Programmer pilot fish gets an assignment to "see what you can do" to improve an ancient Visual Basic program that's used by hundreds of users at his company.

"It's a VB6 application written in the 1990s by an engineer who wrote it armed with an 'Introduction to VB' book and then left," says fish.

"Last year the application was on well over 500 workstations, and we were getting complaints about how slow the application was and how difficult it was to upgrade."

But fish is instructed to not rewrite the application -- just see if he can clean up the original source code somehow.

He tracks down the source code and, after researching the mess, he moves more than 100 SQL statements to a stored procedure on the database server. That speeds things up quite a bit.

He also comes up with a way for the app to update its own executable, and adds a routine for the application to enter the workstation name, app version and other information into a table in its database.

"Overall I spent a straight week rearchitecting the system from scratch," fish says. "The users were ecstatic.

"My boss? My boss simply said 'Good work' and that was all."

A few weeks later, fish's boss approaches him with a "high priority" project: The boss needs a web page designed that will let users scan in a barcode and have the system give the user all historical information about the barcoded item, from when the product was built to its delivery to a retail store.

Where is the data going to come from? fish asks. "Just come up with a web page to demo for right now," boss replies. "Don't even worry about a back end!"

So fish creates a simple HTML web page where, no matter what's typed in, the page responds with bogus data.

"The boss had me demonstrate this in a meeting," says fish. "His boss was satisfied, and after the meeting my boss said, 'There's a bonus for you due to this!'

"I spend an entire week rearchitecting a major system and I get 'Good work' and then I spend 30 minutes on a web page for the boss and I get a bonus. I've had my priorities wrong."

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