There are things you don’t want to see and sometimes it’s not from the code or the customers. It’s from the management. And a particular kind of horror comes from HR. No, I’m not talking about getting leave sorted or changing your insurance policy. I’m talking about the kind of cold, black, wet horror that happens when you walk by their computers and they shut them down quickly and are too much in a hurry to talk about margaritas. HR does not want margaritas? The world is coming to an end.

What’s worse is when you see a meeting with all of the Cs (the TO and the EO and the FO) and HR is in there, too. Finance and HR and the big hitters in one room talking with serious looks on their faces only means one thing in my book. And it’s not hard to figure out what that one thing is when your burn rate isn’t just above your income but above your banking. Those little lines crossing have to be brought back down to reality because the bills have to be met or it’s all going bye bye.

Thing is, we’re in an unusual situation here. Our stakeholders aren’t just VCs and the boss’s old friends. In the darkness from which some of our company updates have been held, I think I’ve seen faces with more than the usual numbers of joints in the jaws. And occasionally gills. In fact, I know that the fourth bathroom downstairs has some special suits in it for those occasions in which the very atmosphere of the room has to be changed to accommodate beings from other dimensions. There’s even a special (dark grey) suit with electrified silver mail in it that deflects those crazy serrated teeth the third round investors have in case the sandwiches are late in arriving. You’ve really got to be impressed by the sang froid of the guys in sales to do presentations wearing them, I’ll give them that.

But if I’m reading things correctly, we’re not just looking to deal with balancing the books by reducing our cash outflow. See, some of our investors want a little bit more. They want to feel our pain. They want us to bleed. And then they want to drink it.

I’m glad at least we’re not dealing with creatures who want virgin sacrifices, because even though developers have a certain reputation, I don’t think we can satisfy that requirement. But there’s no way getting around the fact that when some people go into the little room with Frank, Jane, The Big Kahuna, and the creature with a blur instead of a face, they’re not only not coming back in the building, they’re never going to make it home.

To top it off, housekeeping is going to totally hate us, and this means something really, really bad: no toilet paper in the ground floor toilets. It’s passive aggressive but I suppose they need to convey their displeasure somehow.

The printer in the special room is grinding out overtime this morning; all signs say it’s time to take a three hour long lunch, and possibly invest in a pair of earplugs for when the screaming starts. I might as well pick up some pocket tissues while I’m out; I’m not going to be caught up short again.

Things have been confusing at work lately. Clearly, my team isn’t hitting quite the right sweet spot with our testing. Maybe we focus too much on the GUI and not enough on “client installed software and entire customer service team fell face first on their keyboards, then sat up speaking Babylonian.” (The Dev team said they could wait for an upgrade. At worst I had someone turn into a half-elf, but they said the pointy ears were worth tolerating due to the increase in charisma points. When I asked the PM to clarify, she decided it was a “feature” and okay to ship since no one ever reads the release notes anyway.)

We don’t know how these things happen; you go in with a clearly defined game plan, then suddenly the goal posts are moved and you’re having to explain that running the exact same set of tests that failed to yield any useful bugs against an earlier release isn’t actually likely to yield any useful information. But I’m beginning to wonder if something critical is changing underneath: if the burden of so many patches, hacks, and sub-standard coding choices is actually warping the fabric of reality. It may just be our reality, but I’m afraid it might be catching. I’ve heard my chief troublemaker say on more than one occasion that we’re just going through the same crap as we always have: but last week a lead programmer said we’re now repeating the same mistakes faster and faster. Then an order came on high that directly countermanded an anti-chaos order from merely a month ago. So now I think that we’ve gotten into a loop of such complex mathematical construction that we’ve succeeded in making not just a loop, but an environment in which two realities are existing simultaneously: one in which we are getting marginally better, and one in which things continue to get worse. Unfortunately I’m not sure the people I’m dealing with are in the same reality as I am: but I’ve got the shell script that’ll flip me into a halfling thief if the shit really hits the fan and I discover we’ve been laboring in Mordor all this time.  I’m also doing self-study Babylonian. If nothing else, I hear a certain company has openings in the customer service department.

So I sat down for a meeting with my boss, to discuss my goals for the year. I had the printout right in front of me. Improve reporting, increase test automation, get team certification in building wards out of twigs and hair, the usual kind of stuff.

And he began to talk about some problems from last week, the kind of problems that happen every week. Gnomes overrunning defensive barriers. Clients allowed to switch using currencies without proper authorization. Not enough silver bullets for the enchanted handguns.

And then suddenly our time was over. I walked out in a daze. Were my goals good or bad? Were we talking battle strategy or dissecting the troop movement of an individual campaign? And did I hear something about the One Ring muttered in there?

I picked up the piece of paper and looked at it. There were lines through a few things and the word LOUP GAROUX scribbled where I had previously written “root cause analysis.” I didn’t remember any sort of conversation about any of the things on the sheet of paper. What had just happened to me?

