If programmers were builders  

Yury Nesterenko

Translation: Tania Samsonova, 2015

Translator’s note: this is an old joke which is still very true and extremely funny. I would call it a sad tale that shows the importance of requirements elicitation and management.

1.03. Hooray! We snatched a big contract for the construction of a 12-storey residential building. The team is bubbling with enthusiasm. Polished off two cases of beer to celebrate.

2.03. The customer doesn’t like the expression “as soon as we get around to it”. He demands that we specify the exact dates. He’s a philistine and knows nothing about high technology.

3.03. We discussed the deadlines. Polished off three cases of beer in the process. Petrovich said that this amount of work can be done in 4 months easily. Therefore, actually it will be 8. Finally, we put 12 months in the contract, even though we can barely manage it in 16 months.

6.03. Petrovich collected all the bottles and took them to the store to get the deposit back.

8.03. We celebrated International Women’s Day. There are no women in our company, so nobody interfered with the celebrations.

2.04. Petrovich says that it’s time to start working. Is it a conspiracy? We built a fence around the construction site and decorated it with beautiful posters saying “Construction by AllBuild (www.allbuild.ru)”. Then, with a warm feeling of accomplishment, we went off to play Quake.

20.04. The customer came over and inquired about how things were going. We taught him to play Quake and allowed him to beat us all.

21.04. We held a meeting to discuss the project. Sidorov suggests we use modular architecture and build using ready-made panels. Petrovich insists that everything must be built in the good old way, using brick, not like how lamers do it. The most radically innovative project was proposed by Alex: build a few dozen wooden huts and then connect them with underground tunnels. This is the latest trend. I reminded him that the customer wants a 12-storey building. They tried to resolve the dispute by having a Quake duel. Alex with his huts was offed at once, but Petrovich and Sidorov came even. In the end, we decided that everyone will build according to his own plan and then we’ll try to put it all together in such a way that it does not collapse.

30.04. The first floor is ready! We showed it to the customer. He was surprised that different rooms have different ceiling heights, some bricks fall out of the walls, and there is no entrance to the building so one has to climb through a window. We explained to him that these are the special limitations of a demo version. We left for the Easter holidays, being proud of ourselves.

10.05. Petrovich was the first to sober up and then he started swearing and he kept swearing for a very long time. We thought he was angry that Alex had drank all the beer. It turned out that the situation is much worse: we’ve forgotten about the foundation. Of course it was described in the project specifications, but surely only lamers read them.

11.05. We had to demolish the first floor. It’s a crying shame.

11.07. The construction is under way. Petrovich is close to completion of the second floor, Sidorov of the fifth. Alex has built an elevator well all the way up to the ninth floor, and in a strong wind it swings dangerously. We put wooden props around it for now.

17.07. Alex is building the attic and the roof. On the ground. Then we’ll lift them and put them in place with a crane.

13.08. Sidorov is unable to join the panels. The gap is more than a meter wide. Sidorov called Petrovich for help, but Petrovich said that he is busy up to his ears with his own work, and anyway without the knowledge of the internal architecture it is impossible to do anything with the panels.

14.08. We hacked several panels so Petrovich could study the internal architecture. Petrovich swears and yells that the panels were manufactured by total lamers.

17.08. Petrovich plugged up the gap. As a result, the panels are all askew, but that’s a very minor problem. We had to bring the wiring of the panels to the outside and tie the wires into a knot. Petrovich covered the knot with duct tape and assured us it will work if there isn’t rain.

1.09. A new version of the panels was released! The manufacturer has enhanced the strength and insulation, and the new panels also have prebuilt walk-in closets. However, they are not compatible with the previous version in shape or size and they are also three times heavier. Looks like those panel designers don’t know anything about internal architecture whatsoever.

16.09. Alex is obsessed with an idea. He suggests that we make all the windows in the building resizable. He says the customer will be enthralled. We told him to stop showing off.

2.10. Petrovich got as far as the fifth floor. He is very proud of himself. We drew his attention to the fact that his wall is inclined at an angle of 40 degrees. He swore and shouted that we are lamers who know nothing. Then he promised to think about it.

3.10. The customer came over. He asked why the wall is inclined at an angle of 40 degrees. We told him about the Coriolis force. He listened, then said that he, of course, does not know anything about the construction business, but there is an altogether identical building next to ours and its wall stands straight. Damn. Then this idiot Alex blabbed about his resizable windows. The customer, of course, was enthralled and insisted that we implement them. Double damn.

