It's the early 1980s, and this pilot fish's freshly minted bachelors degree in computer science has snagged him a job as a junior Cobol programmer for a textile manufacturer.
"The project was to convert an existing Basic system to a newfangled Cobol version," says fish. "Data was copied into new mainframe-style VSAM files and the production reports were run. All we had to do was match them, line for line."
Which sounds simple enough -- but the project is soon in trouble. It's not only behind schedule, but it has also become clear that some very strong Cobol skills are needed to get it back on track.
That's when management brings in a high-priced consultant.
To get the consultant up to speed on the nuts and bolts of the project, he's given a simple report to develop. A few days later he shows up at fish's desk with a compiler listing full of E-level error messages -- flagging syntax errors that the Cobol compiler won't let pass.
"I coached him on correcting them," fish says. "In fact, there were several coaching sessions before he finally got it fixed.
"Two weeks later, he had the report running successfully and showed it to project manager for approval."
But when the project manager compares the new report to the old report it's supposed to replace, it's clear that the new one is wrong. Try again, PM tells consultant.
A couple days later, consultant returns with yet another report generated by a clean run of his code. It doesn't match the old report either.
Exasperated, the PM sends him off again -- and this time adds, "Don't come back to me until your report has a total of $14,469.31."
The next day, he's back again -- and this time the report matches exactly.
"Shortly after that, the consultant was gone," says fish. "I never heard why.
"The project moved to production -- and the first time that report was run, it included a long column of numbers, some in the tens of thousands.
"But the report totaled to -- you guessed it -- $14,469.31."
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