Episode 6: The devil is in the details

It's 9;00 AM and Zach has not even sat at his desk yet, when an urgent call comes in from Mr. SlowerThanA SnailOnTranquilizers, head of the Protocol department of a large organization for which Zach had in the past completed the analysis and the implementation of fully computerized procedures on behalf on ThreeTonsOfCode Ltd. Until then, things were done by spitting on fingers in order to turn pages and writing on sheets of paper with pencils (except if there was no pencil around, in which case everything would come to a halt). 

SST: Good morning. May I speak with Mr. WontDoIt?

ZWD: (Terrified) Speaking.

SST: I'm calling to inform you that we are facing a MAJOR problem regarding the application you have deployed on our premises and it would be CRUCIAL for us to meet in order to determine its cause and solve it as soon as possible.

ZWD: (Surprised, since the product had been tested very thoroughly so that MAJOR problems would be already known, if any) Sir, could you give me more information on the nature of the problem? Is it some bug that is interfering with your daily work?

SST: I think it would be better to have a talk in person, so you should come over here. It's extremely difficult to have such a conversation over the phone.

ZWD: Agreed, but I should have some more information before...

SST: (In a demanding tone) Please listen, Mr. WontDoIt. My time is EXTREMELY limited. We would like you to be here ASAP so that the problem is solved. Best would be in half an hour. 

ZWD: (Fearing something REALLY BIG has escaped his attention) I'll be there in half an hour.


(After half an hour, four tickets for speeding, violating a red light, crossing trouble lines and having a tasteless car colour, Zach enters the Protocol department panting and sweating, and comes face to face with Mr. SlowerThanA SnailOnTranquilizers, who is sitting at his desk sipping his coffee and reading his newspaper).


ZWD: Good morning, I hope I'm not late, I...

SST: (Without taking his eyes off the paper) Oh, you're already here. Listen, go have a coffee downstairs, I'm BUSY right now. We'll talk in an hour or so. 

ZWD: But...you...

SST: (In an imperative tone) We'll meet here in ONE HOUR.

ZWD: (Suddenly having a feeling that he's being paying for some BIG mistake he'd done in his life) ...of course.


(After one hour, 3 cups of coffee, reading zodiac sign predictions on his mobile phone and taking part in each online lottery one could think of - and losing in each and every one - Zach goes once again to the Protocol department, gathering any calmness he has left).


SST: Ah, welcome. (Folds newspaper carefully) Have a seat.

ZWD: (Impatiently) Regarding the problem....

SST: Just a moment. First things first. To address the problem, I have organized a meeting with the people responsible.


(Door opens, about 10 people come in)


ZWD: (Puzzled expression)

SST: This is Mr. IKnowAlotOfPeople AndNothingElse, head of our technical department. This is Mr. WhateverBreaks WeBuyANewOne, head of supplies. Mrs. Desperate LonelyForEver, PR Manager. Mr. DontTalk IWillFormatYourDrive, System Administrator. And John, John, John, John, and John, our programmers. 

ZWD: (Puzzled-er expression, fear that something has gone VERY wrong). Er, nice meeting you.

SST: As you understand, we are following official procedures. Mrs. LonelyForEver, please start taking notes. 

(Mrs. LonelyForEver applies a new, super-ultra-modern method of recording meeting minutes: Produces a piece of paper, takes a pencil and a sharpener, sharpens pencil, blows shavings away, takes battle stations).

ZWD: (Trying to hold himself) ...I'm listening.

SST: Mr. AndNothingElse sent an official memo in 10 printed and signed copies some days ago, where he protested that a malfunction was making the system slow and prevented users from completing their work.

ZWD: And what kind of malfunction would that be?


ΝΙΚ1: (Stands up, gets his things) My work time is over. Have a good afternoon.


ZWD: But...

SST: (Aggresively) Mr. John takes some hours off each day since an injury on his left foot's pinky that he had six months ago demands intense medical treatment and so he has to leave. Have a good afternoon, John. Don't forget to fill up the allowance form for breeding domestic goldfishes. It would be a shame to lose the money. 


ZWD: ...

SST: (Cat killer in heat look). As I was saying, there is an issue. Mr. AndNothingElse will update you himself.

ANE: (Taking the serious expression the situation demands, shuffling his papers) Users have reported that the "Submit" button's caption in the data entry screen should have a capital S, as well as than it would be good to have the button moved a bit to the right and make it green. 

