in a carpet... but I *genuinely* felt bad for poor ol' James while reading this.

    Perhaps it hit too close to home, reminding me of the bygone days where I went starry-eyed into my first job, ready to fix the world.

    To paraphrase Iron Maiden, I'm sure James is now a sad and wiser man

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      You only kill your own when you absolutely have to.

      Now, if James would have been on the way to getting his MBA, however...

  22. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    maths trick

    When subtracting two numbers that are the same except for some transposed digits (say 35 vs 53), the result is always a multiple of 9. The difference between 53 and 35 is around 20, so pick the multiple of 9 that's just less than that. So 53,000 - 35,000 can be quickly calculated as 18,000 with no need to do awkward carrying or the like.

    1. -tim

      Re: maths trick

      Most all the tricks that work with base 10 9s work with hexadecimal with Fs. The same is true with 0, 1,2 and base 10 5 and 0x8.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had a very clever bloke years ago at a previous employers who had written an audio conferencing program that allowed you to route the output of meeting rooms to different areas of the company (and also externally). He'd also designed the switch boxes that the software integrated with to allow selection of company sites, ISDN controllers/dialers for the stand alone ISDN cards and everything. It worked fine (we never had a problem with it in many years of happy use) and the old adage if it ain't broke don't fix it came into play here. You basically used the GUI to pick which sites you wanted to route the audio to (or dialed the number) and from and pressed the big go button on screen.

    He retired when we were taken over and the new owners took one look at the Heath Robinson esque switch boxes and non web-based software and said we'll find a replacement. There were rumours that the new set up was chosen by the work experience who was tasked to find something as part of his 'experience'.

    Were they true? I couldn't possibly comment.

    *There were several software packages (and switch) as they couldn't find just one as a replacement. The fact that these didn't do exactly what we wanted them to do and they weren't as reliable is another matter.

  24. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Angel

    I must humbly apologise

    I see now the error of my ways.

    I wrote a bit of code from scratch - no copy-paste - and I tested it before putting it out there. But the greatest crime of all was... it worked, and continued to do so for years.

    Fortunately the factory closed down recently and the abomination is no more. I'm just hoping my soul is not permanently blackened.

  25. earl grey Silver badge
    Angel

    Loved that picture of the control board

    We used to use similar boards on IBM collator (085) and interpreters (557) and on Univac 1004/1005 units. They usually had a hard cover affixed to keep fingers out. I don't even want think about how many cards I put through those machines.

  26. Black Rat
    Coat

    Count Your Blessings

    Back the early nineties landed a 'computer' job for Dowty Fuel systems and spent the first week in the machine shop repairing punch tape readers. Vending machine tea flavoured with cutting oil and a hint of cyanide vapour from the plating shop across the car park, fond memories...

    mines the one with the big hammer in the pocket

  27. Number6

    A good introduction to the desirability of decent documentation and comments in the code is to give a new graduate a reasonable task. When complete, move the graddy to something else, then after six months ask for some not-insignificant mods to the original code. That's the point at which the penny usually drops that what was obvious at time of writing is no longer obvious and that better comments are required in case it's necessary to revisit the code after it's been forgotten.

  28. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    PMQs are a similar con too, .... but they aren't meant to be joke, are they?

    Cheers, Simon T,

    That tale reminded me instantly of ye olde song and dance routine practised at midday every Wednesday when the Commons is sitting ..... Prime Minister's Question Time, where fudge and waffle triumphs over questions of substance and import.

  29. DonkeyOaty

    1..2..4?

    What happened to episode three?

    1. JudeKay (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: 1..2..4?

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/03/17/bofh_2017_episode_3/

  30. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Happy

    Not all interns are bad.

    On one occasion (well, one of many), one of our sales-grunts got a little too eager and sold a customer four weeks of consultancy for a bit of code. The two interns assigned managed the task, including testing, in a week! Our shameless salesgrunt then ordered them to spend the remaining time "fine-tuning" it by adding in unnecessary loops, error checks and subroutines, till it was an unwieldy mess of about twelve times the number of lines as were actually needed.

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