Jobs That Beat The Caring Out Of You

I was inspired by Jen McCown’s story here. Read that first. It’s WAY better than mine.

This is not an April Fools post. Fools are involved, but none were harmed.

Oprah-Level SA


I’m working for a DOTCOM startup as a developer. I have SA privs. I have SA privs because EVERYONE has SA privs. We’re developing a system (this was a long time ago) in SQL Server 6.5. The database originally was designed in Paradox (where I started my career). To be as kind as possible, the database design was a living nightmare, like the worst possible black, ichorous, Lovecraftian, tentacled monstrosity to walk the earth database. It was bad.

On top of that, the code we were writing was always barely functional. If you could demo it, it shipped. It didn’t matter that you said no, please, let me at least put some error trapping in, fix the Cancel button, anything. Nope, demo worked, out it goes. Some of the code was in VB. Some was in PAL. Some was in OPAL (I’ll let you look those up). There was no real architecture to speak of.

We’re not done.

Further, every single person in the company was encouraged to both write code and help with the database, especially the database. To quote the Harvard educated leader of the organization “Databases are easy and anyone can do the work.”


I’ve told this before, but I’ll share it again. When I was brought on, we had a DBA, but within a few weeks, they quit (oh, and I found out why). No big deal because everyone had SA. We just kept chugging along, pounding out code and releasing it.

However, one day, while trying to fix a bug in my code, I broke something in the database for another developer. How did I do this? By putting a primary key on one of the tables. Oh yeah, a healthy percentage, most?, of the tables didn’t have primary keys. Also, no foreign keys, indexes, data constraints, everything could be null… Yeah.

I went to get a backup of our shared development database so that I could undo the changes I had done. No backup. FUDGE!

I storm into the bosses office and I start ranting about the database issues. My boss at the time was quite smart, and very aware of the nightmare he was dealing with, he just couldn’t fix it any more than the rest of us because, Harvard.

You know the joke? You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much. Yeah, that was our leader. He knew what he was doing. Even when he didn’t.

Anyway, my boss lists out my issues and asks me which one I’m going to fix first. My career as a DBA had begun. Oops.

Nothing Temporary

Now I’m the DBA. Great. At least it came with a pay raise.

So, anyway, we’re releasing to a new customer. Several of us have spent a bunch of days (and nights) getting everything set for the customer. All good.

The night before we’re to go live, a sales person logs into the database, to check that everything is ready. He spots a huge problem. We have temporary stuff in the customers server. Well, clearly, someone screwed up, so he proceeds to drop the tempdb.


Did you know you could actually drop the tempdb in SQL Server 6.5? Microsoft fixed it in 7.

I get paged (yes, still the age of pagers, this was a long time ago). There’s an emergency on the new customers server because everything has stopped working. I spend the night and most of the next day trying to fix it. I finally find a startup flag that will rebuild tempdb (remember, my very first DBA job, I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing).


We’re back and I think I’m a hero…

The next company meeting (we had lots of company meetings, I think one a week) we talk about the rollout, how difficult it was, and some of the issues involved. I’m prepared for my moment in the sun. Nope. Called to the front of the room is the sales hack, uh, I mean, person, who dropped the tempdb. He is being rewarded, in front of the whole company, for trying hard.

Picture me, jaw slack, absolutely gobsmacked.

Killing People

It’s a few weeks later. We’re at another company meeting, but this one is offsite (they spent money like it was nothing, you gotta love the dotcom boom, it was fun). We’ve just been lectured for over an hour how our technology was beyond compare, how we’re cutting edge, how we’re doing stuff no one else was doing, blah, blah, Harvard, blah, blah, blah.

Now, the day before…

I’m sitting with one of the nurses that work for the organization. Oh, didn’t I mention, we’re building patient diagnostic software. Enter stuff, we’ll tell you what’s wrong with the person, what drugs they need, etc. She and I are working on some bugs in the database, trying to fix the structure, and the data, without breaking the code. It’s not going well. She says to me “We’re going to kill someone.”

Now, I’m not happy to hear this, so I push back on her. “Nah, it’s no big deal. We just have to fix this.” She then proceeds to explain to me exactly how this bug we’re working on could literally kill a human being. I’m freaked. Seriously and really freaked. Before I can talk to someone about it, we have to go to the company meeting.

So, there I am, in the company meeting. The day before I’ve learned that our nightmare of a system is going to literally kill people. The technology is so bad we almost can’t make changes because everything we do causes something else, seemingly disconnected, to break. Yet, our CEO, founder, from Harvard (and yes, prior to this job, I had nothing against Harvard, after this job, upon hearing Harvard constantly spouted, I developed a bit of a prejudice), was telling me how great our tech was.

So, I raised my hand…

After describing our technology shortcomings to the CEO, I, and everyone else in the company, yes, everyone, was subjected to a two hour lecture about how wrong I was. They delayed lunch. This guy was not pleased with me.


Unlike Jen, I don’t have a great exit story. The next day, I started looking for another job and found one about a day later and quit. I lasted all of nine months at this company because I just didn’t care any more.

Oh, and they failed about six months later.

5 thoughts on “Jobs That Beat The Caring Out Of You

  • Matt51f1

    Sounds like an example of most government departments in Australia (Queensland) where the vendor ships a product that will only operate on a version of SQL Server that is at least 2-3 versions behind with code that is beyond rubbish. You’re not allowed to touch anything because the vendor, who is (often) being paid in the region of $100,000-$120,000 a month, will become displeased with you and refuse to support their application when you call with a problem.

    I’m not joking.

    It is staggering to comprehend the number of morons in application support areas who obediently do what the vendor tells them to do and will fight you tooth and nail if you want to improve the performance of anything.

    Last time I looked, when someone was being payed to supply a service – it was them who did as they were told….

    Funny enough, it was also a health-related department that took this line as well – and people DID die because of the problems (ssshhh… you’re not allowed to talk about it though….)

  • Jeff Moden

    Thank God the company went under as soon as they did… sounds like more lives in harm’s way may have been saved.

    You publishing this article today is ironic… it’s a damned good thing the lives of people weren’t depending on SSC. I’ll just go ahead and stop there because I’ve got nothing good to say about what they’ve done. Your article above would pale in comparison.

  • Jeff Moden

    And, to be sure… while I’m not real happy with what they did on SSC, NOTHING will ever kill the community. The helpful responses by the community are proof of that (and, yeah… that includes me).

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