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See title, but I am asking from a technical perspective, not

Take my 40 year old virgin niece on a date or you're fired.

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If she's a 40 year old virgin, she's probably also an employee. Wouldn't that be against policy? –  Tim Post Sep 9 '10 at 18:23
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can you return her unopened next morning? –  Mawg Sep 10 '10 at 1:49
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Go read clientsfromhell.net –  Pierre-Alain Vigeant Sep 10 '10 at 20:11
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This whole Q+As is like Dilbert, but in real life. –  Agos Sep 10 '10 at 22:40
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Ah, the mods strike again against clear community interest (70 up-votes!). Sigh. You know, maybe if so many very popular questions are against rules, maybe rules need changing? –  James May 13 '11 at 21:48
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locked by ChrisF Mar 25 at 17:32

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closed as not constructive by Mark Trapp May 13 '11 at 20:59

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64 Answers

About 12 years ago when I was in college I worked on a data modelling application for Windows. The project was nearly complete after about 60,000 lines of Win32 code, you know, code targeting the Windows platform. Then the client said the application also needs to run "on the web". She had a hard time understanding how this one "minor little" requirements change could have such a big impact on the project. I started over from scratch in Java but ended up quiting the project before it was ever finished.

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I was working on a big project in 1996 where we were scoring live sporting events. This conversation happened:

Boss: Go out to the venue for the next event.

Me: What do you need me to do.

Boss: Be there just in case.

Me: Just in case what?

Boss: In case the tech lead loses it. He's way too stressed out and I don't know what he might do.

Me: And if he loses it, what do you want me to do?

Boss: Just get him out of there so everyone else can continue working. I don't care how you do it.

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Just last week someone asked me to make a simple change to an existing DLL (left pad a numerical value with leading zeros).

It was a COM DLL, originally coded in VB 6 - source code long since lost - which interfaced on one side with some external hardware (interface unknown) and whose functions were called from an Active X control on a web page (interface, again, unknown).

It only took me a week and I only slept overnight on the office floor twice.

But I got it done and it is live in the field as of yesterday - working.

Punchline - it was a government project, of course.

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Did you bust out your trusty HEX editor? –  James Dunne Sep 10 '10 at 16:02
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Wear khakis and a polo shirt.

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"Wear a suit and a tie. No matter that the nearest client is three countries and 2000 km away from the dev team (and the clients have no intention of ever meeting the dev team), everyone else in the company wears a suit, as of tomorrow the dev team does likewise; violators will be fired. It Promotes Productivity!" (the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in, as programmers analyzed the requirements and noted the lack of specification of the suit. A weirder collection of suits is yet to be seen; the Executive Order was cancelled the next day) –  Piskvor Sep 13 '10 at 16:29
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At the ISP I worked for back in the mid 1990s, the boss was friends with officers from our local police and sheriff stations. They were interested in catching securities fraud. So my boss hatches a plan:

Write a program to scan websites for evidence of securities fraud. That is:

  • Start with IP address 0.0.0.1
  • End at 255.255.255.254
  • Scan every web page you find at each IP

This was back when pretty much every web server had a unique public-facing IP and virtual hosts didn't exist, so technically it was feasible. This was also back when a 1.5Mbps T-1 was really, really fast.

The problem? Even if we could scan ten IPs per second, the entire job would take almost 5,000 days to complete. Yep, had we gone through with such a program, it would be just now finishing its first scan of the entire Internet.

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Well, this one time I bid on a freelance reverse engineering job, only to discover that they quite literally wanted me to be able to change the past.

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This cries out for more detail. –  Michael Petrotta Sep 11 '10 at 21:17
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They wanted me to be able to wait until winning lottery numbers were called, and then have their point of sale system report that they'd sold a winning ticket. Which, at the time, I was really hurting for money, and the system wasn't in the US, and I'd have done that. But it didn't report numbers in a cluster after the winning numbers were revealed. It reported every time someone bought a ticket. So I explained that if I had the power to do that, I'd be able to win the lottery at will, and wouldn't need their money. –  Torvaun Sep 20 '10 at 16:32
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Youch, not only impossible, but also illegal and unethical. I feel for you Torvaun... –  brice Sep 21 '10 at 15:26
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The last company that I worked for (and went bust) got a few bad reviews of the product.

