The Smoke Stack

This is the second in my series on ridiculous things that have happened to me in my career.  As you may recall, I started off my career at a large IT company that I will call Ubber-IT Company  My position was in a support group for other development teams.  However, my team was not the only support team.  There was another team composed of only one guy as far as I could tell.  I will refrain from giving his real name.  Instead I will refer to him as The Smoke Stack.

The Smoke Stack was a system’s engineer in the real sense of the word.  His job was to actual write code that interacted with the mainframe OS.

Most people preferred not to interact with The Smoke Stack.  Back in those days, people were actually allowed to smoke inside some office buildings.  Even though smoking was still technically allowed, very few people smoked inside.  The Smoke Stack was one of these people and the Ubber gave him an enclosed office to reduce the chance of the offending odor engulfing the entire area.  In addition to the heavy smoking, he was also very offensive in his speech.  To make matters worse, he spoke broken English so you were never quite sure exactly what he said.

Needless to say, people avoided The Smoke Stack if at all possible and he seemed to enjoy that.

One day, The Smoke Stack needed a job created by my team and refused to give any written specifications to my manager.  The manager ordered to me to extract the specifications from The Smoke Stack and I was instructed to not perform any work until a suitable spec had been written.

I reluctantly went to Smoke Stack’s office and knocked on the door.  From inside I heard "@#%$# $#@@!  Come in!".  As I walked in the office, I was overcome by the smell.  The office was engulfed in a fog from the cigarette smoke and my eyes began to water.  There were stacks of dump output (core dumps from mainframe jobs) everywhere in the office and empty food containers stacked in the corner.  I’m certain that no member of the Ubber janitorial staff had entered this office in at least a decade.

There were five tubes (3270 emulator for you younger readers) on his desk generating quite a bit of heat for this small office.  Additionally, The Smoke Stack had a space heater generating at full capacity under his desk.  This made for an experience in heat usually reserved for the sauna when combined with the Ubber-IT Company requirement of wearing a suit with your jacket on at all times.

The first thing I said was "My manager is requiring a written spec before work on your job starts so I am here to get everything written down". 

The Smoke Stack countered with "That #@%$# @##@!.  I don’t write $@!$$ specs.  If you can’t understand what I $%#@$ say, and do it right, you shouldn’t be %$#&@ working here!".

At this point, I only been in his office for 45 seconds.  My eyes were bloodshot and I was sweating profusely.  I had to think of something fast or might end up in the corner with those food containers.  I decided to go with flattery.  "I understand where you are coming from.  It must be difficult working with these people for as long as you have.  I understand what you want but my manager absolutely will not allow me to work on this without something written down.  Can you help me out?".  Sort of a help me to help you moment.

The Smoke Stack looked at me, puzzled.  He mumbled "@#$%!" as he grabbed a stained napkin from his desk and quickly scribbled a few sentences on it.  The napkin appeared to have been previously used to wipe up a coffee spill.  At least that is what I made myself believe.

He handed me the spec/napkin and I was out of there, glad to get out of the office before passing out.  As far as I was concerned, that was the best spec I had ever seen.

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