Assist, redefined

It's a few decades back, and this applications programmer pilot fish accepts a job at a company that provides support for insurance companies. But he won't be writing applications -- he'll be in system software.

"I was there about three weeks when my manager assigned me to assist the applications group in reviewing tapes created as part of a modernization project," says fish.

"They had giant Rolodex-like drums of four-by-six-inch cards with individual home and business ratings. The project to move them to an online system was being mandated by the client insurance companies who funded this company."

The applications support group is apparently too busy to work on the project, so fish starts working with the user community.

First task is to take several hundred reels of data on tape and merge them for loading to the new system. Based on his business systems experience, fish asks a key user, has the data been validated?

User looks at him blankly, then replies, "No, but that would be a good idea."

So fish begins writing a validation program -- and immediately discovers that the tape data can be in any of four different formats. Still, the program is completed, and tested as well as possible during prime data-center shifts, and the decision is made to merge the tapes.

Unfortunately, the merge has to be done during weekend shifts when a CPU and tape drives are available. That means getting permission from fish's manager for overtime and allocation of the extra resources.

"And I made the mistake of asking how the user will be submitting corrections to data format errors found by my program," fish says.

"The response was quick and simple: 'You will have to write another program.'

"And somehow Application Support was still too busy to assist..."

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