Flashback to the turn of the millennium, when this programmer pilot fish is hired to help out with a factory's custom shop-floor applications.
"There was one Visual Basic 6 application, written by an engineer named Barney who had left the company, that the entire shop floor ran on," says fish. "It worked, barely, and I'm not going to knock the guy who wrote it -- for an engineer who had no formal training in programming, he did a pretty good job based on the skills he had.
"But my boss had a close working relationship with Barney, and was convinced the man was the world's greatest programmer."
So as the VB6-based system begins developing issues over time, fish is tasked with correcting the problems -- but with specific orders not to upgrade it to any other platform. It has to remain in VB6.
Still, there's a lot fish can do. He slowly replaces existing code with programming that's more structured. He replaces SQL queries with stored procedures. He makes adjustments so that variables are stored in a server database instead of in local text files.
And over a 15-year period, the results show. The VB6-based system becomes so stable that a year can go by without generating a complaint. And fish's enhancements are being used as the basis for newer applications.
On the other hand, Microsoft has stopped supporting VB6 halfway through the application's life, and the limitations of the language are beginning to show, too.
"I was pushing the envelope as far as what I could do in VB6," fish says. "So I once again asked my boss if we could move the system onto a newer programming language, as I didn't see why I should continue supporting a system when Microsoft no longer supported VB6.
"His reply? 'No way! That system is perfect! Barney is a genius! That system was written over 15 years ago and still functions, and it's used as a model for those corporate guys' systems! You could have learned a lot from him!'"
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