Going Against Code

, , , , | Working | October 19, 2017

(Back in 1978, I was just a kid working as a programmer for a large engineering firm. One day my boss hands me two stacks of listings. They are the source for a project, one from today and one from six months prior. My job is to go through them line-by-line and mark which lines have been removed, which have been added, and which have been changed. The stacks are at least six inches tall, and I look at them in dread, realizing that there have to be some 100,000 mind-numbing lines to read. The number of errors I am bound to make will be astronomical. Then I get the bright idea to write a program that can find insertions, deletions, and changes. One day, such tools will become commonplace, but in 1978, they are unheard of. In a couple hours, I have a working program and I run all the code for the project through it, print it out, and give it to my boss later in the day.)

Boss: *looking shocked* “It’s done?”

Me: “Yeah. I wrote a program that did all the dirty work.”

Boss: *getting a bit red and angry* “Who authorized you to write a program to do this?

Me: “I was hired as a programmer. I didn’t think I needed to ask about that. Besides, this is 100% accurate. If I did it by hand, think of all the errors that would be in it.”

(Since our stuff often needed FAA or military oversight, he realized I just helped him dodge a bullet, and he calmed down quickly. The remaining problem was that this little task was designed to keep me busy for two or three weeks while he came up with something else for me. But from then on, I was put on more interesting projects.)

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