Station Velo Antwerpen

Ada worked in QA in the Netherlands, testing a desktop application for a German bank. The app was simple: a C/C++ app that scanned in paper forms, read them with OCR, and processed their contents. It was constructed, as was the fashion at the time, from a number of separate DLLs, each serving one and only one purpose. It was usually fairly boring work, but it was paying for her education, so it was worth putting up with.

One day, however, it stopped being boring. The error message she was looking for was meant to say something along the lines of Name field is not filled out, indicating that—surprisingly enough—the name field was blank. Pretty routine test. The message that appeared, however, was ... different. It read, You stupid woman.

Ada stared at the message for a moment, then looked around, trying to see if anyone was snickering. Was this a prank? Was someone mad at her? Did they deliver her a dud build just to insult her? Or had her computer been hacked? Was she seeing things? Going insane? What the heck was going on here?!

"Nobody's going to believe this," she muttered to herself as she took a screenshot. Then she printed it and carried it to her coworker's cube. "Bernd, I know this is weird, but ..."

No sooner had Bernd seen the screenshot than he pinched the bridge of his nose, looking tired. "Thanks. I'll take care of it."

"You believe me?" she blurted before she'd even realized it.

"Yeah. I know exactly what happened here."

Slowly, she managed to coax the story out of him. You see, in the Netherlands, you're forced to work your notice period, with no option to leave earlier; you're expected to be professional enough to keep doing your job the whole time. At this company, the notice period was two months ... and Edwin, one of their colleagues, hadn't been very pleased with the company when he'd resigned.

"I'm still trying to find all the blasted things," Bernd confessed to Ada.

"It can't be that hard," she protested. "We've been over this thing a dozen times in the last two months."

"He only left last week," said Bernd. "And a lot of them are on random timers. They don't show up every time, only one in three, or after it's been open for ten minutes, or an hour, or a day."

Ada whistled. "Are they all this bad?"

"This one's my favorite," he said, pulling a screenshot off his cube wall. It was a message box just like the one she'd found, only this one read Give me back my bike!—a reference to WWII, when Germany had impounded bicycles in Holland to pay for the war effort.

"If the bank had seen this ..." whispered Ada, horrified.

Bernd nodded. "That one only showed up on Tuesdays."

With Ada's help, Bernd managed to remove another dozen message boxes before they shipped live—and three more after, under the guise of security patches. Starting with the next hire, the company shortened their standard leave back to the typical one month, and started a new policy: developers who were leaving the company would be moved to the testing department for the duration of their notice period, just in case.

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