Zippers

Moving to version control is hard. It's a necessary step as a company grows into developing more complex software, with more developers working on the various products, but that doesn't make it any easier. Like all change, it's often delayed far too long, half-assed, and generally resented until everyone's forgotten about the indignity and moved on to complaining about the next improvement.

For Elle's company, the days before Subversion consisted of a few dedicated PCs holding the source code for various customers, to ensure that none of them got mixed up with code for the others. By the time she joined, the company had long since moved to version control, but the source-controlled PCs remained, a curiosity to be laughed over.

Then the budget cuts came, and the team continued to grow. In an effort to reuse the PCs, Hiro, the head of IT, decided to repurpose them as developer workstations. "This is all in version control, right?" he asked nervously. "I can wipe the box?"

"I'm not sure, but I can guess where the repo is if you want me to take a look." Elle knew most of the development was happening in newer codebases, the ones that'd been redone since the bad old days, and she wasn't sure if she even had access rights. Some of the older repositories were locked down weirdly, during a time when paranoia reigned and "security concerns" loomed.

"No, no, it's fine, I'll check myself. Just to be safe." He didn't tell Elle what he found, but the PC was missing the next day when the new guy started, so she figured it must have been there.

Six months later, The Incident happened: their main competitor poached the five most senior staff, offering them better pay and benefits. Elle was jealous; apparently she was ranked number six on the team, and didn't get such a juicy offer herself. Still, she wished them the best of luck before they were frog-marched out to the parking lot by a furious Hiro. Security Concerns. According to the rumor mill, lawyers were brought in to prosecute the other firm for violating their non-compete. Life moved along, now with Elle training the new juniors hired to get the headcount back up.

Two weeks after The Incident, Hiro stopped by Elle's desk. "Hey, remember PegasusCorp?" he asked, naming one of their older clients—one that hadn't required anything from them since before Elle had joined.

"What about them?" asked Elle suspiciously, smelling unpleasant work coming her way.

Sure enough, they wanted some changes. The software needed a facelift. It seemed PegasusCorp's CEO had gotten a copy of Windows 8 and was loving the new "Metro" style. Elle rolled her eyes, but figured, whatever, a few visual changes shouldn't be too hard. She requested access rights to the old repo, checked out the trunk branch, and popped open the folder.

She was faced with a single file: a neat, packaged zip. She blinked. What?

She double-clicked on the zip, and it popped open a password entry field. What?!

She tried the obvious things: password, admin, p@$$w0rd, the name of the company, the name of the product, even Pegasus. No dice. Frowning, she got up and went to ask Hiro.

Hiro's eyes bulged and his face paled. "There's a what?!"

"A password on the zip file. Hey, if you don't know, I'll just ask ..." She trailed off. She was the most senior dev now, and she had no idea what the password could be. If the head of the department didn't know, that meant ...

"Just call? Please? I'm sure they'll be reasonable," begged Hiro.

Elle groaned as she trudged back to her desk, digging out the company off-hours cellphone directory. Whose bright idea was it to password-protect the damn source code?!

She called the first of the five, and only got as far as, "I'm calling from CompanyName" before she was met with a furious expletive followed by a dial tone. She stared at the phone in horror. What had Hiro done to the guy?!

The second person was more forthcoming, if not more helpful. "No way! Not unless you call off your lawyers. I had a great thing lined up, you ruined it, and now you come begging for help?"

Elle had a sinking feeling about her remaining prospects, but had to keep calling. The third person had changed their number without updating the roster. The fourth was apologetic, but simply didn't know what the password was. The fifth just laughed and laughed until an unnerved Elle hung up the phone herself.

God, I need a beer, she thought, lowering her head into her hands. How hard could it be to crack?

Elle grabbed a dictionary file of English words and threw together a batch file with a handful of basic fuzz techniques: backwards, with digits appended, in l33t, etc. She let it run overnight, confident that she'd have an answer—and source code—in the morning.

Beer time.

But she didn't have the password in the morning. Or the next morning, or the next. By the time she left Friday night, she was seriously worried for her job. Hiro looked miserable and frantic, and her script was almost out of words to try.

Monday morning, as she was rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Elle was startled by a loud thud. She lowered her hands, staring at the center-most table where ...

Is that Hiro? she wondered. With a ... keg?!

"Whoever can crack the PegasusCorp password gets this keg!" Hiro announced to the sleepy techs. "Have at ye!"

By the end of the day, the source was revealed: resigning technician number five had been a huge Star Wars fan, and the password had merely been JengoFett. The keg was shared around the office, and come Tuesday morning, Elle was able to do the facelifts required.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit backfired. The resigning staff got their jobs, and Elle's company had to pay for the suit, compensation for impounding their company vehicles, and salary up until their official resignation date.

And life moved on, as it always does.

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