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Episode 8: Documentation

Looking at the documentation in front of me I realise that I can afford to be generous with its authors. The BUST update has finally crawled to an end, almost. I'm pleased because my project planning was almost spot-on, apart from the units error (I had reckoned on 2 weeks, and Kevin and Rice had worked hard to bring it in with only a minor change of plan from weeks to months). And in that two months, Rice has done pretty well for someone who has never programmed before. For the first two weeks he was on intensive coffee-making, and once he'd got that sorted Kevin had started him on learning how to make tea. I had to step in that point to remind them both that Rice was supposed to be learning to program.

After that progress really picked up. Kevin carried on doing most of the programming, while Rice took two weeks to perfect a dialog box and an error message. He was a natural. And now, after weeks of hard work the latest version of BUST is ready for acceptance testing, and I'm looking at the documentation I asked them to produce. This time it was Rice who took on most of the work, on account of the fact that he'd studied palaeontology at Cambridge (yes, I couldn't work it out either but Kevin was definite and Rice was happy enough to go for it).

When I call the two of them over they looked pleased as punch.

'Well,' Rice asks, a touch too excitedly for my comfort, 'how does it read?'

'Like this,' I reply. 'BIST requires that all Excel workbooks are named in conformance with the rules detailed in this document. Any non-conforming workbooks will be deleted and the contents lost forever, so get it right or do it again. The naming pattern is a sequence of alphanumeric components catenated using an underbar separator character. The first two characters are the designated office code, followed by a three-digit alphanumeric sequence signifying user name and then the date code in day, month, year format (also utilising an underbar separator).'

'That's good,' Kevin nods appreciatively.

'Good?' I demand. 'What language is it written in? I can't make out what it's saying, and I know the bloody naming format for the files.'

Rice looks hurt. 'I thought it was clear and to the point,' he sniffs. 'We have to be precise or they'd submit all sorts of rubbish.'

'True,' Kevin agrees. 'Remember that guy in the French office who submitted his shopping list?'

Or the one who submitted the CV he was sending to job agencies, or the one who'd sent the entire contents of his hard-disk and crashed the server, or the one …

'I know that,' I say, 'but we still need documentation that somebody might have a remote chance of understanding.'

'I understand it,' Rice points out.

'But that's because you wrote it.'

'What if I pretend I didn't write it?'


Kevin thinks it's a good idea. 'Me as well,' he offers. 'I'll pretend that I don't know the file name format and see if I can work it out from Rice's docs.'

I shake my head. 'Nope. There's only one thing for it. I'm going to have to call in a technical writer.'

Kevin goes whiter than usual. 'Not … Not …'

I nod. 'Yes, it's Norris.'

Kevin looks really alarmed now. 'But Joe, he's a serial killer.'

'No he's not.'

'Yes he is. You've only got to look at him to know that he's killed dozens of people.'

Rice is starting to look scared as well.

I've got to nip this in the bud now. 'No he's not,' I insist. 'Norris is harmless. He doesn't look like a killer, you'd hardly notice he was there.'

'Exactly,' Kevin mutters. 'It's the quiet ones. All the serial killers are like that, blokes you'd hardly notice. That's what makes them so deadly.'

'He's a nice family man,' I point out.

'So was Charlie Manson,' Kevin shoots back.

'And Fred West,' Rice adds.

'This is ridiculous. If he's a killer then name one of his victims,' I challenge.

'Steven Gould.'

'He was transferred to Bracknell,' I point out.

'Then how come nobody's ever seen him there? You know they fell out in a big way. There was that argument about punctuation and then Gould disappeared.'

'Look,' I say, trying not to shout. 'Norris is not a serial killer. And even if he is you and Rice are going to sit down with him and get him to write a document that mere mortals can understand. Clear?'

Kevin nods sullenly, but Rice looks terrified. 'What if he kills us both?'

I shrug. 'If he doesn't then I will. Get your stuff sorted because he's coming over later this afternoon. And if one of you mentions this serial killer bollocks to his face there'll be trouble.'

Kevin and Rice head off back to their desks, but the last thing I hear is Rice asking if garlic works against serial killers as well as it does against vampires.

Now, do I sit in on this one or not?

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