Memory-Lane Monday: For once, credit where it’s due

It’s the feel-good tale of the year. (But the year is 1979.)

Computerworld  |  Shark Tank
Computerworld / IDG

Pilot fish gets a job at an electronic cash register company, where he’s been assigned to put parts in little plastic bags for the people who solder the circuit boards. He applied to be a programming intern, but HR said he wasn’t qualified.

Fish is good at his assigned job, but bored. Especially on Friday afternoons.

“The computer we used in the parts cage had to run weekly inventory reports,” explains fish. “The reports took about four hours to run every Friday, and pretty much shut the parts cage down because we were not allowed to kit components without first entering them into the computer, and the PDP-11 couldn't multitask.”

But why should one report take all afternoon? Fish talks his boss into letting him look at the inventory software — which, it turns out, is written in interpreted Basic.

Fish inserts a few “got here at HH:MM:SS” debug lines to tell him how the run is progressing, and he quickly determines that, for all but five minutes of the four-hour run, the program is re-sorting the transaction history file. And with tens of thousands of records, the bubble-sort algorithm that the program uses is, well, slow. A few dozen lines of code later, fish has implemented a more elegant sort.

“That Friday, when my boss kicked off the usual report at noon, the printer started dumping the report at 12:10 instead of approximately 4 p.m.,” fish says.

Her first thought is that fish broke the inventory software, but after she goes over the report and realizes it’s correct, she starts to show real gratitude.

First, she gives fish a big hug and congratulations. Then boss walks him down to management row, where she gives fish full credit for his initiative and success in fixing the program — being sure to note that the manufacturing line will no longer have a partial shutdown on Fridays.

Then she tells the big bosses that, while she’ll be sad to see fish leave her department, he belongs in software development.

Finally, she explains the real reason she has come to management row: Fish has just earned a bonus that’s larger than she’s authorized to grant.

“The best part of the day, I think, was getting escorted to HR,” says fish, “and having the same woman who said I wasn’t qualified to be a programmer cut me a big fat check that was no doubt more than she made all summer, and doing the paperwork that put me into firmware development, with my own office.”

Sharky loves a happy ending. Be they happy or not, send me your true tale of IT life at You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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