Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Joys of Software Engineering, or Is the Personal Political

Work has been - how do I put it? - totally kicking my ass lately, the reasons for which put me in mind of an old story. There are probably as many versions of the story as there are branches of software engineering (and probably plenty of other fields), but what follows is my favorite. The story takes the form of a play with two characters: a software engineer and a mid-level manager.

[ Begin Scene ]

Manager: Now remember, we only have half an hour for this project or the entire company goes bankrupt. So what I want is for us to get into that truck...[ points to a truck attached to a large tank of nitroglycerine ] and drive it over that bridge. [ points to a 1000 foot deep chasm 500 feet from the truck ]

Software Engineer: Boss, that's not a bridge, that's a chasm. If we try to drive the truck over it, we'll just end up driving into the chasm and if we don't die on impact we'll probably die in the resulting explosion.

Manager(a little exhasperated): You know it all engineers! I don't pay you to forecast. That's my job. I'm the one with the MBA. Now if you know what's good for you, you'll get in the drivers seat and start the engine.

[ Engineer realizes that if he doesn't at least make an attempt to appear compliant he'll lose his job and what with the over-seas out-sourcing it'll be tough to find a new one. Enters the truck on the drivers side ]

[ Manager enters on passenger side ]

[ Engineer starts truck and begins driving it toward the chasm. When it's 50 feet from the chasm we hear ]

Manager(voice full of panic): Stop the truck you idiot! There's no bridge! My god, we're going to die!!!

[ Software Engineer slams on breaks. Truck screeches to a halt just in the nick of time, its front wheels just barely over the edge of the chasm. ]

Software Engineer(nervous but slightly relieved): See boss, I told you, there was no bridge there...

[ Truck cab starts to wobble ]

Manager(rightesouly angry): I can see that you moron! Why didn't you build one before we started driving?

[ Engineer notices wobbling, grabs Manager and pulls him out the drivers side door just before the truck plummets into the chasm and explodes ]

Manager: [dusts himself off] Well thanks for saving my life, but we didn't get the truck across in half an hour. Because of that, you're fired.

[ End Scene ]

Wonder if anyone in the lower echelons of the federal government has lately started to feel like that engineer.

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