So the decision was made by the upper management not to fix the problems but instead rebrand the product and relaunch it. Bugs included.

The other thing that made it really hard to stomach was the fact that the rebranding consisted of nothing more than a name change, which meant about 3 image swap-outs within the app and a few string replacements. The app looked the same, behaved the same, crashed the same.

Can't say I'm surprised the company didn't last.

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Did you work for Microsoft? –  Chris Jul 28 '11 at 11:26
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We had a product release date pushed back a week so we could get the internal company footy tipping competition system running in time for the start of season...

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You work in Sydney don't you? That sounds like something that goes on where i work too. –  fortheworld Sep 23 '10 at 0:32
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Melbourne, actually. –  Evan Sep 23 '10 at 1:08
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"Is there a way to make bar codes appear on the screen so that the user can scan them into the computer?"

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I've seen that done before. It can make sense in certain contexts (plant control, etc) where there isn't a keyboard. –  Brian Knoblauch Jan 14 '11 at 17:44
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As Abraham Maslow almost said, when the only pointing device you have is a bar code reader, you tend to perceive all problems as bar codes. –  Robert Rossney Jan 14 '11 at 19:38
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The question is in Bold, It needed a build up.

Client: "You need to write Automated tests using RFT against our popular Web application"

Me: "Okay, in which environment is it deployed?"

Client: "It is deployed in QA but you don't have permission to access it"

Me: "Yikes"

Client: "Can you somehow finish writing the Automated tests without the application?"

Me (in my mind): "I could, if I was superman or Chuck Norris"

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I was asked to write a report to show all sales and expenses for the future, a Nostradamus module for our accounts system :P He was very serious, it was not supposed to be a prediction but the actual values.

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Tel them, that according to Nostradamus (at least believe by some people) world is going to end in 2012. So, reports can not display after 2012. –  Chris Jul 28 '11 at 11:30
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And development of the module will complete 2012-12-31. –  Bill Karwin Aug 30 '11 at 17:33
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To learn a whole new programming language over the weekend.

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Seems do-able to me.. at least to get the syntax. You could look up the methods and stuff. –  Jouke van der Maas Sep 9 '10 at 20:28
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While I agree, it's do-able and some people do it for fun, it's also the WEEKEND :) supposedly, non-work time. Anyway, junior programmers usually have to do this because they might have had all their experience in language 1, then they get a job and suddenly have to use language 2. The problem arises when you have to make significant changes to a project within days of first encountering the central technology. –  John Ferguson Sep 10 '10 at 21:47
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Not totally out of line, except for the part where he added, "on the weekend." That's my time. –  Andres Jaan Tack Sep 10 '10 at 22:04
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Well, if that new programming language is C++, make that 50 weekends plus the weeks in between. :) –  sbi Sep 13 '10 at 18:48
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you just need a copy of "Teach yourself <language X> in 0 billable hours" –  AShelly Oct 13 '10 at 21:12
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Back in 2003 we were two developers and a designer that got this...

I want you guys to do an imageserver application where you can just drag'n'drop images to upload them, without any extensions in the browser and it have to work on all platforms.

Truth be told we all looked at him and said something along the lines of

If we knew how to do that, we wouldn't sit in these chairs in your company right now.

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Thanks to HTML 5 this is now almost possible, Ah progress. –  Neil Aitken Nov 18 '10 at 13:43
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I like the "almost" possible :) but if we cranck the pessimist glasses it won't be ready until 2022 :P –  cyberzed Nov 18 '10 at 14:25
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@Neil Aitken, it's possible in not IE. –  zzzzBov Sep 28 '11 at 5:04
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My boss once insisted to me that Google's search results were all sorted by the highest bidder. He flatly refused to believe that Google tried to order its results by usefulness to the user. I tried to explain with simple logic that a system like that would result in the worst internet search engine imaginable to no avail.

