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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
14  
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

64 Answers 64

up vote 185 down vote accepted

To market Neal Stephenson's sci-fi thriller Snow Crash, I was asked to write a "benign" computer virus. It would "benignly" pretend to take over the user's computer and replace the screen with snow, a.k.a., a "snow crash." After a minute or so of snow, the snow would fade out and be replaced by an advertisement for the book. This would be "benign," you see. The virus would spread through normal means, but nobody would mind because after taking over their computer "you'd just get a fun ad and then be relieved that nothing bad happened to your computer."

I was actually told to do this at a major worldwide corporation. I had to write a memo explaining all the laws this would break and all 17 bad things that could happen if they really made me implement this.

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You were told to do this at Viacom ??? –  Carlos Muñoz Sep 10 '10 at 3:37
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Holy balls. That's the most perfect example of the "It's only evil if other people do it -- if WE do it it MUST be all right!" mindset I've heard in a while. –  BlairHippo Sep 10 '10 at 14:15
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Meh. It wouldn't have been any worse than the book itself... ;) –  Mason Wheeler Sep 10 '10 at 16:37
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That's awesome. We can sell it in a bundle with my 'benign' keylogger that serves up ads when users visit competitors sites, and we'll be rich. –  µBio Sep 10 '10 at 17:21
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@Neil G: 1. have something blatantly illegal done for you 2. profit! 3. blame employee when you get caught 4. more profit!!! (this worked for the Sony rootkit, IIRC) –  Piskvor Sep 13 '10 at 16:10

We need to delay the site launch by two weeks because Mercury is in retrograde and it's a bad time to start new things.

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At least they didn't want to launch 2 weeks early. –  Jeff Sep 10 '10 at 12:30
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Ha! I have heard that one a lot in India –  sabertooth Sep 10 '10 at 20:16
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If you were writing software for a space probe, this might make sense. –  Bruce Alderman Nov 1 '10 at 5:32
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Mercurial is always in retrograde. –  Erik Reppen Jan 19 '13 at 16:44

Let's see:

Write programs in C++

  1. without the use of version control,
  2. no refactoring,
  3. no Boost,
  4. limited STL (I argued and won on this one),
  5. use unverified subcontractor libraries,
  6. without a memory profiler (to help fix subcontractor work),
  7. no unit testing,
  8. stick to 3 letter names for member function names,
  9. no test environment (VM not allowed either) just push to production
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Wow. What's your company score on the Joel Test? –  DJClayworth Sep 13 '10 at 19:31
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Clearly, your boss was of the opinion that 'Real' programmers program with a magnetized needle and a steady hand. ;) –  brice Sep 21 '10 at 15:17
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@brice Don't make me bust out the butterflies... –  Note to self - think of a name Sep 21 '10 at 19:36
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No one can ever force you to work without version control. Use whatever you want (I'm an increasingly big fan of git, personally) on your own machine, and gradually other developers will follow along. Hopefully. –  MatrixFrog Dec 11 '10 at 19:04

The stupidest thing I've been asked to do is probably a ground up rewrite of a very large project. It was about 350k lines, all C (with a little perl mixed in for 'helper' scripts) and worked well no matter what clients did to it.

Almost a year later, we had:

  • Lots of functions that basically did the same thing as the old functions
  • No real improvements in speed or functionality
  • A slightly smaller memory footprint
  • A much larger executable
  • Annoyed clients

Basically, we accomplished nothing that sensible refactoring could not have accomplished. But my boss was happy, we got rid of the helper scripts.

I consider it to be the most egregious waste of time and existing code that I've ever seen.

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+1 for "the most egregious waste of time" –  systempuntoout Sep 9 '10 at 19:19
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It's a little dated but from the StackExchange leader: joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000069.html –  Hans Sep 10 '10 at 2:51
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Also in this you have learned alot ... to not repeat this kind of project in future –  Zerotoinfinite Sep 17 '10 at 6:55

"You know this enormous 20-year-old Cobol program that contains piles and piles of hard-coded business rules that more or less defines our company? Would you mind converting it to .NET?"