ZWD: (Face similar to what Japan's Prime Minister would look like if he was asked to play Al Bundy in Married with Children) I BEG YOUR PARDON?

SST: As Mr. AndNothingElse mentioned, there is a problem with the submit button. 

ZWD: Is THIS the reason we're having this meeting? 

SST: (Look that can make an enraged cangaroo with a toothache turn to stone) OF COURSE.

ZWD: ... (thinks: When in Rome, do as Romans do...) I see. It's possible that there's no capital "S" in "Submit" because YOU HAD SPECIFICALLY ASKED FOR ALL LOWERCASE ON ALL BUTTON CAPTIONS.

ANE: Yes, but that doesn't imply that the first letter of each word should NOT be a capital one.  

ZWD: (Trying to keep his hands off Mr. AndNothingElse's neck) Okay....

SST: We also propose that the button's color should become green and that the button be moved to the right by exactly two pixels.

ZWD: (Calmly outraged) Can be done. But please explain something. What's the effect of a non-green, two-pixels-to-the-left button on user productivity and data entry completion?

ANE: Often users get confused and click the Cancel button instead of the Submit button after filling up a form. That's why we need it to be green and have some distance from the Cancel button. Imagine that after 8 hours of data entry...

ZWD: 8 HOURS? But the form has just 6 fields!

SST: (Angrily) Mr. WontDoIt, this is a COMPLEX process which we don't have the time to go through right now!

ZWD: ...

ANE: As I was saying, these are the reasons we should make this EXTREMELY important modification.

ZWD: (Thinking: When in Rome, do as...) Very well. It will be implemented as you need. 

SST: NATURALLY you will provide us with an implementation and deployment timeframe. In print and signed.

ZWD: (Thinking: When in Rome...) Naturally.

SST: And, of course, we will be in DAILY contact regarding the implementation's progress. You will be talking with John, who is responsible for the ProtocolNumbers database table. 

ZWD: (If I find out WHO thought of this Rome thing...) ...of course. We will be in const...COME AGAIN?

SST: John is responsible for the ProtocolNumbers table.

ZWD: The application has 6 tables. You mean that...

SST: Exactly. John over here is responsible for the ProtocolNumbers table, John over there for the BProtInfo table, John in the back for the lookup tables...

ZWD: ONE person per table?

SST: (Looking surprised) OF COURSE! John, the one who left early, is also responsible for XML. 

ZWD: (Thinking: For which tag in particular?) I see. 

SST: I think we're done here. Have a good day, Mr. WontDoIt. We are looking forward to hearing from you. 

ZWD: One last question: What time of the day can I talk with John the ProtocolNumbers table expert?

SST: Strictly 11.30 to 11.45 in the morning, because he is busy evaluating screen cleaning material during the rest of the day.

ZWD: Good day, gentlemen.

What happened next is that Zach had no alternative than to actually modify the application, making the "Submit" button green, moving it a bit to the right and changing the caption so that the "S" was a capital one. Zach got another call from Mr. SlowerThanA SnailOnTranquilizers, who asked for a printout of all possible shades of green. He needed to choose a new variation with a a capital S, a different tone of green and rounded edges (but only the top ones), since he believed that the current design could mislead users and make them click the button when they shouldn't click the button. There was the usual 3-hour meeting, which John the programmer (what do you mean which one?) left early again because of his condition. Mr. SnailOnTranquilizers asked for an additional meeting in which they would decide on whether form fields should have a larger height as well as whether labels should end with a colon or not. Modifications along with meetings cost the company about $5000. During development, which Zach took special care to extend to a 3-month period, no use of the application was permitted and everything froze. Zach got a raise. Mr. SnailOnTranquilizers was let go and replaced with Mr. IKnowMorePeople ThanYouDo, who asked for a TOTAL reconstruction of the application so that it could also support red "CANCEL" buttons. Zach has been living exclusively on pills ever since and is thinking of taking a few weeks' vacation in a war zone somewhere, just for a change. 

Comments (3) -

Louis Mundhenk
Louis Mundhenk
11/7/2013 3:00:31 PM #

I love the blog.

Jerry Hernander
Jerry Hernander
12/26/2013 7:24:31 PM #


1/8/2014 12:04:07 PM #

This episodes in written can be taken into real serials or 5 min videos, so that we don't miss real expressions of the characters played in this episodes.

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