4.10. We asked Alex whether it will be necessary to demolish the entire building to implement his windows. He says that no, the standard panels have such an undocumented feature too.

5.10. Petrovich admitted that there is really something wrong with the wall. He says that a specific brick was installed incorrectly. But to understand which one, exactly, we’ll have to go through them all. It’s much easier to demolish everything and to build from scratch.

6.10. We tried to persuade Petrovich that we don’t have time to build everything anew from bricks. We showed him the calculations on a calculator. Petrovich cursed us and shouted that the calculator was invented by lamers. Eventually he agreed to build using panels and left to drown his sorrows in booze.

8.10. We demolished the part built of bricks. Along the way, we have damaged the part made of panels. The whole building creaks and wobbles alarmingly. We reinforced it with wooden props and left to play Quake.

17.10. Petrovich came back from his drinking binge. The construction is under way.

7.11. We celebrated the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, or whatever they call it now. There are no communists in our company, so nobody interfered with the celebrations.

15.11. We suddenly remembered that our crane is only 8 storeys high. We sent Sidorov to get a new one. In the meantime, we played Quake. Alex has beaten Petrovich. We are proud of our younger team members and their professional growth!

24.11. Sidorov has returned. He did not find a crane but he procured a totally cool excavator. He suggests we dig a pit and build not 12 storeys high but 12 storeys deep. He says that nowhere in the contract it specifies that the 12 storeys have to be above the ground. We barely managed to dissuade him.

25.11. We brainstormed on the problem of the crane. With the last bottle of beer we found a solution. We have hastily abandoned the main construction project and are now building a 4-storey house next to it. Then we’ll hoist our crane onto its roof.

25.12. We celebrated Christmas according to the Western calendar. There are no Western Christians in our company, so nobody interfered with the celebrations.

14.01. I can’t remember anything. My head hurts. Guys, what year is it?

2.02. Well, it seems, we have finally finished building the 12th floor. Tomorrow we’ll fit on top of it the attic and roof that Alex has built.

3.02. Alex is a lamer. The roof is sliding down incessantly. For now, we have propped it using the crane. We’ll think of something.

4.02. Alex insists that it is not his fault. It is just that Sidorov’s 12 storeys are 4 meters taller and 5 meters wider than Petrovich’s 12 storeys. It turned out that they were built of different panels. But Alex is still a lamer, because his roof fits neither of the two. Neither does his elevator well, by the way.

5.02. We patched, reinforced, and extended the roof. Petrovich says it will hold, as long as it doesn’t snow.

7.02. It started snowing.

10.02. We made a roof of plywood, and painted it silver. Hopefully, the customer won’t notice.

11.02. We’ve been testing the elevator. Its stops are located between the floors, but it is still possible to get out. On even numbered floors you have to crawl out, and on odd ones, you have to pull yourself up. Note to self: don’t forget to describe it in the documentation.

12.02. When all’s said and done, the elevator moves extremely slow. Petrovich says we’re all lamers. He is going to do the optimization.

13.02. Petrovich has optimized the elevator. It gained speed, went through the roof and left in an unknown direction. It’s a good thing that the roof is made of plywood and will be easy to fix. After that, the elevator well collapsed. We suddenly remembered that we never replaced the wooden props with something stronger. Never mind. Taking the stairs is good for one’s health.

15.02. The finishing works are under way. For some reason, painters and plasterers keep disappearing. We arranged to have more workforce sent to us.

17.02. It was found out that due to an error made by Sidorov the doors on floors two through six only open to let people in. As a result, an amazing number of plasterers and painters was amassed there and now they can’t leave. Sidorov promised to fix everything. In the meantime, we pass food through the window to feed the painters and plasterers.

20.02. Alex finally completed his resizable windows. We tested them. It was found that when a window is resized the glass in it breaks. Furthermore, there are a number of side effects. For example, the toilet and bathtub from one apartment can suddenly emerge in the living room of the one next to it. Also sometimes doors disappear and balconies crumble. We tried complaining to the panel manufacturers but didn’t get anywhere – they say that we shouldn’t have used undocumented features.

21.02. The customer came over. He asked whether it is possible to make a few small changes to the project. In particular, instead of a 12-storey building, to have a village of wooden huts connected by tunnels. He heard on social media that this is the latest trend. We neutralized Alex before he could open his mouth, and politely but firmly explained to the customer that he is wrong to suggest such a thing.

22.02. The balconies continue to crumble, even though we never touch the resizable windows now. Apparently this is some sort of independent glitch. It is too late to investigate it, so to be safe we have just ripped off the remaining balconies. Let’s try to explain to the customer that this is done for the sake of optimization.

