There's nothing the BOFH likes more than a contractor still wet behind the ears. But even he thinks it's time to show pity when the boss hatches his latest mad scheme...

Year 1998 - Episode 20


That's the problem with the head of IT's technical management meetings - because Brownie points are in the offing, the managers get a little over-excited. Things develop into a oneupmanship auction with people, like the boss, throwing in outrageous bids - like claiming that we already have the software to allow anyone in the company to query and order stores across the Web.

"And here's where you'll be situated," the boss burbles as he enters the office with a programming contractor, press-ganged in from an agency at short notice to write the program that the boss lied about already having. Feeling slightly magnanimous towards the poor blighter (after all, he has had a half-hour exposure to the boss's BO during his introduction to the wonders of the photocopying machine - a dose of which is usually fatal) the PFY and I don't put up the expected arguments to the boss's encroachment on our territory.

"Find him a machine to work on will you - something that he can use to finish the development of the Stores Project."

"The Stores Project?" I ask. "Could be tricky - might need a grunty machine for that one..."

"Well, order one then. Get the order to me ASAP!"

The PFY and I spend the next 10 minutes selecting a machine - preferably one that is fully equipped with every possible peripheral and enhancement.

The boss signs the order without a second thought and I fax it through to our local supplier, who rings back to indicate that they're rushing it over immediately.

As soon as it arrives, the PFY and I install some extra airware - in other words, steal all the guts out of it - and pass it on to the new guy in its newly customised state...

Meantime, he's busy partitioning his whiteboard.

"So what are the boxes for?" the PFY asks.

"Well, they represent the three phases of the software life cycle - development, implementation, and feedback," he responds happily.

He's so green he needs mowing...

"Don't tell me, fresh out of programming school?" I ask kindly.

"Well, I have had a bit of experience writing Web apps," he blushes.

"But no real life experience?"

"I..."

The PFY and I sigh in unison as I rub out and draw some arrows.

"The real program life cycle is more like this" I say. "Design, implementation, feedback, implementation, feedback, implementation, feedback, implementation, and so on until you die. If you actually ever get out of the design phase of course."

"So what is your answer?"

"Simple, there's one phase, implementation."

"But there's bound to be feedback."

"Of course there is, which is why most offices come with at least one feedback receptacle per desk that gets filed for you by the cleaning staff every night."

"I don't know. I think I'll do it properly."

"Don't say we didn't warn you."

A day later, the poor bastard still has no idea of what's wanted, so the PFY and I force him to bypass design and lend him a hand to whack together a passable database query and mailing package from the guts of the HR-Web system. He then puts in long hours implementing some fancy utilities for stock control, and so on.

After some careful schooling in the art of software presentation, we release him into the boss's care.

He returns half an hour later with a sick look on his face.

"How did it go?" the PFY asks.

"He didn't even try it. He just wanted me to change the colours of the buttons, the font style and things."

"No surprises there," I comment. "So you changed them?"

"Yeah, but then he wanted to try some different colours."

"Of course he did. And different fonts?"

"Yeah."

"What about the banner - did he want to change that as well?"

"Yeah, he wanted the company logo on the centre and not on the left of the page."

"Don't worry," the PFY responds. "He'll want it back on the left tomorrow. Then on the right the next day. Then the centre again..."

"What am I going to do?" he sniffles. "He didn't even want to see it in action."

"He just said it was fine as it was and signed off your contract?" I ask knowingly.

"Yeah, that's it. All I have to do is finish the aesthetics and my contract's over."

The demoralisation of having his skill and expertise reduced to colours and fonts is obviously taking a toll on the poor bloke.

"Yep, he doesn't care what it does, so long as it looks good. Now you did say what we told you?"

"Yeah. I said it was a test version and not ready for release yet."

"Good, which means he's probably given the URL to the head of IT already."

"And he will have passed it on to all the other heads of department," the PFY adds.

"But it's not even finished," he sobs, obviously upset at the thought of producing a buggy piece of code. "I'd really like to make it work properly."

I can see this is a job for a professional...

Two days (and 5,000 rolls of toilet paper delivered to the home of the boss and the head of IT) later, our green and keen contractor is back working on the project.

I'm more than pleased to see that his feedback basket is full of loads of design suggestions in the boss's handwriting.

He may well work out to be all right after all...