TJ Mott

I've been a developer for the past seven years. Currently I'm in the aerospace industry and work with a variety of programming languages and operating systems.

The Defensive Contract

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Working for a contractor within the defense industry can be an interesting experience. Sometimes you find yourself trying to debug an application from a stack trace which was handwritten and faxed out of a secured facility with all the relevant information redacted by overzealous security contractors who believe that you need a Secret clearance just to know that it was a System.NullReferenceException. After weeks of frustration when you are unable to solve anything from a sheet of thick black Sharpie stripes, they may bring you there for on-site debugging.

Security cameras perching on a seaside rock, like they were seagulls

Beforehand, they will lock up your cell phone, cut out the WiFi antennas from your development laptop, and background check you so thoroughly that they’ll demand explanations for the sins of your great-great-great-great grandfather’s neighbor’s cousin’s second wife’s stillborn son before letting you in the door. Once inside, they will set up temporary curtains around your environment to block off any Secret-rated workstation screens to keep you from peeking and accidentally learning what the Top Secret thread pitch is for the lug nuts of the latest black-project recon jet. Then they will set up an array of very annoying red flashing lights and constant alarm whistles to declare to all the regular staff that they need to watch their mouths because an uncleared individual is present.


The Smell-O-Vision

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Ron used to work for a company which built “smell-o-visions”. These were customized systems running small form factor Windows PCs that operated smell pumps and fans using USB relays timed to a video to give a so-called “4D Experience.” Their product was gimmicky, and thus absolutely loved by marketing groups.

One such marketing group, whose client was a branch of the military, worked with them to create a gimmick to help with recruiting. A smell-o-vision was installed on a trailer and towed around the country, used to convince teenagers to join the service by making them smell fresh-squeezed orange juice while watching a seizure-inducing video with guns. The trailer was staffed by grunts, and these guys cycled through so frequently that they received little or no training on the system.

A vintage ad for a smell-o-vision film called 'Scent of Mystery'

Raiding the New Manager

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David was recently hired on to head the company’s development team. This was a brand-new position; previously, William, the company’s IT Manager managed the developers directly in addition to his other duties.

While getting his workstation set up, he was unable to install the FileZilla FTP client. It was completely blocked via domain policy. Finding this very strange, David talked to the IT Manager and hoped there was a legitimate reason.


A Font of Misery

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After his chilling encounter in the company’s IT Cave, new hire George spent some time getting his development workstation set up. Sadly, his earlier hope that the PC in his office was a short-term placeholder until something better comes in was dashed to pieces. This PC was a small-form-factor budget system, relying on an old dual-core processor, 2 GB RAM, a 5400 RPM “green” disk drive, and integrated graphics with a single output port, to which was connected an aging 17" LCD monitor with a failing backlight.

A preview of a glitchy font


Best of 2016: The Inner JSON Effect

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As we review this year's greatest hits, let's revisit the latest incarnation of the dreaded "Inner Platform Effect". --Remy

Jake eagerly stepped into his new job, grateful for more experience and new challenges, craving to learn new software stacks and see what his new company had to teach him about the world of software.

They told him he’d be working on some websites, dealing with JavaScript, Node.js, JSON, and the like. It sounded pretty reasonable for web development, except for the non-technical interviewer’s comment that it was all “built on top of Subversion” which he assumed was a simple misunderstanding.


The Infrastructure

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George had just escaped from his job, a WTF-laden hellhole where asking for a test database to reproduce an issue resulted in the boss spending hours and hours hand-typing and debugging a fresh SQL script based on an old half-remembered schema.

Initech promised to be a fantastic improvement. “We do things right around here,” his new boss, Harvey, told him after hiring him. “We do clean coding. Our development systems and libraries are fabulous! And each of our programmers get a private office with its own window!” Yay, no more cubicle!


Deep Fried Offshore

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Stephen worked for an Initech that sold specialized hardware: high-performance, high-throughput systems for complex data processing tasks in the enterprise world, sold at exorbitant enterprise prices. Once deployed, these systems were configured via a management app that exposed an HTTP interface, just like any consumer-grade router or Wi-Fi access point that is configurable through a website (e.g. 192.168.0.1).

Stephen worked with a diverse team of American engineers who were finishing up the management application for a new model. The product was basically done but needed a little bit of testing and polish before the official release. They expected several months of post-release work and then the project would go into maintenance mode.


Learning to Share

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Maintenance programming is an important job in nearly any software shop. As developers move on to other positions or companies, the projects they leave behind still need someone to take care of them, to fix bugs or implement customer requests. Often, these products have been cobbled together by a variety of programmers who no longer work for the company, many of whom had only a loose understanding of the product (or even programming in general).

Martin was one such maintenance programmer. After being hired, management quickly realized he had a knack for digging into old systems and figuring them out well enough to update them, which often meant a full rewrite to make everything consistent and sane.


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