Paul's first day at Redacted Commodities and Trading, LLC. started with a coffee and a muffin, and ended with trauma leave.


New Blood


He was greeted at reception by Manny, one of the upper-level directors. He got the tour-- reception, sales, call center-- and ended up in the kitchen. Over a free breakfast of free coffee and free muffins (all free), they signed the HR paperwork. Once he had creamed and sugared his "I"s and "T"s, Paul was shown to The Center.

"It's the lifeblood of IT," Manny said, "Development, IT, R&D-- it all flows through here."

The Center was a converted corner office just off the main hallway. Though it might have once been large and sunny, three of the walls were now packed floor to ceiling with computers. There was everything from off-lease black boxes from the big blue company to spatterings of various shades of sun-stained beige, all in various states of apparent disassembly. There were CRTs, two-button mice, and keyboards without that proprietary key between CTRL and ALT. "This...graveyard is where the lifeblood of development flowed through?", Paul nearly thought out loud.

"Don't you have problems scaling the code up from development machines to the production servers?" Paul asked, speaking over the distant clackity-clack of a lone developer on a Model M.

"How do you mean?"

"You know," Paul prompted, "You can only stress test so much on the jalopy, so you never know if the code will handle the load the production servers can drum up."

"Oh, I see," Manny said, "No, the environments are identical for both. We use the same hardware, all the way from development to production."

Paul couldn't choke a response past the realization of that the production servers were also a cube farm of desktops with turbo switches. He didn't want to see what the server room looked like. He took a sip of coffee to cover his shocked expression.

Manny waved at the developer at the other end of The Center, and she waved back. "Well, you just grab one of the Development computers, and get yourself familiar. Janice there will come up with your first assignment, and the rest of the team will be in shortly."

Paul looked about, trying to pick a PC. He did on on-the-fly min/max calculation of closest to the lone window versus least covered in dust. He put down his coffee on the desk/ledge, and stabbed the power button.

The shrill shriek of the manager cut through him-- but a millisecond too late.


Paul froze. He'd already pushed the POWER button, but hadn't let it go. Only then did Paul see the tiny, envelope label stuck to front of the case. On it was handwritten:


Manny was suddenly at his side. "If you let that button go, the company loses ten million dollars!"


A Second Opinion


Paul instantly had to fight a war on two fronts against reverse psychology and morbid curiosity. It took all his concentration to resist letting go. He had to distract himself. He took a deep breath, removed all the profanity from the question running through his mind, and edited it down into a single word.


"The computers are only supposed to reboot at night!" Manny exclaimed, sweating profusely. "Only at night! You'll shut us down for the whole day!"

"I'm sorry," Paul said, sincere-- realizing that he'd just become That Guy Who Screws Up on his first day. "I didn't think any of these were production. It won't take that long to reboot--"


Paul closed his mouth, and counted to ten. At the six second mark, the computer was still on. No ACPI. Small blessings from old hardware.

When he finished, Janice, the head programmer, was at his side. She seemed calm, collected-- or at least had a good poker face. She looked down at Paul's finger, then back up again.

"How long does it take to reboot?" Paul asked, getting a bit worried now.

"A few minutes," Janice said, "Don't matter, though. Can't let it shut down now. Servers are scripted to reboot at night, after trading closes. When the server software boots up, it sets the trading calendar to the next day. Once that happens, we can't do any trading until the clocks match again with the exchange."

"Millions," Manny interjected meekly.

"A whole day of trading would be lost," Janice confirmed. "This machine can't shut down until after 8pm."

"No," Paul said, suddenly hit by the realization the only thing that will keep this server running for the next twelve hours was his finger, "You don't mean I'm going to have to hold this button all day-- no."

"You pressed it," Janice said, "You hold it."


Manny shook off his fiscal daze. "If you let go, not only will I fire you, but I'll sic the legal team on you for the losses you caused!"

"I caused?" Paul stammered, his voice raising. "Maybe if you had proper servers, and kept them in a proper room! And bothered to label them properly!"

"No one else has ever had a problem seeing the labels," Janice said, folding her arms.

"Of course not, because if you had, the company would already be out of business!" Paul shouted. He took a deep breath-- yelling wasn't going to accomplish anything. "Look, sorry, just that all day is a long time-- maybe someone can switch out with me-- if we're quick enough--"

"I dunno," Janice said, leaning over, putting her finger next to his. "I can't even reach the switch. You've got kinda beefy fingers."