Yikes.

We go live in a few weeks.

Wish me luck..

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Jeez, +1 just for sympathy! –  Paddyslacker Sep 9 '10 at 18:37
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Do you have a Paypal donate button somewhere? I'd like to buy you some aspirin. –  Tim Post Sep 9 '10 at 18:38
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If you accomplish it you'll be a programming God, and also lucky to get a "thanks" –  Kevin Laity Sep 10 '10 at 22:08
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Thank you for your support everyone. And just to let you know, we are now live! –  CodingInsomnia Sep 21 '10 at 14:19
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The worst part of this is that if you do it really really well, you'll get almost no credit. "Yup, it works exactly the same as it did before." –  MatrixFrog Dec 11 '10 at 18:56

For me, the craziest (and quite possibly, funnest) was

See this 10 million lines of code in (out-dated web technology)? Write a compiler to convert it to a working Asp.net site.

It never spit out a working version (of course, I tried to tell them it was impractical), but it was fun anyways.

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Its nice of Joel S. to let his employees post about WASABI. ;-) –  Donny V. Sep 10 '10 at 21:03
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@Donny V. haha, I wish. It was much, much, much crazier than that. Dynamic inline sql used server side to generate mass quantities of dynamic server side code, leading to giant buckets of javascript and html with embedded server side code, that executed sql queries that... –  µBio Sep 10 '10 at 21:09

Obviously after reading some business magazine on an airplane about how XML was the hot new technology (this was circa 2002), one of our executives asked me if our application used XML, when I said no he asked me if we could add it.

Now, I'm not talking about a feature to import/export files in XML format, he simply wanted it to be part of the architecture for no reason other than it was popular at the moment and would lend credibility to our app.

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I had the same thing in 1998 - except the article was on Oracle, and our app was essentially a workflow diagram editor. We ported the file format we were outputting from disk to a table and took a dependency on Oracle licenses. Made version control very difficult as well. –  Rob Fuller Sep 10 '10 at 20:45
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Oh boy. I had the exact same thing (at around the same time) and it was also regarding XML. What was it about XML that made the execs start drooling? –  CraigTP Oct 12 '10 at 14:16
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That's pretty common. It's called "buzzword compliance". –  khedron Nov 15 '10 at 15:21
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@CraigTP I think it's the 'X'. It's dramatic and appealing. –  Adrian Jul 13 '11 at 20:26
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Looking back I should have just appeased by saying. Even better, our web app uses HTML which has a whole extra letter in the acronym and the code is like a specialized version of XML that meets our exact business need! –  JohnFx Jul 13 '11 at 20:42

One major feature of an application our company developed was the ability to search large amounts of documents by the full-text of the document. A competitor made the following claim in a marketing presentation to one of our clients,

Our search technology is superior because it doesn't just search the text of the documents, it also searches the 'bits and bytes' of the actual file in binary form.

They gave a ridiculous example of how the decimal ascii repersentations of the words "boot" and "boat" were much less similar than the same words in binary form, when you compared the actual numeric digits in the representation. So searching based on the 1's and 0's more accurately reflected how similar those two words appeared visually, and thus improved recall.

Naturally I was tasked with researching this technique, which I assume was the result of a marketing guy completely misunderstanding a programmer somewhere, and drafting a response that we could include in our proposal.

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I'm afraid I can think of a couple of search techniques that might (just) have made sense of the claim. –  DJClayworth Sep 13 '10 at 19:34

Can you write a simple time entry and billing system for our new foreign office that uses a different language, currency and tax laws?

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Changing my syntax highlighting colors to match the ones used in the version control system.

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haha, a sadist boss/client –  µBio Sep 9 '10 at 19:26

They asked me to search a Commercial Product that could find and fix source code bugs automagically.
Still searching..since 2001 :).

