Once I had a career, not writing or cajoling infants to use their minds, but in the uncreative yet stimulating environment of computer systems.
Knowing this dear reader you could be forgiven for imagining me careful, systematic and analytical. Well, I suppose I am the latter, but there it ends. Without strictly enforced rules to protect the general public, I would have been a loose cannon. What made me think I was cut out for such a career? The money probably factored in the decision, and actually, despite my shortcomings, I was pretty good at my job. It is a comfort though to come upon evidence that other slap dash programmers do exist.
In large financial organisations such as the one where I worked, stringent procedures are put in place to ensure a program is ‘robust’, tested to within an inch of its life in fact. Every route through it checked and signed off before it can be let lose on the public. Outside the financial sector though, things are different, especially since the advent of the PC. It is pretty well impossible with the home/office computer to foresee every eventuality, on every version of every platform, thus we get software beta versions and regular upgrades.
During the development process one needs ‘test data’. This is the stuff the program will read and process in the safety of a test environment. As long as the ‘fields’ contain something in the right ‘format’ (sorry, it’s hard not to use technical language), it doesn’t matter what it is. The most important thing is to remove the test data before the program goes live.
Hence, when a large bank marketed its wealthy customers and the letters went out saying ‘Dear Rich Bastard’ there was hell to pay. I, far from wealthy, have been in receipt of letters very appropriately addressed to ‘Susan Null Nicholls’. I wonder if the ‘null’ is a nod to my bank balance.
Once that button is pressed the deed is done, and on most occasions, can’t be reversed. The blessed ‘Undo’ button on our Microsoft Edit menus is not available for those unlucky ‘techies’ in the world of big business.
Years ago I worked with a girl who admitted that she once transposed two numbers in a ‘job’ she was supposed to run overnight for a large bank. When asked on the screen if she was sure this was the program she wanted to run, she blithely answered YES, and watched in horror as the computer systems of every branch of the bank, closed down – the lights went out all over the world.
Good old Microsoft and the little curly arrow. I may have mentioned my book. I’m writing one. In the beginning I wrote in the past tense, then decided to change it to the present, believing it would give a more ominous, looking-over-the-shoulder feel to it. It already comprised several thousand words but nevertheless I began the tedious job of replacing each ed with s. She walked became she walks and so on. Soon I was bored and came upon the superb idea of using the find and replace function to speed things up. I started by asking Word to find was and replace it with is. It looked OK so I clicked change all. Job done. I saved my document and looked for the next thing to change.
It was now that I noticed in horror that wherever w, a and s appeared together, whether in the middle of a word or on their own, I had changed them. Wasp was now isp and washing, ishing. Who could have predicted how many words in the English language contain those three little letters? Not only that but in some cases, such as in dialogue, the word was was appropriate.
I exist and discover.
An amusing example of IT stupidity came to my notice when I worked in a media analysis firm. The lady who sat beside me had lost her purse and reported this to the local police station.
Someone in the police force IT department must have had the brilliant idea that it would be cheaper and easier, rather than address letters of confirmation to an individual, say, Mrs Bucket, to put in a generic description so, for example, someone who had been burgled may have been addressed: Dear Home Owner. The whole idea would have been fine except that my work neighbour received her letter and was very amused to note that it started with the words: Dear Loser.