Never Believe the User

You know that guy, supposedly a program, in Tron, the one that yells,

“I serve the user”.

Well, he never met the first lead engineer I worked with.

Reading Donald Farmer’s post “Is it really so?”, I was reminded of something that happened decades ago and it was a lesson I never forgot.

I was responsible for maintaining a program for inventory control, written in some language no one uses any more. It ran monthly but sometimes we needed a special run in the middle of the month when the clouds would part and some Very Important Person would request an up to the minute report.

The clerk only needed to submit the JCL (Job Control Language) by opening a file, typing SUBMIT at the command line and the program would run. Well, it didn’t run and I got a call. My first question was,

Did you change ANYTHING in the JCL file.

She insisted she had not changed anything.

I am sure any experienced programmer can see where this is going but I was only in my early twenties and still trusting. I spent hours reading over the code (this was not a simple program) . I tried everything and could not find a thing wrong. I took it to our senior engineer who asked me did I review the JCL. I said,

“No, I didn’t bother because she told me she hadn’t changed anything. “

He said,

“That was your first mistake. Never believe the user.”

I assured him that she was a very nice person who would never lie to me. Hey, we’d even gone out for drinks after work together, and she’d tried to fix me up with a friend of hers. He just shook his head.

While he was standing at my desk I opened the JCL file and it was an unbelievable mess. I called and asked her what the hell happened and she said, (I am not making this up),

“Well, I didn’t change any of the words, but there were a lot of extra commas in there and I learned in secretarial school that was wrong, so I took out all the commas.”

I don’t know what was better, the look on my face when she said this or the look on our lead engineer’s face as he nearly choked to death trying not to laugh.

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