Owing to the overwhelming response to my first three-part story in which Harold did NOT get fired but I did, I would like to try your patience with another fine tale, told in three installments. This one takes place in the far distant past, early in my career when I believed that all salespeople knew what they were talking about and always told the truth. It involves a Vice President, a tropical fish wholesaler and a naive but eager computer programmer - me.
Frank, the Vice President of the new microcomputer division, hired Tim, the hotshot computer programmer to go with him on sales calls hitting up the existing customer base with proposals for new custom software solutions. The intention was to develop a wide range of vertical market applications that would take the world by storm, all sold on brand new Altos MP/M systems (wow, how old are you Tim?) at $30,000 a pop with a whopping 5MB hard drive.
"So, Mr. Customer, what exactly would you like that new inventory and sales program to do for you?" pumped Frank. "My programmer will take notes and let us know if it can be done." Mr. Customer, who used timesharing on a DEC PDP-11 was not used to hearing such talk about possibilities, only limitations. "The microcomputer is a whole new world, Mr. Customer," crooned Frank, "it can do whatever you want it to do." I was beginning to get a little nervous.
I listened carefully and furiously took copious notes while Mr. Customer drooled and slathered about his dream for a multi-user inventory control and sales invoicing system with bells and whistles that should have been setting off bells in any experienced programmers head. Unfortunately, this was Tim's first gig with the big dogs. All his previous success had been programming in Applesoft on an Apple II+. He had now graduated to the new world of dBASE II. Wow!
"So, what do you think, Tim?" asked Frank, "Do you think it can be done?" I swallowed hard. What should I say? "Sure, it can be done," I replied nonchalantly. "That's just like the job I did for the mobile medical imaging company just a few months back. This should be a piece of cake." All stood up to go with handshakes all around. "That's great Mr Customer," Frank smoothly closed. "Tim will get us the specs and a mock-up in a few days. Just sign here."
What critical functions did Tim irresponsibly fail to provide in this all too common situation in custom programming? Extra points if you can name more than one. Hint: there are at least three.
Part two of the story can be found here: When techs try to comminicate with management.