True confessions

I screwed up -- and the bosses thanked me for it. This is a confession of guilt. Many years ago I worked as a contractor for a fairly large company, a national leader in its field. The project involved the migration of about 13 legacy systems into one Oracle whizbang financials do-it-all. It was my first contracting gig and, having powered through my original assignment like a demented mouse in a wheel, I was le

I screwed up -- and the bosses thanked me for it.

This is a confession of guilt.

Many years ago I worked as a contractor for a fairly large company, a national leader in its field. The project involved the migration of about 13 legacy systems into one Oracle whizbang financials do-it-all.

It was my first contracting gig and, having powered through my original assignment like a demented mouse in a wheel, I was left wondering how I could look busy. All around me people were tearing out hair trying to get their bits done. Sitting in a review meeting, I let slip that, hey, I'd done some work with '4GL' and could I help out?

Could I!? After the work I'd done? You bet.

Sure enough, the next day I was plowing through 4GL code, understanding about every fifth line. But that was fine; I was cautious and picked it back up. I proceeded to knock off tasks one by one and things were going great.

A huge bone of contention between the IT and accounts staff was the lack of a daily reconciliation. Vast numbers of daily interface files would come in from remote locations, containing sections to be split out into the various legacy systems, and nobody really knew when part A had gone to system B and whether it all added up. So, bright boy me goes and trawls through it all and works out one simple report, which compared input to outputs and attempted to come out to the magic accountant's balancing number of zero. They were bowled over. It was my finest hour.

After that, I was made co-worker on the big history migration into the new system. Every interface file from the last 2 years was being loaded from tape into the new system, an enormous undertaking. My report was getting a real workout and everyone could rest easy -- one figure to look at at the end of an 8-hour run. All's well!

After some traumatic restarts, due to various hardware sizing issues and last minute changes, we prepared for our final from-scratch load. Going through the code, I noticed an error in one of the load programs, so I fixed it. It was simple a matter of changing ADD to ADD UPDATE. Phew. Lucky catch.

Week after week, 18-hour day after 18-hour day we went on. Every run, my report showed no problems. It all balanced to the penny. We all gradually relaxed. This huge crew of people, with management breathing down its neck, could finally relax after a year of pressure and many missed deadlines. We felt so confident, we automated the entire Christmas run, from tape load to reconciliation to potential restore, went home to our families, and came back in to no problems whatsoever. We were going to make it at last.

Early in the New Year, a puzzled accountant came in to see us. It appeared that last year the company had sales of over $4 billion.

Erm. Er. Cue cold fear and dark night of the soul. Utter confusion. It was all wrong! FUBAR! The cumulative totals were just utterly screwed, although the individual files were fine. Fraught meetings ensued and it was finally decided that we would have to scrap it all and start again. The call to the CEO was a "tense" one, I'm told.

Of course, my idiotic simple change was responsible. I was devastated. I screwed up my courage to tell the CIO. Being beckoned to take a seat in his office, he was on the phone groveling to the higher-ups, probably for the thousandth time. But when he put the phone down, he was grinning from ear to ear. I mumbled something about the whole restart and what a terrible waste of time it was, but he grinned even broader and said, "Thank God! It's the best thing that could have happened." And then the chief accountant assigned to the project wandered in whistling and agreed with him. Seems the whole project was being horse whipped along by upper management and that, had we gone ahead as planned, all sorts of issues were going to blow up. Now we had the time to take a breather and get everything in place. Which, three months later, we did. Perfectly.

Of course, I never fessed up, until now. I hope the cold sweats I still get when making one-liner changes are punishment enough...

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