The Intern Experience

This company makes software for people movers, which means it's just the sort of outfit that hires dozens of interns each summer from local colleges for a taste of real-world IT work, reports a pilot fish on the inside.

"We were assigned an intern for our central control group, which designed the systems for monitoring and controlling our automated trains," fish says.

"My manager specifically assigned this young man to work with me."

Trouble is, fish already has his hands full with a project that has a very aggressive timeline to create some very complex software.

His particular subsystem is a heating control system to keep the elevated guideways free of ice and snow. It controls a dozen contactors, each of which will switch 600 volts at 30 amps -- enough to kill anyone who gets zapped by it.

And the last thing fish needs on this critical task is the distraction of training and supervising a college sophomore.

"So I gave him an easy one-off project," says fish. "I told him to write a proposal for a software tracking database to help us track software modules for reusability, using a database system he already knew.

"I figured this would keep my intern out of my hair for a few days."

Sure enough, a few days later the intern has finished his proposal, and he prints it out and hands it to fish.

Fish starts scanning it, but it quickly brings him up short. This proposal doesn't just contain the sort of stilted, bureaucratic gobbletygook that fills so many proposals. This one's actually total gibberish -- none of the sentences make any sense to fish at all.

What is this? fish asks the intern. I can't understand half of what you're trying to say.

"Well," intern says, "I ran it through the grammar checker. Then I ran it through the grammar checker a second time, to fix anything I might've missed."

Sighs fish, "The grammar checker had taken his poorly written proposal and made it completely unreadable.

"I explained the limited usefulness of a grammar checker -- spell check is fine, but you still have to know what you're doing and how to spell. 'If you're having that much trouble spelling,' I went on, 'then here's something to help you.'

"I handed him a dictionary and sent him on his way."

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