Then I stepped on a hair covered twig. Dammit, I had just been hexed! And by my own boss! How am I ever going to work on long term plans when this happens every time! I don’t even think he knows he’s exerting this power and yet it works – you can soak up magic ambiently, especially the destructive kind.

I stuffed the broken twig and the hair in my pocket. Thank God I’d had the foresight to give a strand to my second in command last week. Looks like the ward certification self-study program is working after all.

I saw an unusual form of magic yesterday. I’m convinced we’re using entirely new routes to connect to the alternate, hostile consciousnesses that surround our universe.

There’d been a flurry of emails going back and forth. “Let’s do this Unnamed Thing, we need the Unnamed Thing, we must immediately have the Unnamed Thing.” They refused to name the Thing and they wanted me to agree to it immediately. My greater minion said, “Nay!” until I could return and say, “Twice nay!” and yet the emails continued to fly as if we had not responded.

Then, as I sat at my desk, three people came marching toward me, after the point when I normally should have left for the day. I felt like Princess Leia hiding in her cell when Grand Moff Tarkin, Vader, and the little floatie robot came toward her. I was summarily hauled off and dropped into a meeting room.

Suddenly the red haired guy with the manic expression started re-expressing the content of all of the emails on a white board. He swooped the dry erase marker UP and he swooped it DOWN and he added little numbers … and suddenly I was saying, yes, yes, The Unnamed Thing, we shall have the Unnamed thing (even though I did try to get the project manager to name the unnamed thing, which she cleverly avoided doing).

As I walked out of the room in a daze, I realize I’d been hit by a more powerful spell than I’d had the ability to stand against. Some combination of the mystic figures and the powerful glamour visible in the glinting eyes of the man wielding the marker had worked together to break down my will.

I do believe I was hexed. I just hadn’t realized you could use a white board as part of this kind of spell before. Damn! Where’s a wookie when you need him?

Today there is cake in the office.

This makes me happy.

Yes, I can be bought off with simple things. I remember going to a pre-release gating meeting where the project manager started the meeting by opening a box to reveal four fairy cakes (with genuine fairies embedded in the icing).

“Is the code that bad, then?” I asked. But by the time we got to the yes/no decision, I was so high on sugar I was unable to form my mouth into the circular shape required to make a (nnnn)o. It’s like the fairy was gumming my teeth together and sapping my will to be contrary.

He was a clever man.

But I am cleverer. To guarantee approval, I bring caramels and peanut butter filled, chocolate covered pretzels to the test plan review meetings.

Remember: it’s still magick if you take a deliberate action to control someone’s behavior and it works. Call it “personality management,” call it “voodoo mind control,” call it some bad joke about purifying food with ketchup … results count.

The last two days have been very interesting.

It’s supposedly “training time.” I asked what the developers are learning to summon. Apparently it is a M00SE.

I asked what the value of M00SE is. “It means we use things that other people have made, and that will make things safer!” said a cheerful man with a Cockney accent.

“But how do we know we can trust the work of the people who made these things in the first place?” I asked.

I got blank looks.

“Well, many people have used them already …”

I envisioned a summoning of a greater demon done by 13 of our rather underschooled developers, all convinced that it was “safer” now that they had outsourced the creation of the wards of power to protect them. Hilarity resulted. I’ll keep building my own charms and trust what I’ve done myself, thanks.

Later in the afternoon I peeked into the glass doors of the conference room. Everyone was in their black robes, holding hands and chanting. A wave of smoke filled the room and a PowerPoint presentation was on the back wall showing the words of power. I was pretty sure I saw a spelling error.

Above the smoke, odd shape horns began to appear … followed by a black head with a snuffly nose … with red eyes.

Later in the day the beast made connection to our data center via the Fat Pipe and everyone in the upper reaches of the office began to lose their ability to do work. Meanwhile, I was sure I saw members of the SysOps team being tossed around on strange, flat horns while a deep bellowing came from downstairs.

Today things mostly seemed back to normal. The developers returned and the blue haze filled the room today. But then, around 1 PM, I went downstairs and there was nothing but the smell of disinfectant.

My suspicion is that a data cleansing got out of control and the M00SE was sucked back into its home dimension, taking all of the developers with it. But I’ve been known to be overly suspicious. At least a few of them ought to be able to battle their way back.

LATER: they seem to mostly have returned, but there is something strange about the way they’re dressed and their facial expressions. Are these actually duplicates of the original developers? Maybe someone got overly enthusiastic with a “restore all” command …

I was just asked about adding “just one more change” into a patch we’re releasing. It’s a dictionary. Imagine, if you will, translating Crowley++ into FAE. Supposedly it all comes out looking the same. My team isn’t normally involved in testing it. But still, we haven’t updated in a long time, and the last six months of new features don’t work in FAE.

I have my suspicions. I ask the person who wants me to accept it into the patch (minimum testing) what the effects might be if anything goes wrong.

“The universe collapses.”