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Why can't you use an open source product to do this task? Do they just love spending money? After all, it'll be expensive! :) –  alternative Sep 10 '10 at 0:37
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"Could we have a list of all the unexpected errors, please..." –  Evan Sep 11 '10 at 0:56
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Imagine if a client doesn't need a developer to develop his application. He himself can write anything and debugger will solve it automagically. Let me google it, Ill let u know if I find anything like this :-) –  Zerotoinfinite Sep 17 '10 at 7:00
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I actually have such a tool. The problem is that it takes several weeks or months depending on the problem at hand, tremendous amounts of interaction with your team, lots of coffee, and is very expensive. –  Michael Haren Nov 22 '10 at 18:11
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@Michael send me two copies please, I need to getting job done. –  systempuntoout Nov 22 '10 at 20:17

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

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

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

I once had a long "discussion" with a pointy-haired boss who insisted that we could store a 2 in a bit datatype because it was "only one digit."

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You can definitely do this. As long as the variable is named "IsATwo" –  JohnFx Sep 10 '10 at 14:37
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bool true,false,file_not_found (apologies to DailyWTF) –  Martin Beckett Sep 15 '10 at 20:10

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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I was working on a web project in ASP.NET which was to replace an existing PHP solution. The PHP site wasn't bad, just a little outdated so the new project was to upgrade it using a new platform. The first thing to do was setup the new infrastructure by having IIS and MSSQL servers as well as a source control system.

A few weeks into creating the new project the project manager became unhappy with the deployment process which involved getting the latest version of the code, then deploying a build to the test environment. He felt that this was time consuming and that having people work on the same code base and having to merge their changes the wrong way to do things.

His solution was that we go back to the "old way" of doing things: writing PHP on the production server in real time with no source control or deployment strategy. This way you could have instant results and it didn't involve setting up source control or other servers. Needless to say things did not go well. :)

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Ah, the wonders of PHBs: "Why don't you incompetent fs have any way to know who changed what file when? Fix it!" Same PHB, another month later: "Which one of you incompetent fers broke the server again?" svn log..."uh, you did, Mr.PHB" In a meeting one day later: "That Subversion thing is just slowing you down, can't we get rid of that?" –  Piskvor Sep 13 '10 at 16:23
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I love source control and all its benefits as much as the next guy... but it just doesn't get your blood pumping as much as editing on the live production code. –  notJim Sep 14 '10 at 8:15
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@WalterJ89-I was certainly joking! Some of the more stressful moments of my carreer have been when I've screwed something up on a live site! –  notJim Sep 24 '10 at 6:19

Without any discernable cause, I was brought into a private meeting, and told not to check if my computer was being monitored - including, never ever checking my task manager for any reason. I asked if they were monitoring my computer, and was told (roughly) "this is just a preventative thing -- you know, our lawyer told us to tell the employees about this -- but you know, we can't really say -- but I'm not monitoring it now."

(nudge, I think they were monitoring my computer, just not while they were telling me not to look for any monitoring programs. In fact, a few weeks later, I came in early and literally watched the mouse moving around my screen as if by remote -- so I looked through the window of the CEO and saw him remotely clicking around on my computer from his laptop.)

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I hope you don't still work there. –  finnw Sep 10 '10 at 19:32
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What he wants to do ??? Let him code for you ... –  Zerotoinfinite Sep 17 '10 at 7:02
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1) Open up notepad 2) Type "hi boss" 3) ... 4) Profit! Also, a good surveillance program would hide itself from Task Manager. –  Note to self - think of a name Sep 21 '10 at 19:35

Use Visual SourceSafe.

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Nothing tops this. –  Jaco Pretorius Sep 21 '10 at 20:02
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Beats having nothing. –  rjzii Sep 28 '10 at 2:55
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@Rob - I'm not so sure. Having nothing, at least you know your source is "unprotected". VSS gives the illusion of protection whilst actually making things worse. It's a false sense of security of the worst kind. –  CraigTP Oct 12 '10 at 14:13
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I'm with Rob. It does beat having nothing. Although I no longer use it. Over my career, I've probably used it for a decade in total and never had any major data loss. @CraigTP, it may be unreliable, but it isn't 100% unreliable as you seem to be implying. A VSS installation that is backed up frequently (and a long tail of backups are kept) is indeed better than nothing. –  JohnFx Nov 15 '10 at 17:09
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I was once asked to make a field in a database "semi-compulsory" by a manager.

