February 10th, 2017


LJI:8 No Comment

“Hold all my calls!” Mr. Moyer shouted at his secretary while rushing past her into his office, trailing Mr. Battle behind him like a jogger with a small dog on leash.  Mr. Battle glanced at Ms. Geyer sympathetically, she was sitting frozen behind her desk while all ten lines on her phone blinked the angry red of ignored callers.  Mr. Moyer slammed the door behind Mr. Battle, probably thinking he was all the way in the office but clipping his elbow hard.  Mr. Battle quick-marched to the table and put down his papers before he dropped them, getting hit in the funny bone had made his whole arm numb.

“What the hell happened?”

“I think we have that figured out sir, and”

“Is it fixed?”

“Not yet, we took the reports down for the time being-”

“Took them down?  Our quarterly reports aren’t on the website for investors to see?”

“We – I thought nothing was better than the reports as they were, sir.”

Mr. Moyer opened his mouth to shout again, and a few nonsense syllables slipped out.  Then he took a deep breath, visibly trying to bring himself under control. “You’re right, though I don’t think we can bury this.”

“No sir, it’s out there.  We’ll have to decide how to respond.”

“That’s later.”  Mr. Moyer looked around his corner office as if to reassure himself it was still there.  “So, what did happen?”

“Um, I’ve been down with IT figuring it out.  If you remember, four years ago when we implemented the auto-reporting of our quarterly numbers to the website, it was an
idea that went from a thought to reality in two weeks – really quickly.”

“Of course I do, I was very proud of the group for jumping in and getting it done.”

“They were working long hours, frustrated when things weren’t coming together, and started, I guess playing a game is the best way to describe it.”

“Playing a game?  How does that screw up our quarterly reports four years later?”

“They played the game in the code they were writing.  Someone started leaving comments, someone else answered in another comment...”

“But none of this showed up before now.”

Mr. Battle looked at his CEO and moved to a chair at the table.  He was choosing his words carefully, trying to explain to Mr. Moyer what IT had explained to him.  He had thought about dragging the head of IT up to explain it herself, but she was still laughing so hard she had trouble breathing, which wouldn’t have helped the situation.

“Right, the game was all in comments in the code, just a call and response.  In coding comments are a way to make notes that don’t effect the functioning of the program.  Apparently they’re in everything, notes about what a fix was and when, ways to make the code prettier next time, occasionally just a bit of silliness.  It’s a way for coders to talk to the future, to leave tracks for whoever looks at the code next.”

“So IT knew this stuff was there?”

“Anyone who has updated the quarterly auto-report code has seen it, but it wasn’t hurting anything, so no one ever took it out.”

“And this morning’s fiasco?”

“You fired Tom Black three weeks ago.”

“He was disrespectful, always in jeans and t-shirts and asked that pointed question about infrastructure in the company meeting.”

“Yes sir.  Someone gave him a heads up what was happening, just two minutes before HR got to his desk to turn off his computer. “

Mr. Moyer looked confused and hurt.  “What could he have done in two minutes?”

“He pulled up the quarterly report code and deleted all the comment markers.”

“But if the comments were deleted..”

“No sir, the comment markers.  The symbols that let the code know that this wasn’t supposed to be functional.  And since the overall command in the report is print…”

Mr. Moyer still looked lost, and waved his hand at Mr. Battle in a ‘please continue’ gesture.  Mr. Battle sighed.

“All of the comments the coders had made to each other had been hidden by the markers.  Without the comment markers, they looked like printable text to the rest of the code.”

Mr. Moyer slumped forward a little.  “So because some IT folks were overworked four years ago, and I fired someone a few weeks ago…”

“Yes, sir.  That’s why the lyrics to ‘little bunny foo-foo’ and ‘bringing home a baby bumble-bee’ and all the others showed up throughout the report when it went live overnight.  IT is cleaning up the report code as quick as they can, which for the moment is putting all of the comment markers back in.  They will go back and do a full clean later.  Until then-” Mr. Battle slid his notebook out of the pile in front of him and took a pen from his pocket “as the head of public relations I need to know what you want to tell the public about this?”

Mr. Moyer stared at him bleakly and shrugged his shoulders.

Mr. Battle hid his quick smile.   “So that’d be no comment?”

****This is my entry for the latest round of LJ Idol.  Many thanks to my husband for explaining to me how comments work in code and answering a lot of odd questions as this idea came together, any technical errors are all mine.  To read more fabulous folks riffing on the same topic go here.***
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