In fact, he argued so vehemently that I'm pretty sure he'd just promised the client "the number one spot on Google if they were prepared to pay"... but didn't want to have to call back and look like an idiot.

*sigh*

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I think you've got a typo: "...and reveal himself as an idiot." seems like the thing you wanted to say. –  dr Hannibal Lecter Nov 21 '10 at 15:55
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Boss: I find it disgusting that you come in at 11am every day. I want you here at 8am, to help the data in-putters with any problems, and stay and help the dev team. When they go home at 7pm, you can start uploading changes to the sites.

Ofcourse, because of the ubersecurity for these sites (pharmaceutical company), we can only have one connection from our IP address to their servers, and I had 24 sites to upload. I was coming in at 11am because id be in the office till 3 or 4am uploading sites.

I left very shortly after.

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Can you add some post-processing so that the red part of this greyscale image is emphasised more than the green and blue parts?

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i swear to $Deity that a client once asked me to change (a+b)*0.5 to (a+b)/2

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context? Depending on the language, those might actually be two different things. –  MatrixFrog Dec 11 '10 at 19:11
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Someone asked me to create a website which "copies what Google Local Search does and merges its data with other information coming from a database". I drew something in paper and the customer said it was ok; I charged him with 700 pounds (1000 US dollars) for a 5-days job.

I developed it in 3 nights and delivered it. I was proud of what I wrote until the customer said "It's almost ok. Why are you using the googlemaps rubygem? I asked you to copy, not to use"

PHB.

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In my case it would be a client requesting a Web App feature to "block print screen" while on the application, which makes absolutely no sense because in order to do that you have to either disable the clipboard, disable the key for the whole computer, but no, they wanted to disable the print screen key client-side (through javascript), which makes it even more senseless, on top of that no matter what you do as long as you are not affecting the whole computer functionality (which, you shouldn't), the user could work around it by just focusing another application and using print screen when the focus is on that other window.

Ridiculous.

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I was working on a digital marketing website where we were selling DRM-protected Windows Media audio files; audio books for the most part. Microsoft pushed out some sort of required compliance update for all vendors to implement, assuming the vendors are deploying desktop client applications on end-user machines. The update required the application to check DLL versions on the client's machine to ensure they're up-to-date. My boss was literally drilling me for every conceivable way in which our website was allowed to check a web client's DLL file versions in his/her system folder, even to the point of suggesting we write our own Windows Media Player skin to do so.

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Three words: signed Java applet. Done. –  Ricket Sep 11 '10 at 3:13
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Got a task that reduced down to the Halting Problem. I had just finished a Ph.D. in Recursion Theory. So funny!

We settled for a (cheesy) approximation.

Stephan

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I was asked by my TL to connect the phone line directly to USB (no MODEM type converter in between).

I tried to explain him that it is not possible technically (the connecting of phone to USB directly). but he didn't want to listen.

Then, I had to write him a 20 page document explaining that phone is analog while USB is digital so a converter is very much required. Then he dropped the idea altogether.

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@Nailer Depends on how sarcastic you want to be. In this situation I'd hapilly copy / paste entire academic documents explaining why he's asking for the impossible. –  Neil Aitken Nov 18 '10 at 13:48
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Can you share that document? I don't want to write anything like that if I need so. –  Chris Jul 28 '11 at 11:35
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Client: When the power is lost, the electronic door lock should go to the failsafe position.

Me: Yes, of course. Just for clarification -- the failsafe position is "unlocked", right?

Client: Could you make it configurable in software whether the door is locked or unlocked when the power fails?

Me: (speechless).

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Been there, heard that. Sometimes they want it normally closed so no one can break-in. Other times they want it normally opened so they don't die a horrible, burning death in case of fire. Maybe next time we'll install two locks, just in case. –  mcotton Sep 28 '10 at 16:00
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They want a persistent actuator in the lock for setting the fail-safe position. In the defence industry this wouldn't even be very remarkable. –  Tim Williscroft Dec 7 '10 at 22:37
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Not funny as they probably meant can I make it configure it (while the power is up) and set what will happen the next time power goes out. Just make that 'configuration' available thru software. –  Michael Durrant Nov 30 '11 at 3:11
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I was asked to create a tenant blacklist website for landlords handling rental properties.

