Covet my code

Sturdy code can be a thing of beauty. Unless you prefer money and sex. I was working in an accounting department in the mid-1980s which had just acquired a completely new computer system, and the accounting application had been written from scratch. Of course it was full of bugs, and the serious logic errors got fixed rather quickly. However, the reporting scripts were never touched, and the reports were awful.

Sturdy code can be a thing of beauty. Unless you prefer money and sex.

I was working in an accounting department in the mid-1980s which had just acquired a completely new computer system, and the accounting application had been written from scratch. Of course it was full of bugs, and the serious logic errors got fixed rather quickly. However, the reporting scripts were never touched, and the reports were awful.

In my bookkeeping role I was under strict orders from the manager and the accountant not to touch the code, even though I had been given administrative access. The manager had little accounting experience, and treated the code (outsourced and produced by a large company you've all heard of) as a black box. It inspired a certain fear in him, I think. In any event, the department operated under the notion that the code was the code, and we all just had to live with it.

For the accountant, code was the furthest thing from his mind. He was having an affair with a woman in the department, so we assumed that was his primary distraction.

Because I was so desperate to generate better reports, I began to edit code, always prefacing my changes with "IF USER = ME" so they would not affect other users. Over many months, my reports got better and better, to the point that they were jealously eyed by my co-workers.

Roll forward a year, to when I announced that I was moving on. The manager got an earful from the rest of the staff, because they wanted my slick reports for themselves. He confronted me, and asked if my code changes were sturdy. "Yes, I've been using them for months," was my answer. After I promised to come back for a visit if problems surfaced, I went through my code changes, making them the default.

Two months later, I was invited back for one, all-expenses-paid Saturday to tweak my changes. As far as I know, the code became their standard.

The manager was happy about my contribution. The accountant? Shortly after his wife caught on to his affair and blew the whistle on him, he went to prison for embezzlement. He always had more exciting things to covet than my code, I guess.

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