Just recently I was asked to develop a web application I had no prior knowledge of based on some JPEG mocks of what the website should look like that had been created by a design agency in another country who normally do print designs and have no idea about the web.

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Semi-compulsory isn't as crazy as it sounds; there's lots of cases where it's "required IF condition X is true". With the right DB constraints you can even enforce this... though it'd probably be better at a higher abstraction layer. –  Craig Walker Sep 10 '10 at 23:01

Can you take this 10-page report that I asked you to prepare as a word document and make it into a powerpoint presentation because I am really a visual thinker and won't actually read the written report I asked you to make?

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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

I have been asked to write in a presentation of our software to a major multinational potential customer that we used "spaghetti code" coding technique.

Of course, we're in Italy... sounds good.

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Just so long as the spaghetti is made fresh... right? –  fortheworld Sep 22 '10 at 23:18
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Ok, I want you to scan this picture of a house, when I come back, you should be able to show me the back portion of it.

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ZOOM...ENHANCE! –  Jon Purdy Sep 22 '10 at 4:48
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oh CSI how I hate you –  WalterJ89 Sep 22 '10 at 22:41
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Enhance... enhance... enhance... OH JUST PRINT THE DAMN THING! –  James Dunne Oct 13 '10 at 2:12
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@WalterJ89 maybe that's where he got the idea –  Joset Oct 13 '10 at 18:35
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Was there an address? I would have run out and taken a picture of the back of the house and showed it to him. Then explain how you have the ability to walk into a photo as if it were another dimension. The print your resume in case he doesn't laugh. –  Jeremy Heiler Jan 14 '11 at 18:01

To make a user manual for an automated process. The user manual basically say "Double click foo.exe and wait until it's done"

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Having to deal with the end user of what I write I would say that is almost always necessary unfortunately –  Skeith Jul 4 '11 at 9:46
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Probably you need another document to tel user to how to use that manual. –  Chris Jul 28 '11 at 11:41

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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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 don't like the way this Oracle database works. Why don't we just write our own database?"

(Admittedly, this was over 15 years ago, but still!)

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1  
Well, why not? Some people actually did this, and that's how we got OODBMS. Imagine Amazon or Google using Oracle as DB backend... and then think about what impact speed has on their business. –  foo Jan 14 '11 at 19:43

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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Client: We've been using your database software for a couple of years, developing our own applications with it, and calling you from time to time for help.

Me: Yes, we appreciate doing business with you.

Client: Yeah. Every time we call, you tell us how to use a new feature, or you help us debug our usage, or provide a workaround for some issue.

Me: Sure, we're always happy to be of assistance.

Client: Occasionally, your product has an actual bug in it, and your company fixes it and gives us a software update.

Me: We do our best.

Client: Well, what we need from you now is some assurance that we won't have any more issues.

Me: . . .

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My face twitched a little while reading this. –  Daenyth Sep 16 '10 at 21:07
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This is a true story. The client above was a manager at an company who developed air-traffic control software for logging flight data. The sole developer on the project (who had no one reviewing his code) called to report a "bug" frequently, but it turned out to be an error on his part 9 out of 10 times. He didn't know about his own errors because he refused to check error statuses returned by our API. Why? Because he said any error must indicate a bug, and our library should have no bugs. –  Bill Karwin Sep 18 '10 at 0:49
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@Bill, sounds like you library should fail badly and loudly including the last 10 error codes returned to calling code. –  user1249 Nov 28 '10 at 14:09
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@NimChimpsky: Some of the client's "issues" were cases where they wanted the software to do something it was not designed to do, or when they made fat-finger mistakes (like misspelling SQL keywords). They reported these cases as "bugs". –  Bill Karwin Aug 4 '11 at 16:16

protected by bigown Nov 29 '10 at 16:17

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