"Maybe if--"

"No," Manny said firmly, cutting him off. "We're not going to risk anyone not being fast enough. No switching. You're on button duty. Period."

Paul's mind raced-- desperately trying to come up with some solution. Maybe an on-the-fly patch to the trading system? A live trading system that probably hadn't been upgraded since RAM had to be installed in identical pairs? Not a chance. Okay, maybe if they clipped and shorted the power-on pin-- live surgery on a production server? Come on, man!

The rest of the team-- a dozen or so programmers-- had arrived at The Center. They were all gathered around, staring at the scene. He could see it on all their faces. Seeing where his finger was, working out it would mean to let go-- following the horrible consequences to their logical conclusion. He was the new guy, and he'd screwed up big. Millions in lost revenue. Never mind his job, which was as good as gone... how many of their jobs were at his finger tip?

He sighed, trying not to slump-- as depressed as the power button was.

"Alright," he said, resigned, "I'm in for the whole day. You can count on me."

"You better," the manager threatened.

"Stow it, stuffy!" Janice retorted, "I didn't hear you fire him. He's still part of my team, and we don't need any naysayers here. Paul, you just focus on holding that button. We're here to help you through this. Right, team?"

The group of programmers let out a collective cheer. Paul smiled-- and tried his best to ignore the growing tremble and aches through his whole body.


Trauma Team


One by one, the team came over and introduced themselves. Paul apologized for not shaking hands.

Within the first hour, the team had scoured the building for anything they could find to help. Someone brought him a bar stool. Another raided the Company Swag box for a beach ball, and inflated it just enough to support his arm. Someone set up their iPad.

By the second hour, things were good. The muscle tremors had subsided. He had plenty of distractions to keep his mind off worrying about letting go. Things were going good...until the fourth hour.

Daryl, the coder with the wavy hair, came up to him-- hesitated, steeled himself, then spoke.

"Uh, Paul," he said meekly, "I-- ah-- couldn't help but notice-- umm-- that cup of coffee on the desk?"

Paul had completely forgotten about it. It was cold now. Separated cream floated on top of the half-empty cup. The stale cup of coffee tickled his nose, stinking like a stale cup of coffee that had been sitting in a hot server room for four hours.

"Yeah, if you could toss it, that'd be great," Paul said. The smell was in his nose now, and he wouldn't be able to ignore it. "No need for a refill, though. I don't want to--"

Paul stopped, but it was too late. He thought it, and now the thought was firmly in his head. He tried to think of anything else, other than coffee, and liquid, and-- THINK OF SOMETHING ELSE!

He crossed his legs-- and thought of the bran muffin.

"Yeah--" Daryl continued, "So-- uh-- I asked Custodial to bring a bucket. And a curtain."

And only after he'd used the bit bucket did he realize something else: unless the team wanted The Center filled with a stench much worse than a stale cup of coffee, someone would have to be assigned to clean up the new guy's mess. In one movement, all the team support he'd garnered got flushed away.

He tried to ignore the bucket, but try as he might, all he could think of was the pink elephant standing on his bladder. The curtain may have blocked line of sight, but it certainly didn't provide any privacy.

The team avoided him the best they could-- at least, until the end of the day. Some stayed late, presumably to watch if he'd keep his finger on the button. He suspected some of them had placed bets.

At 7:50pm, the world seemed to go in slow motion. Every single minute felt as long as the entire twelve hours. Now was the time to choke spectacularly. His finger trembled.

He nearly let go...but everyone was watching him. It'd be just so easy to let go and let someone else sort out a possibly borked hard drive. What if it fried the old machine entirely? How late would Janice have to stay to rebuild all that, just because he wanted to cut the last corner?

And then it was 8pm. Paul never heard an entire room let out a collective sigh.

"You're done," Manny congratulated, "Power it down, Paul."

Janice assured, "I'll make sure the hard boot doesn't corrupt anything."

When he finally let go, he couldn't bend his finger. His legs were rubber but they worked well enough to rush to the bathroom. Later, Janice and Manny escorted him out. It took a few minutes for it to sink in that it was only them escorting him-- not security.

"You did good," Janice said, "It was a screw up, no doubt about that but, you saw it through."

"See you next Tuesday," Manny said.

And so Paul's first day at Redacted Commodities and Trading LLC ended, with trauma leave-- a week's paid time off "for trauma recovery". He spent his time off designing his first project-- signs identifying each computer, in extra large font, printed on stiff cardboard-- to be mounted on the face of each and every server, directly over top of the power button.

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