The Master

Flashback a few decades to the data center where this pilot fish and his cohorts work, all with exactly the same advanced degree: OJT ("on-the-job training").

"Management decided to improve our expertise by hiring a gentleman with a Master of Computer Science," fish reports. "I could hear the fanfare when they told us. Barney arrived and seemed nice enough, if a little self-important.

"At the time we were in the midst of transitioning from punch cards to online editing for our source code. Barney was offered one of the new terminals, but turned it down. He was a staunch punch-card-based programmer, and quite sure online was an expensive fad."

Barney starts in immediately on his first task, creating a new reporting program, and after three months has created a source deck that almost fills three boxes -- nearly 6,000 lines of code. But he's very protective of his source, and does all his compiling and testing himself.

One evening fish sees Barney in an argument with another programmer. Fred is pointing out that Barney's source cards don't have sequence numbers. Barney is standing on his degree and maintaining that sequence numbers are more trouble than they're worth.

Fish weighs in, siding with Fred -- and is told that since neither of them have degrees, their opinions aren't worth much.

"A few weeks later I came in one day -- and no Barney," fish says. "When I asked my boss, I was told it was none of my business. I later found out what happened: Fred was annoyed at being patronized and reported to the programming manager that this new project was card-sourced, had no backup copy and was not sequenced."

That's all contrary to company programming standards. Programming manager calls Barney in, reviews the standards with him and instructs him to sequence the source immediately and read it into the source library.

Barney makes a note to do that -- as soon as he has a stable source.

Two weeks go by. Barney is carrying his source into the computer room when a swinging door apparently hits his elbow and suddenly there are 6,000 cards all over the computer room floor.

Some days later, programming manager catches Barney still trying to sort out his source. "Run it through the card sorter? No sequence numbers," says fish. "Toss the cards and pick it up online from the library copy? No library copy.

"He probably would have survived this -- the manager would forgive one oops -- but Barney insisted his way was right and the programming manager wrong. This was not a well-thought-out tactic.

"The ad for his replacement read, in part: Experienced COBOL programmer needed. Degree NOT required."

Sharky doesn't require a degree either -- just a true tale of IT life. Send yours to me at You'll score a sharp Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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