Bewildering Stories

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Developer No

by Sean Hower

Did I really want to go through with it?

Rumors about the Programming department were rampant in the company, especially since Larry from Marketing had gone there and vanished. Some say it was a puff of logic that had got him, others that it had been spontaneous human combustion. Either way, Larry had gone into that department and never come back. I didn’t want to be the next statistic.

Maybe I could just let things pass as they were? I mean, no one really reads documentation anyway, so risking my life to verify its accuracy didn’t make sense. I had a wife. I had kids with braces. I had a variable-rate mortgage. My insurance policies weren't even up to date. Worst of all, there was a new episode of The Simpsons airing that weekend and that guy from that movie about that thing was guest-starring. I had a lot to lose on a pointless endeavor.

But my clients were counting on me, my expertise, my persistence, and my chutzpah to complete the mission as described in my project definition worksheet. Part of those requirements included a technical review by the Programming department. I had to get that feedback. My professional pride demanded it and the fate of my target audience depended on it.

I had to confront Developer No.

I swallowed my fears and summoned my courage to begin my pre-mission ritual. I slipped my copy of Strunk and White into my back pocket, dropped my micro-cassette recorder into my front pants pocket, grabbed a notepad, and slid a pen behind my ear. Through a supreme act of will, I left my cubicle and strolled down the aisle that constituted the Documentation department. My coworkers watched me solemnly, fearfully aware of the dangers that lay ahead.

I chuckled. It was a false bravado to hide my inner turmoil.

With a few more steps I was out of the department proper and into wild country. I followed the hall past the restrooms, conference room, and reception area to a “T” section. I peeked around the corner, making sure the coast was clear. Satisfied with my anonymity, I snuck off to the left, keeping close to the wall. Up ahead I could see the shadowy maze of cubicles that was Programming. The department was lit in the diffuse, multihued glow of dozens of computer monitors.

When I reached the threshold between the hall and the department, I stopped again. My heart thundered as sweat broke out across my body. Once I crossed this line, it would take all of my resources to get back out alive. I looked around for any errant developers, partly to make sure I could get in without being seen, partly to figure out where I needed to go, and partly to convince myself that I needed to go through with this.

I examined the mental map I had of the Programming department, matching it to what I could see, and decided on my path. I darted towards the first line of cubes and hid just beneath their top edge. I moved along the walls, hunched over slightly, until I reached the end. I checked to make sure the coast was clear before I turned the corner and made my way to the next line of cubes.

I could see Developer No's cubicle now. I knew he was in because his monitor was on. I took out my pen and readied my notebook. I had to force myself to stop clicking the pen, a nervous habit of mine. Then I stood up, acting as though I was one of them, one of the developers.

A few poked their heads out from their cubes but went back to work, apparently taken in by my subterfuge.

I strolled over to Developer No's cube.

Drat! He wasn't there. I checked my watch. It was just a little before one.

Lunch hour.

Disappointed, I scanned the materials scattered about Developer No's desk. Various books on C#, XML, and .Net were hidden beneath a chaotic smattering of paper and empty soda cans. I saw no sign of my documentation.

Then, I heard Developer No's voice. I looked up. He was coming down the cubicle passage flanked by coworkers.

“Developer No,” I said, wagging my pen at him with laser-pointer accuracy, “where is my technical review? It's overdue by three weeks.”

Developer No and his companions froze in the hallway. A brief look of terror touched his face, but he quickly regained his composure. “I'll get started on it today,” he said sweetly. His eyes shifted between his companions, and they glanced at him. “Perhaps, Mr. Hower, you would enjoy a little game with my companions. We've all heard so much about your work and they've been eager to put you to the test.”

Developer No's coworkers moved forward, cracking their knuckles. They began speaking in C#, each line of computer code tearing into my brain. I recoiled from the initial onslaught, but then remembered my micro-recorder. I whipped out the device, clicked record, and shoved it in front of them. “Ha!” I shouted as the two fell away.

Developer No grimaced. “You may have defeated my friends, but what will you fight me with?” he said triumphantly.

I reached around to my back pocket, drew my copy of Strunk and White, and threw it at him. The book slapped against Developer No's chest. He let out a yelp. “I meant, ‘With what shall you fight me?’” he gasped, stumbling into his cubicle and collapsing into his chair.

“Good old grammar policing,” I said with a wink.

“You win this time, Mr. Hower.”

Developer No fired up his Outlook, located the e-mail in which I had initially requested the technical review, opened it, then accessed the attached DOC file. I watched as he began his technical review. When he reached the end of the document, he saved a copy with his changes and sent it back to me in an e-mail.

“Thank you, Developer No,” I said, slipping the pen back behind my ear. “I appreciate your help.”

“No problem,” he said. “Any time.”

I headed back to my department in triumph.

Copyright © 2004 by Sean Hower

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