23.02. We celebrated Soviet Army Day. There are no military people in our company, so nobody interfered with the celebrations. We have no women either, so no one gave us gifts. It’s a shame.

25.02. Alex tried to complete his windows. As a result, half of them shrank to zero size and would not expand back. I told him to stop showing off, or it will be even worse.

27.02. We suddenly remembered that we have forgotten to make a proper entrance after all. We discussed whether the building may collapse if we cut a hole now. Sidorov said it would be better not to risk it. Petrovich called him a lamer and agreed. Note to self: don’t forget to say in the documentation that entering through a window is not a bug but a feature.

1.03. It’s March 1 already?! What?! How is it possible?! Yesterday, it was just… Damn. Who knew that this lame month of February has 28 days? It means that the commissioning date is not a week from now but the day after tomorrow!

2.03. We declared a state of emergency. We work 24 hours a day, without waking up.

3.03. We convinced the customer that we need another day for the final testing. Oh boy, did we work yesterday… But when all’s said and done, it’s not too bad. Well, if you overlook the fact that some of the doors are in the floor or ceiling, or open from the tenth floor directly onto the street, some of the apartments are not accessible in any way, several bathrooms are combined with kitchens, half of the building has no running water, the other half is not connected to the power mains, there is no plumbing above the sixth floor, and instead of the stairs between the eighth and ninth there is a rope ladder. The main thing is to take the customer inspection around the building using the right route. And we still have time till tomorrow to hang pictures of landscapes in the place of the missing windows…

4.03. Yes! Yes! We did it! We’re now celebrating the commissioning of our building. I’ll drink just a little bit – I must keep my sobriety to leave in time before the damn thing collapses…

Groupon. Customer service from hell

Everyone knows Groupon. You pay a 30% or even lower share of the regular price for a service or event admission, the business gets new clientele, Groupon gets its share, and everybody’s happy. Right? Wrong. This week, I had about the worst experience of my life with Groupon’s customer service.

Recently, Groupon introduced a new feature, points, which supposedly make your savings even greater. It works like this: when you buy something on Groupon’s website, you get 10 points for each dollar you spend, and when you’ve accumulated a certain amount, you can redeem them for new purchases. To do this, you must go to the points page and press one of the “Redeem X points for Y dollars off Z dollars purchase” button. After that, when you buy something for Z dollars or more, the “Y dollars off” button turns up automatically during the checkout, you press it, and Bob’s your uncle. The usability of the process leaves something to be desired, but the entire thing seems extremely simple and transparent, right? Wrong.

So, one fine day, about a week ago, I realized that I had accumulated enough points and it’s time to spend them. I had used the points system several times before and didn’t expect any trouble. Just then a nice deal with a ski resort (lift tickets, equipment rentals, that kind of thing) came up, and seeing as my son was going to come and visit me around Christmas, I thought we could have a great time skiing.

So I went to the points page and selected “Redeem 10,000 points for $10 off a purchase of $20 or more”. Then I pressed the Buy button on the deal’s page, was transferred to the checkout… but my discount of $10 was not there, even though I was going to make a purchase that cost more than $20. I tried again… still no success. This is when I contacted Groupon’s customer service, explaining that the points feature didn’t work and asking for help.

Now, this was not the first time I had to deal with Groupon’s customer service. In my previous experience, some representatives may not have been not very knowledgeable, but they were invariably polite, listened to what I had to say, and seemed genuinely interested in remedying my situation. Not anymore!

What do you expect when you tell a customer service employee that their company’s product doesn’t work? Naturally, you expect them to ask you questions about what exactly didn’t work, what exactly were you trying to do, etc. However, this time the first response to my message was a standard greeting followed by a copy-paste of the website page containing instructions on points usage. I admit I blew a gasket just then as I had explained in great detail in my initial message that I knew how points worked, in general, and I have used them in the past successfully. So my response to this was somewhat impatient.

Now – I don’t know whether this was intentional or not – my call was not assigned any ticket or number. So every time I responded to a message from a customer service representative, it got into the queue as a new call and was assigned to a new representative. And all of them responded identically: first a greeting full of cheerful idiocy (“Oh, sorry for your frustration! Now we know what went wrong!”) and then a copy-paste from the website user page containing instructions on using the points system. Every time I responded to such a message, I got a new representative, a new portion of cheerful idiocy, and a new copy-pasted instructions page. In vain had I explained that I KNOW how to use points, that THIS TIME IT DIDN’T WORK and this means that SOMETHING WENT WRONG and they should find out the details from me to learn what exactly happened. This “dialogue ad absurdum” continued, and, as a result, I got four nearly identical and useless messages from four different customer service representatives. NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM asked a single question to find out what happened. (To prove that I am not inventing this, here are their names: Jonnice C, Solomon Sharon, Gokula K, and Mohan Karthik L.)