Well, if madness and demonic possession aren’t on the list, I suppose that’s not too bad, then.

I approved it.

(Crowley++: based on the original teachings of THeLEma, but extended into both genders and with multi-universe support. FAE: based on the original English earth magic, works best if you have fairy blood. Best practiced by people with degrees from Northern universities, or Scandinavia. Underlying software for all Nokia products. Occasionally causes natural disasters, I.E. the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, but that was caused by a banking team in the city and not us.)

You release new “code” and 30 companies call to complain that demons are now flying around their offices, shitting on their desks, randomizing all of the data in accounting, and RickRolling everyone’s screen savers.

You were given three days to test it or we would be “late.” You extracted a succubus and 20 imps but then just had to stop work. The developers knew about the imps, anyway.

The customers want it fast and the customers want it now. No one wants to tell them no. And then when they get it, they aren’t happy.

You complain to the Ruler of All Things that maybe, just maybe, there were some problems in the code. Ignorance of basic heiromantic principles, improper implementation of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, weak unit testing, you don’t know. The response? “There’s no solid proof that anything has gone wrong in development.”

And if your spirits aren’t broken enough, the cutest developer in the company comes in with his new girlfriend. It’s that succubus that was buried deep in the user registration code, but it still hurts.

Yeah, it’s been that kind of a day.

We had a meeting today to discuss “patching.” Patching is what we do to fix software that we’ve released that doesn’t do what our customers expect. Their expectations might seem unreasonable, only frequently they just expect things to not go away that were there before. Imagine: you open the door to your office, and on the other side of this portal is a swirling morass of black and silver with little twinkling lights, likely a black hole except that the silver just might be teeth and you think you see a throat in the far distance. I’m not saying we did this, at least not more than twice, but just consider it a bit. It’s not just not what you expect, it’s slightly worse than it was before. In this situation, we will consider releasing a “patched” version of our software rather than requiring our customers to take a new version (the kind of thing we normally release with additional features and upgrades, such as “a portal to a wormhole THAT YOU ONLY GO TO WHEN YOU WANT TO complete with transdimensional jetpack”). It’s my job to make sure our patch does what we hope, I.E. the stick we’re going to give you can keep the jaws of doom propped open long enough for you to grab your customers’ orders and then run away.

Today’s patch meeting was fear inducing as usual. The goal was to make some small changes to meet the needs of a very large supplier (let’s call them “NATO”) who are holding a certain power over us (let’s call it money but I feel sure some curses have been spoken, though fortunately they seem to be as ineffective at nailing us as they have been with various political entities). We had a piece of code that appeared to have been eaten by a larger and more powerful entity, and the rather innocent (yet grouchy) developer in charge of this project had chosen to not just re-introduce the module, but to move it somewhere else (where presumable living nether-spirits would be less likely to go feeding).

Seven of us were gathered in the patch committee discussing how to handle this. The PM raised a question: “What happens if we import data from a non-ward protected source? WHAT WILL HAPPEN THEN?”

It seemed overly cautious but in retrospect we agreed that we would need to test the patch against an alternate-reality generator, mostly likely Amber 1 (swords and sorcery), Amber 2 (pre-industrial) and Amber 3 (spaceships). Our patch was going to need to be vested into a temporary human form to see if the armor it was wearing would enable it to manage each situation with just its wits and its armor. It seemed like overkill for testing a user registration email, but it’s a hungry multiverse out there and a girl wants to keep safe. Oddly, the developer seemed unaware that the little bit of him he’d put into making this creature would mean that he could possibly have his soul stolen every time the code was “invoked” – but I don’t want him to lose any sleep over it as it might result in him finding he personally was wearing the armor in Amber 1. With all of the time he’s spent in the Society for Creative Anachronism, I think he’ll actually pull through just fine.

So we had a meeting today to discuss a particularly poorly coded area of software. At some point I heard the word “insanity” so much that I realized we were actually participating in demon summoning in the Cthulu vein. Then the conversation started to make sense. How could we be doing this without being in properly build pentagrams, with silver sided magic circles? The drooling ur-beast we were attempting to kill by carefully refactoring the attributes code, did we really have any hope of conquering it? At one point a developer kept saying some nonsense syllables and I realized he was trying to say one of the names of the Old Ones that’s not pronounceable with a human tongue. The desperation of our team was clearly captured by such phrases as, “We need to have control over this stuff!” and “Things that were previously coping started dying.” I had wondered why we’d had such terrible attrition in the Sys Ops team. I thought it was because of our salary structure.

Eventually, the guy leading this effort said, “When are we just going to have a zero tolerance for this kind of shit?”

I said, “I’d be happy if we just had a zero tolerance for, say, fox shit. Then we could work our way down through the carnivores and maybe only have herbivore piles of shit.”

A second developer said, “Ah! If we were even able to say no to fox shit! That would be a happy day.”

We sacrificed a small cup of instant coffee, then escaped into the greater madness that lie beyond.