What are they gonna do -- flunk us?

This contract programmer pilot fish likes to sweeten the deal for prospective clients by offering "value-added services" -- including training for other developers.

"One service I offer is Oracle PL/SQL programming training," says fish. "After a year at one company, the IT director asked me to provide training to their development staff, which consisted largely of C/C++ programmers and Fortran mainframe programmers."

Fish tailors the training to match the kinds of real-world programming problems that the developers are likely to hit with the the company's Oracle system, which is intended to eventually replace the native mainframe database applications.

He also designs homework that lets developers practice using specific language features -- assignments that the developers should be able to finish in 15 minutes or less, so the homework won't be an extra burden added to their workload.

When the boss hears about the homework, he tells fish to provide him with a list of everybody who completes the assignments.

"In the class that afternoon, I made a special point of letting the developers know I was under orders to provide the director with a list of everybody who turned in the homework, so it behooved everyone to be sure and do so," fish says.

"Three of the Fortran developers saw no need to turn in their homework assignments. They told me unequivocally that they didn't think this attempt at replacing the Fortran mainframe software with Oracle -- the fourth try in three years -- would ever succeed, so to them the exercise was pointless."

Fish goes out of his way to try helping them learn the ropes of what eventually will become the new production system, but they stubbornly refuse.

And in the end, he's obligated to provide the boss with an accurate list of who turned in their homework.

He also tells the director who the more creative stars of the bunch were -- the programmers who took what they learned in class and from the homework and promptly made good use of it in their production work.

"Two months later, those three Fortran developers were all let go," sighs fish. "They were really angry and surprised. But as I calmly pointed out to them, they didn't see any reason to put in the extra effort to learn the new environment -- like everybody else did."

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