Jim B. stared wistfully in the mirror at the wrinkles near his eyes and the few stray gray hairs that he’d accumulated over the last six months. On the way back to his desk, he stopped by his friend Mike's desk. “Point three six,” he said as he banged his head against Mike's cubicle wall. “Point three six.”
His work was about as high-stress as it gets – he was on a team building a security system that was responsible for keeping ne’er-do-wells out of data belonging to nine-figure financial companies and an array of three-letter government organizations, many of which Jim had never heard of. But if he failed and a hacker got into the data, Jim would be sure to find out exactly what the FQD was when they had him deported.
Security at the company was no joke – all employees were subjected to a drug test, three separate interviews including one where they’d be grilled on ethics as they apply to IT, not to mention the extensive seven-page document he’d had to fill out for his background investigation to be conducted. Every door had a keycard lock, all passwords (mixed-case, special characters, minimum 10 characters) expired every 30 days, and all electronic devices (iPods and cell phones) had to be approved by management before they could be brought in. This was serious security.
Mike was really Jim's only friend on the inside. Most of the salaried staff was skeptical of contractors like Jim, but Mike didn’t subscribe to their groupthink. Jim and Mike shared in the pain of looming deadlines, the middle-school-esque giggling at management gaffes during meetings, and the sadness of the vending machine running out of Dr. Pepper. Mike was always willing to lend a sympathetic ear to the dangerous levels of silliness Jim encountered on his projects.
With security stopping just shy of cavity searches at the beginning of the day, Jim was amazed when he figured out how to break into the system with ease. Their impregnable system had just been impregnated.
Jim called up an emergency meeting. “I was able to crack the security and get root access,” Jim began. An engineer audibly gasped.
“But how?” someone cried.
“All I had to do was modify the cookie and the lock file, and…”
“That’s stupid. Why would anyone ever do that?” His boss, Paul, shot a glare at him.
“I don’t know,” Jim said, “curiosity? Ignorance? Malice?”
“We can’t guard against malice.”
“We can’t guard against malice?!” Jim’s jaw dropped. Guarding against malice was the whole point, and the entire reason that the company existed. This would’ve been excusable if it came from a PHB, but this was a very experienced engineer.
“Guarding against malice is exactly what we're here to do! If we’re not going to guard against malice, we might as well just put post-it notes on the data that say ‘Please Don’t Look.’”
A young developer scoffed. “You can’t put post-it notes on data!” Several people around the table exchanged smirks.
Jim exhaled deeply and could feel another wrinkle forming near his eye and another tuft of hair turning gray. “Look, this is what hackers do. They dig around and find all the loose threads and try to use those to exploit the system. If I’m capable of doing it, then certainly a professional hacker paid by a government or well-funded competitor can.”
“But if they wanted to get to the database, they’d just have to do ‘psql –d xxxxxx-db-name’ and they’re in. Like I said, we can’t protect against malice!”
Jim briefly wondered if he looked half as horrified as Mike did at that moment. “You… didn’t encrypt the database?!”
The room remained silent, and Jim’s mouth remained agape with horror. Aside from Mike and Jim, everyone just looked bored. Jim tried to size up the situation – it didn’t make sense that no one had his back. His colleagues certainly weren’t curious, but they were perhaps ignorant or malicious. Jim scanned the room with eyes imploring someone to have his back, but no one made any eye contact except Mike, who was apparently too stunned to speak up.
“Look, I have real work to do,” one complained. “Are we done here?” A few quiet “yeah, me too”s echoed throughout the room. All of the bigwigs in the room scowled, packing up their notepads and folders. As they filed out of the room, a few stink-eyes were shot Jim’s way. “What a colossal waste of time,” one said under his breath.
Eventually only Jim and Mike remained in the room. Jim was still dumbfounded. “What the hell just happened?!”
“I really don’t know, Jim. I can’t believe it either. But hey, I have to run to CompUSA. You’ve got that meeting with management now, right?”
Jim’s heart sank. He had almost forgotten that in 15 minutes, he’d have a three hour meeting with some of the bigwigs that had just turned against him in his last meeting. At this rate of wrinkle and gray hair accumulation, he'd be looking about 30 years older by the end of the day.
After the meeting, Jim was feeling numb. He hobbled over to Mike’s desk for some consoling.
“Man, I have to say, I just want to get laid off.”
“You know, most engineers would’ve stopped that sentence a word earlier,” Mike replied with a chuckle. “I got you something from CompUSA.”
Mike had picked up a beanbag keyboard rest, that he set in the spot where Jim would beat his head against Mike’s desk in moments of intense frustration.
“Point three six, man,” Jim said while banging his head against the wrist rest. “Point three six.” It was his way of reminding himself that August 22nd (or 8/22 ≈ .36) was the end of his contract.