I’M ON SITE, at a military base, working on a project, for Aardvark Scientific Applications, the company for which I work.
What I do is what they call real-time programming. I work on projects that use computer software to control or track processes that happen in the real world, at rates that require a computer to operate within the required time. The job is tough enough by itself and is made worse by the computers that the military uses which are often special units, ruggedized for the extreme environments in which they need to operate. The documentation that supposedly describes the military computers should be listed under fiction. Thus, a real-time programmer frequently has to discover how things really work, instead of how the documents describe that they work, before he can do what’s needed to do his job.
I’m working away, when the tech officer for the military base wanders by.
The tech officer asks, “Working by yourself again?”
“Yes sir. The rest of the crew is back at ASA headquarter, soaking up the ambiance of deep pile carpet, free coffee and large plaques bearing the ASA logo.”
“Well, we got linoleum floors, unpainted concrete walls and you can only get coffee if you join a coffee mess and pay the weekly fee.”
“I don’t drink coffee and my job is here, not back at ASA headquarters.”
“Are you doing any good?”
“I think that I have discovered why the computer wasn’t talking to the disc drive. I can get the two to talk a little bit. I just need to refine the software interface a little more and we should be good to go.”
“The documentation didn’t describe the interface?”
“I don’t think so. Could you tell me what language the documentation is written in?”
The tech officer chuckles and says, “Obfuscation, as usual. It would be really nice if ASA had more than just the one guy working on the problems.” He then shakes his head in denial and wanders off.
I continue to work on the computer to disc drive communications problem. Finally, I think that I have things working, but I need to do a bit of testing, to make sure.
One of the enlisted military guys comes into the lab and says, “Phone call for you, in the lobby, Mr. Jason Elder.”
“Thanks, I’ll get it.” (Just what I need, a phone call when I’m trying to work. Somebody probably wants to know what time it is.) I get up and walk out to the lobby.
It’s Les, my Department Manager on the phone and he’s not happy. “It damn well took you long enough to get to the phone.”
“The lab where I’m working is a government classified area, so they don’t have phones in there. I have to come out to the lobby to answer the phone. It takes a little bit of time.”
“You’re to come back to headquarters, right now.”
“First I have to shut down the equipment and gather things up. However, I’m on my way.” (It’s five minutes to noon. The department manager never takes less than an hour and a half for lunch. The department manager wants me to hurry back to ASA headquarters, missing lunch, and then sit there and wait for the big man to return from his lunch. That happens only in his dreams.)