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A day in the life

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2001. A day in the life.

If it’s a good day, you arrive at work around seven, grateful for having missed the morning rush hour. Today’s not a good day, so instead you crawl out from under the shakey shelf in your cubicle, glad that neither your cranky, obsolete computer nor the stale glass of Jolt cola fell on you during the night. Don’t laugh; it’s happened before, and putting yourself back together again cost you an hour of sleep you desperately needed. You smell the stench of cold pizza, and what’s really appalling is that you’re not sure whether it’s coming from your shirt, your breath, or a hidden cache somewhere in the cubicle under piles of documentation someone left you to review. That’s not your problem right now. Thinking wistfully of the relative ease of that medical internship you turned down, you get to your feet and stretch until all your joints crack. RSI, here you come!

Though it’s still early, the whiteboard outside your cube, across the rat-maze corridor, has already been updated by some soulless project manager. “The undead never sleep,” you reflect, “and here’s more proof.”

You stare, dismayed at more unreasonable deadlines newly scrawled on slick plastic, then stumble across to brush hopefully at them with the eraser. Clinging to the faint hope that this time they’ll stay put until tomorrow, you smudge one and dully wonder what happened to the indelible markers you’d left there, hoping that just this once the deadlines couldn’t be changed. No such luck; undead they may be, but managers do have a certain low cunning. Shaking your head in an effort to clear out the moths that gathered there overnight, you stumble to the washroom, hoping you’ll be awake by the time you make it back to your cube.

You are awake, more’s the pity; there’s a new functional specification document awaiting you when you reclaim your mug, pouring the Jolt into the unidentifiable plant that’s long since shuffled off its fronds and moved on to plant heaven. Who writes these specs anyway? They seemed like such a good idea when Management first accepted your proposal, but now, in the face of ever-changing targets and creeping feature bloat, you wish they’d just kept winging it like in the good old days; then, they at least had no written targets against which to measure your performance. You stumble to the kitchen, pour yourself a cup of the bitter brew that one of your fellow drones started while you were still waking up, and shuffle back to your cube.

The computer’s crashed during the night, crashed so hard that even the screen saver is quietly burning itself into the screen. Not a promising omen for the coming day. At least they finally got you a new Pentium to stop your whining—not the one you really needed to be productive, but at least it reboots faster than the old computer. The software you’re going to be working on the rest of the day is going to go down more often than the dotcoms you’ve worked for the past few years, but at least you’ll be back up and running quickly. And with a marginally newer build of the software too, so perhaps it’s a fair trade.

You lay the functional spec on your lap, balance the coffee beside the mouse, and launch the software. Mirabile dictu, it launches, and you start your own software tools and find where you’d left off somewhere in the dim hours of the morning. Sure enough, you enter a few lines, switch back to the software, and the system locks up so hard that even a reboot won’t fix it. You call the experts, but as you might expect, they’re unreachable this early in the day. You slam down the phone in frustration, and the coffee drops into your lap, waking you better from the outside than it could possibly have done from the inside, and bringing you to your feet. Resignedly, you watch the computer shelf slide slowly to the floor, cinematic slo-mo, barely missing your toes with its cargo. “Oh well,” you tell yourself. “I was going to do that anyway.”

There’s no nice way to say it: software development sucks. On the plus side, it beats hell out of being one of the technical writers. At least you’ve got a life.

©2004–2018 Geoffrey Hart. All rights reserved