On April 10th, I hosted The Daily WTF: Live! in Pittsburgh. It was a blast. We had a great crowd, and some great performances.

You know him as the master of the Errords, the king of the CodeSODs, the Dev-Master of the Dev-Disaster, Mark Bowytz. Once upon a time, though, he was just another lowly office drone like yourself. This is his origin story: the WTF that launched a thousand head-desks.

Direct Link (mp3).

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Tune in next week, when John Lange tells us a little bit about his friend Phil, and a WTF we often don't think about enough.


Whenever I write an article ­ it’s always based on a reader submission.

­ I’ll draw from personal experiences or I might borrow names of people I know and turn them the hero/villain for my own amusement.
Hide in my kids’ birthdays in a CodeSOD.

BUT ONE THING THAT I NEVER DO ­ Tell my own WTF tale. Well, tonight I’m going to bend that rule and tell you about the time …that I got fired.

Now, this was more than 10 years ago at this point and enough jobs ago that I don’t list it anywhere so if there’s any statute of limitations, I bet I’m probably safe.

So, Initrode right ­ big local company; numero uno widget producer in the region ­ recruited me as a development intern my senior year of college. ­ Standardized aptitude test; two on­campus interviews…all very formal. They clearly only wanted the best.

After I passed my physical exam (You know ­ to make sure that I was fit enough to occasionally lift 5 pounds and “remain seated for lengthy periods of time” ­­ that’s a quote there) I started out working downtown in the world HQ where I was handed a “How to Program Oracle” book (which I still have), given a few menial analysis jobs and told to “have at” learning the big nasty custom ERP system that sat on top of the purchased ERP system.

Then ­ following graduation, they officially offered me an entry level position (pretty much intern salary + bennies)

Know this ­ Everything was formal

­ Donut Club on Friday’s was tracked by the PM (completely coincidental) ­ The Dress Code ­ Polos and khakis? Nope ­ slacks and ties for all. ­ You know, just in case a customer showed up at HQ, they didn’t want to have unprofessional looking schmoes to give the wrong impression.

­ Program names were encoded to exacting standards ­ NO “Widget Inventory Trackers” here ­ oh no ­ ORMR0030 which would be completely clear as being the “ORDER MASTER MODULE #30”

­ This could then be cross referenced to the real name and links to where the source was in a master spreadsheet (which was pretty techy at the time; it replaced a 3 ring binder!)

One other thing that they were very formal on ­ separation between contractors and full time employees.

­ I was lucky! Being FT, I was invited to all the holiday parties and when they celebrated the construction of the new outdoor pavilion, well I was there at the celebratory cook out.

­ My contracting co­horts ­ well ­ they were welcome to partake in any of the leftovers that made it back to the office.

­ If you’re thinking that’s not very fair ­ well, you’re absolutely right! But hey ­ nobody had a choice ­ that’s just how it was. There simply wasn’t enough $$ to handle the additional 5 to 7 headcount.

Then…in the first few years after the turn of the century, the so­called “dot com bubble” burst and well, no more room for discretionary spending…like contractors.

Our group had its own PC Tech (who I was friends with) so naturally, he was quick to be cut. Now, because we went out to lunch or grabbed the occasional coffee ­ the decision was made ­ HEY! Mark should be our new PC Tech. In addition to development!


So, after a brief on­boarding to know how to get repairs expedited through the PC Support Group (remember I’m still a dev), I was thrown into the mix supporting a fleet of Compaq’s running NT 3.51 along with printers and other misc IT equipment as well as own my little corner of the messed up ERP system.

And so it continued.

Along the way, there was one occasional issue with accessing some part of the ERP system (client server all the way), that would be remedied by clearing out the computer’s temp folder. At first, I’d walk over to people’s computers and clear out from there, but after I learned that I could do this remotely ­ well, shoot ­ why bother getting up? And well, why bother waiting for anybody ­ I’ll just proactively delete their temp files. Talk about efficient!

Now the files that were there were usually named blahblah.tmp or foobar.dat…so, on the day that I was cleaning off the director’s temp files , you can imagine how my interest was piqued when I saw “Developer Employee Cost Cutting Plan.xls” The thing was that after contractors were cut, rumors circulated that the next potential round of cuts xx were coming soon and that the list had been made. “Pfft… there’s no plan. There’s no list of people being laid off. Ignore the rumors!”

Meanwhile, I was the only income in our family. We had a young kid and a baby on the way ­ So, naturally I wanted…no…NEEDED a peek before cleaning it out.

So, before deleting it, I printed out a copy. Looking it over, much to my surprise (my last performance review wasn’t necessarily glowing ­ something had to give), I was NOT on the chopping block…but some of my close colleagues. Colleagues with KIDS were on the list. At this point ­ had kept it to myself, this story would have been over but no ­­ I gave a discrete heads up.

I felt good ­ a bit like Robin Hood. The myth of the non­existent spreadsheet was FALSE and the folks on the chopping block could look for other options before they were unceremoniously cut.

A few days later ­ a request for THE projector arrived. You see, this wasn’t any ordinary piece of equipment ­ this was when projectors were expensive enough to warrant being stored in a locked case in a locked closet. …or at least mgmt felt this way. Normally, I would receive a formal request form but this time ­ it was a phonecall from my team lead. I was to haul the projector two floors up and bring it up ASAP! The one they had was broken.

No prob.

So I lug this case to the meeting room where I’m greeted by my team lead and there’s…nobody. Hmmmm…

“Oh, sorry I was wrong ­ you need to come over t​his way.​” and then …boom. HR.

Uh oh.

Imagine a tribunal. Team Lead, her boss, the director, and the HR big wig.

The questioning opens up ­ rapid fire ­ at first, I deny everything. They can’t pin this on me but nope ­ they have a “witness” (probably one of my coworkers!) so…I decide to come clean. I open up with the truth. But that’s not enough. The tone escalates …the HR guy is getting increasingly hostile.

To this day, I wonder what would have happened if I had apologized ­­ explained the error of my ways…but nope. I returned the fury right back at him both barrels. “WHY DOES THIS EVEN EXIST? YOU ALL LIED TO US!”

Well, that didn’t work out too well in the end. Let’s just say that I’ve learned that this isn’t what you should do in a situation like this. Yeah…

In the end ­ it all turned out well. I was able to gain meaningful employment but why do I never bring this up? In the end, Initrode has its fair share of WTF practices that it did daily while I was there….but I had violated the trust placed in me

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