Now, I have an inkling of what may have been wrong (drawing upon my 20+ years in IT), and I would have shared my insights with anyone from Groupon, had they expressed at least some interest in the matter. However, no such luck.

Honestly, I think that a three-year-old child would have done better than those people. Her technical knowledge would be about at par with theirs, and a three-year-old at least possesses a healthy interest towards what’s going on around her, which these people are utterly devoid of. The only explanation I can think of is that Groupon, caring about its bottom line, got rid of human customer service altogether and replaced it with an app that reacts to certain keywords (in my case, “frustration”, “problem”, and “points”) and just returns a corresponding help entry preceded by a few placating words (also canned).

The overall score:

Me: minus 10,000 points (if you mark them for redemption and don’t use them within a week, they evaporate prematurely), the deal that expired while I was trying to talk to the service-bots, and some negative emotions.

Groupon: minus some lost profit and minus one customer. There are plenty of fish in the ocean and plenty of discount websites out there, such as dealathons.com, wagjag.com, livingsocial.com, etc., where hopefully the customer service is more up to it  (or at least actually present). It looks like it’s time for me to explore new horizons. Bye bye, Groupon!

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Some upcoming events

Taking Your Business to the Cloud – May 6th‏

From embracing big data with IBM and marketing automation with Constant Contact, to leveraging client management tools with Salesforce and using cloud productivity applications with Google, this full-day event will be sure to help give your business a boost.
Use the link to get a $10 discount https://www.eventbrite.com/e/taking-your-business-to-the-cloud-tools-for-building-your-business-tickets-15826035097?discount=TBC2015.

For IT Professionals, By IT Professionals.



Includes all keynotes, breakout sessions, vendor sessions, networking receptions and exhibit area access.


  • Speak one-on-one with vendors, all in one place
  • Discover new cutting edge products and services
  • Network and meet new people in the industry
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest technology trends
  • See technology in action through demonstrations
  • Attend conference seminar sessions
  • Research information needed to enhance your IT strategy
  • Local event right in your backyard!


  • CIO/CTO’s
  • IT Directors/Managers
  • Network Architects and Analysts
  • Data Center Managers
  • Network and Communications Managers
  • Systems Software Managers
  • Security and Recovery Specialists
  • Storage Architects

Use this VIP code: VIP15 when registering, to waive the registration fees.

Use this link to Register

Want to head to FITC Toronto in April for FREE?

Once again, FITC is offering women in the digital space the opportunity to attend Canada’s largest design and technology conference for free! Simply share why you want to attend and your advice for other women in tech in the most creative way you can muster up. Submit your entry before February 28th. See the full details and submit your entry at http://fitc.ca/women. Good luck!

It’s time for garden work again

I am going to St.Mary of Egypt Refuge to plant stuff!
Anticipating blackflies. Enjoy the song!

P.S. something wrong with the stupid WordPress – the video is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjLBXb1kgMo

UPDATE. Stupid WordPress posted this twice, after pretending for two hours that it is not going to post at all. To avoid duplicate posts, here’s my photo from today:


It’s time for garden work again

I am going to St.Mary of Egypt Refuge to plant stuff!
Anticipating blackflies. Enjoy the song!

Ontario Self Employment Benefit (OSEB) Program Information Session

Jan 28, 2014 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre
4 Credit Union Drive,
Toronto, ON

Are you out of work? Do you have a business idea? You may qualify for FREE help and income support while you develop your business!

The OSEB program at a glance:

  • 42 week program
  • Comprehensive business training
  • Practical advisory assistance
  • Income Support

Are you eligible for OSEB?

The OSEB program is open to people in Ontario who are:

  • Eligible for, or collecting, Employment Insurance (EI) Benefits
  • An unemployed “reach back” client who received EI benefits within the last 36 months (60 months for those recipients of maternity/parental benefits)

To to learn more and start the application process, come to our Information Session to be held at the Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre, 4 Credit Union Drive, Toronto, ON.

For more information about OSEB, please call 416-289-5000 ext. 8585 or emailentrepreneurship@centennialcollege.ca

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