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Let us all read now from the Book of Data. If you will all turn your books to proper page, the reading will begin in the second section:

And, lo, a great multitude of files both delimited and structural filled the incoming directories, and sang "Glory be to those who transform us into more standardized data sets, for they set us on the golden path toward salvation. We shall want for nothing under their watchful eye, and be guided by the loving hands of the mapping and the code." And with the opening of the server, the data did proceed down the righteous path toward the Oracle, where the DBA will come to judge the indexed and the dead.


But the server is down.

The kids are getting nervous, so I make some phone calls, and then those people make some phone calls. This is the way communication here usually works, from the mumbling peanut gallery on up. This one is a table space issue, and it is going to take a while for them to fix. From where I am, I can almost hear them burning brain cells downstairs trying to put the pieces back together, so that the people will stop calling them every ten minutes for a status update.

In my section, we are polite and empathetic. We do not call them, or send them emails, or go down and talk to them. We trust that they are doing what they can, and leave them the hell alone so they can do it. Thus balance is achieved. We here all know the true way.

I tell one of my co-workers that the server issue is a good time for all of us to seek inner peace within our conversions. "Maybe if we achieve inner peace, we'll be able to read the data right out of notepad" I ramble, getting my third or fourth cup of the local double-run high test. She seems unimpressed. They always do when I start spouting this kind of religious devotion.

Folks on the floor mill around in hallways and around cubicles, like homeless people standing around barrel fires. There is talk of what is and what is not. We share problems that we were having, hoping that merely discussing the data will encourage its return. ODBC errors are a popular topic of discussion this time around. Someone somewhere hosed our 3X, and going back one piece at a time has been our side-quest for a little bit now. This is the pain we receive for using old tools and old processes.

We all go meta when the server is down, because it distracts us from the work that will hit once the server is resurrected. We will all die one thousand little deaths by the glow of the CRT, drowning in the sea of data that will be unleashed. Nothing will save us from our right and proper end, buried under a pile of burning binders in our cubes while the rest of the world chugs innocently along forty stories down.


My skill set at work is breaking things, sobbing, obtuse answers, and going cowboy. Going cowboy is by far my favorite thing to do, because it looks impressive and scares the shit out of people. Don't back up. Set your update statements "where 1=1". Truncate and commit. Balance after update. I've cobbled together more McGuyver fixes in the last three years than I ever want to think about. I really should have jacked up a live client beyond repair by this point. For some reason I don't understand, I manage to keep the building from burning to the ground.

I have no right having this job. Everyone around me has fancy degrees from well known universities. I've got my high school diploma, a string of good luck, and a penchant for logic puzzles. In this job, that's practically the same thing.

Back at my cube for a brief second, I try once again to get some data to push through. Errors pop up like mushrooms in a damp forest. I can see folks gathering up in little clumps to head out into the big room to forage for some food. We might as well all go, since there is nothing to break.

Food is not something that is eaten at a table somewhere. Lunch consists of whatever can be grabbed quickly, so that we may all return to our desks and eat it in short bites between clicks. Soup from the grocery store, complete in it's little environmentally destructive styrofoam dish and piled high with trans fat oyster crackers, is very popular with the group. But the food is not the main feature in this equation: the block and a half walk cigarette break is. On the walk over, I ask my work spouse why the data doesn't love us today.

By the time we have returned with our little plastic grocery sacks in hand, things reach a state where the guys encourage us to take another shot at the server. It's still wonky, but every fourth or fifth data set we send in takes, and magically turns into puppies and balloons. However, the countdown of today's hottest server fuck-ups keeps on rocking, and we refresh server status with frantic mouse clicks and alt-tab slapping. We are trained mice, hitting the pellet buttons over and over, anxiously awaiting a treat.

In times of great stress or excitement, we forgo the instant message client and shout over cubes at each other. I can hear the kids on the far end chirping to each other giddily. It looks like we might get some work done today after all.


They will never lay us off; they'll just put the kool-aid in the breakroom.

To an outside observer, we must seem clinically insane. Imagine this, if you will: There is a standard office cubicle, three meters by three meters. There's not nearly enough shelves to handle the large piles of binders and paperwork stuffed into every corner; the desk literally bows under the weight of all of this mess. In addition to that, filing cabinets and drawers, also brimming to the gills with paper. If we're lucky, our cubicles hold two CPUs and their attending accessories. The chairs were all stolen from conference rooms during a 2am raid, and obviously mismatches the rest of the decor. There are hoarded collections of broken hole punchers which we defend with sharp looks and threats of violence. Most desks also have a small selection of literature: One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Art of War, Snow Crash, Tao Te Ching, a double-sided printout of the Jargon File, and of course our operating handbook/cheat sheets.

Your average employee works on a subtle balance of caffeine, nicotine, and colorfully packaged Japanese candies. We've all got rings around our eyes, but they are much darker when we go deep hack and lose track of sleep. One of us, somewhere, is inevitably letting loose some unique string of profanity. We drink hard off-hours, especially during bad work periods. This is why we are banned from the larger company parties.

But, they keep us around because we're good, and replacing us would require almost a year of training to get up to speed. None of us worry about being shown the door, because the wheels would fly off in about three weeks. It feels good to be wanted.


Finishing up by 7pm is a good day. As it is the beginning of the month, there have not been very many good days.

I saw some folks cruising out of work at six, but experience tells me that they're going home to run updates. Now that they have given us remote machines, we're able to do that more often. Infrastructure has started deploying laptops as main machines to some of the newer ones. I told them that, back in my day we had to stay until the update was done. I stayed until five in the morning one cold February night, converting international characters on the fly to get them to fit into a smaller field. They listened politely, and then moved on to someone else's cube.

But tonight, I am lucky. I am heading home to sleep. I will lay in bed, and have a panic attack over some thing I may have forgotten to do, then launch myself onto the remote to make sure that, yes, everything is in order. This is how I've been falling asleep for the last few years. I don't recommend it.

My last loop around the floor showed two of us still in. My boss is sitting there with her forehead on her desk again, which always a morale builder. I tell her I'm leaving, and I get a grunt, which means things will be fine. The other guy just had an update blow up, and is on the final lap of fixing things and sewing it up. I tell him to call me on the cell if he wants me to go in there and cause more trouble for him. No laugh. Like I said, it was a bad day.

Out on the street, it's already dark. I'm going home to eat, look at my wife for five or ten seconds, and then maybe get some sleep. Tomorrow morning bright and early, I will come back down here to once again torture the data until it give me the answers I want. And the others will be right there with me, because at this point we have no choice. We are searching for data enlightenment. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.

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