It was the mid-nineties and the Iron Curtain in urban Kerblekistan had come crashing down. Everything was in turmoil, and people were trying to make up for all of the years lost behind the locked borders by trying everything with enthusiasm. The WWW was still in its infancy, but that didn't stop the budding entrepreneurs.

The cover of the FoxPro developer's guide.

Enter a young whippersnapper, still in high school. Daddy hooked him up with a buddy of his at a certain state institution. Now don't go imagining secret agencies or ministries-of-defense; we're talking more like parks-and-recreation. Therein was a department that still had a nice chunk of unspent budget. In the sweet tradition of bureaucrats everywhere, they were looking to spend it and hopefully wind up with something to show for it.

The kid went to meet the head of the department. He took the bus to a narrow street near the center of the city. The building guards checked him out and let him in. The interior was the expected pre-iron-curtain Kerbleki decor; the ancient elevator, the carpeted dark corridors, the musty offices and portraits of stoic leaders overseeing all.

The department head was a nice enough older gentleman. He explained "Look kid, we have to manage a lot of people and resources. We keep it all in these notebooks and ledgers, with hand and pen." He opened up the big iron closet and the kid saw row upon row of paper files. He continued: "We got this spare PC around. Do you think you can do something to put it all in there?"

The young boy was sure he could, so the head promised a nice chunk of change for the work.

The kid hooked up the 286-PC running MS-DOS and decided to go with Fox Pro. He drew up some menus and UIs. He planned some database files. He spent his summer vacation entering all the data from the files into the computer. He ironed out the bugs and made it work.

And work it did. It had search. It had all kinds of nifty tools for stuff they used to have to do by hand. It printed reports to the printer. It did backups on floppy disk. For its day, it was pretty slick.

Everyone was ecstatic and the kid got his money. The department showed off the program to everybody.

Sure, they still had to keep manually entering the data into paper files (that was the official way after all). But once they also entered it into the PC they could do all kinds of neat stuff with it, in mere seconds.

Apparently, Kerblekistan hadn't yet learned how real IT projects turn out...

A couple of years later, the kid was now a young man at college. One day Daddy called again, to arrange a meeting with the old department head. He said that there was some more money to be made. In dire need of cash, the kid took a break from girls, booze and pool halls and went back to work.

The scenery had changed. The old institution was no longer drab and under the watchful eyes of Kerbleki leaders. It had been westernised and was much nicer.

The department head was happy to see the kid. They still used his program every day. The old PC was, amazingly, still running perfectly, in its corner, if under several sedimentary layers of dust.

The department head mentioned that they now all had these nicer, faster PC's. They needed to be able to use the program from each of their own PCs, and perhaps add some stuff, like getting reports out as PDF, and sending them over email. He then offered a bit of cash up front, and there would be some nice money in it for success.

Now, you're probably smirking and settling down in your armchair to better enjoy this part. You're saying to yourself, I smell a classical Fox Pro "multi-client" monstrosity, built with single-lock files in Novell network shares.

But you're not giving the young guy enough credit. Between all the girls and boozing the guy managed to do some reading. He looked over the PC's and the head guys' box was the best and by far the most powerful. He told the boss "We're going need one PC to be the 'master'; it will have to be on for the others to work." Since the boss was the first one into the office in the morning anyway, he agreed.

So the young guy got to work. They had Windows 98 on the PC. He slapped installations of Apache and MySQL on there (because adding web servers and the internet always speeds things up). He started designing web pages and relational databases. He wrote some scripts to port data from the Fox Pro files over to MySQL. Sadly, he couldn't find the original sources for the program anywhere, but it would be OK; it's not like Fox Pro translates well to PHP anyway. Besides, the old guy probably knew the procedures by heart.

So one day it was finally done, sort of. He felt that it wasn't exactly his best work ever. Any search at all took ages. Maybe he hadn't quite grasped those "index" things yet. He poked at it for a few more days but time was running short.

He didn't know if the problem was his inability to make things efficient in MySQL, that the web-stuff was more expensive (chronologically) than he thought, both, or something else. After all, PHP had been around for a few years, so it must be stable and fast, right? Maybe MySQL was too new and there were unknown issues? What performance problem could possibly be caused by web servers?

Finally, he got into a bit of a panic. This stuff was cutting into his chicks and booze time and it wasn't getting any better. He went in one morning, slapped it on the boss's PC, showed him around and then excused himself for a rapid exit. He disappeared, didn't return the advance money and left daddy to deal with his old buddy.

So they wound up still using the original system on the 286 until the old guy retired a couple of years later. And you'll be happy to know that they managed to spend the budget that year anyway.

By a show of hands, who thinks the kid would go on to have a bright future in software management?

[Advertisement] Release! is a light card game about software and the people who make it. Play with 2-5 people, or up to 10 with two copies - only $9.95 shipped!