My Many Girlfriends

In the long ago, wild-west days of the late 90s, there was an expectation that managers would put up with a certain degree of eccentricity from their software developers. The IT and software boom was still new, people didn't quite know what worked and what didn't, the "nerds had conquered the Earth" and managers just had to roll with this reality. So when Barry D gave the okay to hire Sten, who came with glowing recommendations from his previous employers, Barry and his team were ready to deal with eccentricities.

Of course, on the first day, building services came to Barry with some concerns about Sten's requests for his workspace. No natural light. No ventilation ducts that couldn't be closed. And then the co-workers who had interacted with Sten expressed their concerns.

During the hiring process, Sten had come off as a bit odd, but this seemed unusual. So Barry descended the stairs into the basement, to find Sten's office, hidden between a janitorial closet and the breaker box for the building. Barry knocked on the door.

"Sten awaits you. Enter."

Barry entered, and found Sten precariously perched on an office chair, removing several of the fluorescent bulbs from the ceiling fixture. The already dark space was downright cave-like with Sten's twilight lighting arrangement. "He welcomes you," Sten said.

"Uh, yeah, hi. I'm Barry, I'm working on the Netware 3.x portion of the product, and Carl just wanted be to check in. Everything okay?

"This is acceptable to Sten," Sten said, gesturing at the dim office as he descended from the chair. Sten's watched beeped on the hour, and Sten carefully placed the fluorescent bulb off to the side, in a stack of similarly removed bulbs, and then went to his desk. In rapid succession, he popped open a few pill containers- 5000mg of vitamin C, a handful of herbal and homeopathic pills- and gulped them down. He then washed the pills down with a tea that smelled like a mixture of kombucha and a dead raccoon buried in a dumpster.

"He is pleased to meet you," Sten said, with a friendly nod. Barry blinked, trying to track the conversation. "And he is pleased with it, and has made great progress on building it. You will like his things, yes?"

"Uh… yes?"

"He is pleased, and I hope you can go to him and tell him that he is pleased with this, and set his mind at ease about Sten."

So it went with Sten. He strictly referred to himself in the third person. He frequently spoke in sentences with nothing but pronouns, and frequently reused the same pronoun to refer to different people. The vagueness was confounding, but Sten's skill was in Netware 2.x- a rare and difficult set of skills to find. So long as the code was clear, everything would be fine.

Everything was not fine. While Sten's code didn't have the empty vagueness of unclear pronouns, it also didn't have the clarity of meaningful variable names. Every variable and every method name was given a female first name. "Each of these is named for one of Sten's girlfriends." Given the number of names required, it was improbable that these were real girlfriends, but Sten gave no hint about this being fiction.

There was some consistency about the names. Instead of i, j, and k loop variables, you had Ingrid, Jane, and Katy. Zaria seemed to be only used as a parameter to methods. Karla seemed to be a temporary variable to hold intermediate results. None of these conventions were documented, obviously, and getting Sten to explain them was an exercise in confusion.

It led to some entertaining code reviews. "Michelle here talks to Nancy about Francine, and then Ingrid goes through Francine's purse to find Stacy." This described a method (Michelle) which called another method (Nancy), passing an array (Francine). Nancy iterates across the array (using Ingrid), to find a specific entry in the array (Stacy).

Sten lasted a few weeks at the job. It wasn't a very successful period of time for anyone. Peculiarities aside, the final straw wasn't the odd personal habits or the strange coding conventions- Sten just couldn't produce working code quickly enough to keep up with the rest of the team. Sten had to be let go.

A few weeks later, Barry got a call from a hiring manager at Initrode. Sten had applied, and they were checking the reference. "Yes, Sten worked here," Barry confirmed. After a moment's thought, he added, "I suggest that you bring him in for a second interview, and have him walk you through some code that he's written."

A few weeks after that, Barry got a gift basket from the manager at Initrode.

Thanks for the tip

Sten did not get hired at Initrode.

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This post originally appeared on The Daily WTF.

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