In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, I thought I would create a series of postings on crazy, ridiculous, and downright scary things that have happened to me during my career as a software developer. Generally, these are the types of things that you can only see if you have spent your career as a consultant. It just takes that amount of moving around to see so much craziness. Many of these situations are only funny because so much time has gone by and the pain seems to be forgotten. These first of these stories is about the lump of coal.
My very first paid programming job was with a huge IT company that shall remain nameless in the post. Rest assured, you know them but for our purposes we will call it Ubber-IT Company. My job involved doing everything the experienced members of the team did not want to do. Things like being on call 24 hours, making sure dataset compression jobs ran (yes, mainframe stuff), and running reports of the TPS variety.
My team was a support team and one of our customer groups was performing a very large, extremely complicated merge of computer systems between two companies that had undergone a corporate merger. This team of people that I helped support worked absolutely obscene hours for many months. I heard rumors of failed marriages, health problems, and other undesirable side effects from such a death march.
This project eventually concluded and the day came for the end of project celebration. Ubber-IT Company was big on giving project trophies. Everyone who had worked at Ubber for any length of time proudly displayed their project trophies on their cube desk like badges of a war hero and each team member was already clearing space for a new addition. The VP of Ubber-IT Company came and gave a speech praising the team for their extraordinary level of effort and assured them that they had made a huge profit for Ubber. Then the trophy boxes were brought out and each team member was announced by name and came forward to receive their badge of honor.
Later, I stopped by the desk of a friend of mine to see what the new trophy was like. I looked over his trophy collection and could see no new additions. Just as I had finished looking, he walked up and said, "Oh, are you looking for this?", as he pulled the box out of the garbage can. He handed me the box and inside was a nice wooden platform with a lump of coal mounted on it. Along with the coal, came a small piece of paper with a saying that was something to the effect of every diamond starts out as a lump of coal.
I always imagined that the janitors at Ubber-IT Company could not have been happy to carry all of that coal to the dumpster that night.