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Sounds like a great idea to me, though they should call it a blocklist. Some tenants habitually cause real physical damage to properties, never pay, and get kicked out of place after place. How about calling it NotYourSpace.com or Evictus.com ? –  Scott Fletcher Oct 5 '10 at 17:50
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Coming late on that one but... I once worked as part of a QA team for a... let's say fairly big software project, which ultimately is part of a big telecommunications infrastructure.

Think big, as in really big, as in a few million people use it, to, well, communicate. Write, talk. Short distance and international stuff. That comes with billing as well to make sure it really matters.

The reason for me working with this team was that the technical launch date was approaching, and that they were quite late on the QA and defect identification front.

One morning I show up for our stand-up meeting, and the programme manager tells us that after a review meeting with the project's executives yesterday, they've decided that instead of having the software run on Windows 32 bits servers (which was decided like 2 years ago), they wanted it to run on HP/UX 64-bits machines.

No reason except that at the time 64 bits what becoming all the rate, so it must be better right? And totally justified. It was now only 2 weeks before the technical launch. Easy.

We fought this dearly (and with laughter).

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At a credit bureau company, I was asked to replace a 100k C code service that checked fraud databases. Asynchronous multithreaded programming in Java replaced old C fork-join thechniques. The time frames were about 400-500 ms and 1-1.5 sec with stress. We managed to get 600 ms with ocassional peaks from databases' cache flushing.

  1. My boss asked to configure it with 100 threads because "you never know" -- I did some research and testing and found 20 threads worked best.
  2. The service depending on the one I wrote suddenly had trouble, my boss asked me to put a hardcoded timeout to cause more trouble, so we can assure I was not the faulty programmer.
  3. My boss asked me to log every single operation to have control of all the process. That's ok I know. He asked me to go production with this version: Gigabyte logs every day. Two monts later I managed to change log to INFO from DEBUG and got 30% faster.
  4. I was asked to go to five or six installations at 3 a.m. to replace the jar and change the name of the jar in the script that launched the service (the old C app was a mess and they were afraid I did the same thing).
  5. The worst: I was forced to manage a team of 8, 5 were outsourcers, at the middle of the project. 1 of us never did anything, the outsources did a web app that 2 years after is not in production yet.
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Let me guess. You got blamed for the web app that isn't completed? –  Jason Baker Nov 23 '10 at 5:56
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I was asked by my manager, a VP with connections to a support company in China, to transfer the support of my products to an external company. When I tried to explain to him that this was not possible given our contractual obligations to our customers, his response was, "Of course we can do it - we did it at "xxx company" (his previous employer) Never mind that the two companies made different classes of software, and had different licensing models.

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Make websites...

  • without version control
  • create them on the production server
  • make changes using FTP direct to the production server
  • start programming with no finalised idea of features or design
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Been there, done that. –  Jon Purdy Sep 22 '10 at 4:52
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1) Use an Object Database in an ERP system

2) Use an EVA Database in an ERP system

3) Craziest: Build a visual-based business rules system (a la Outlook Rules) to hand to our users (without a test harness to test the rules) and "throw it over the wall" at them. So instead of us writing programs for our users, we could just write a dumbed-down programming language for them and let them write their own apps.

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Q: "See this word here, how do I know if before that I should write 'a' or 'an'?" A: Use "an" if the next word starts with a vowel Q: "What's a vowel?"

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It is not that simple (e.g. "a unique feature"). –  Andreas Rejbrand Sep 11 '10 at 14:13
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"an SQL database" or "a SQL database"? –  Michael Petrotta Sep 11 '10 at 21:43
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@Michael, it depends how one pronounces SQL. Some Say S-Q-L, in which case it would be preceded with "an" because the phonetic S is "ess". Others pronounce it "Sequel" in which case it should be preceded by "a". –  Jasarien Sep 14 '10 at 13:44
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@Jasarien: well, exactly. –  Michael Petrotta Sep 15 '10 at 1:13
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protected by bigown Nov 29 '10 at 16:17

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