To Boldly Ask IT for Development Work

Phil has always been mystified by the way that, in Science-Fiction films, the crew of space-ships are able to reprogram their ships' computers in order to respond to emergencies, needing no more than a brief klip...klop...klip on the keyboard to effect a huge software change. A life in IT has seemed so different, and so he wonders if there a more realistic way that one might imagine IT's contribution to Space adventures

The viewing screen burst into a frenzy of weird static,

When it happened, chill fear swept the control room of the Spaceship. The thunderous booms against the hull were the sound of the shields being subjected to an attack of unparalleled ferocity. The crew were thrown from side to side in their chairs. Briefly the lights went out, and then flickered back on as the emergency power supply sprung into life.

The viewing screen burst into a frenzy of weird static, suddenly replaced by the sight of a ghastly alien creature, resembling a giant cockroach. Briefly, there were whirs and ticks from the loudspeaker until the automated language translators kicked in.

“We of the Xunil civilization will prevail, and
crush all resistance!  Our space-fleet approaches!”


ldstr-ldloc-stloc-ldarg-cctor-ctor(Click) …vile and remorseless. So, pitiful specimens of a degenerate species, you dare to approach our galaxy. Your intrusion is beneath contempt, and you will be ruthlessly eliminated.”

“We come in peace! We seek only to promote understanding and harmony across the galaxy” intoned Admiral Clarke.

“Silence! Your impertinence will lead to your immediate destruction, you lamentable products of a degenerate species. We of the Xunil civilization will prevail, and crush all resistance! Our space-fleet approaches!”

The vile alien creature flexed his mandibles in rage.

“The ruthless swine: he’s armed with a Thesaurus and prepared to use it” muttered Dr Strabismus.

“I just canna doo it. any more powwr,
and the wee engines will bloo.”

“You know, it may be a good idea to get the hell out of here.” Admiral Clarke leaned over to talk to the chief engineer. “Scotty, how much power can we mobilise to put the main engines in full reverse-thrust?”

“Och noo, captn” came the crackly voice from the engine room, “I just canna doo it. any more powwr, and the wee engines will bloo.”

“We could, of course, reprogram the shield generators to give us the necessary reverse thrust” said Dr Strabismus.

“I was just wondering that myself,” replied Admiral Clarke blushing slightly, “but what do you mean by ‘reprogram'”

“We’ll have to get the IT department involved.”

For the second time in a day, a look of terror flickered across Admiral Clarke’s face.

“It’s either that or being eaten by a very angry giant insect”

“A surprisingly similar experience, in fact” sighed Admiral Clarke. “Ask Dan, the IT Man, to come to the control room”


A few minutes later, the door opened with the familiar ‘Fssshhhwhefffft’ sound. Dan the IT Man entered the control room looking important.

“Dan. We need you to reprogram the force…er…thrust things.”

“The shield generators, Admiral” corrected the doctor.

“Dan. We need you to reprogram the
force…er…thrust things.”

“I don’t think that’s quite the request you intended to make, Admiral” replied Dan firmly, “If you can couch the request in business terms, justifying the required resources, we can come back to you and respond with a technical proposal to meet the business need. We can certainly discuss timescales and priorities, bearing in mind that we are currently focussed on our 50-day maintenance window. If you consider it an urgent change, you can add it into our change-control system and we can append it to our list of ongoing projects. However, it would help if you would indicate priorities so that next month we can plan the work for the developers.”

Dr Strabismus made a ‘Fssshhhwhefffft’ sound, remarkably like the door. Dan gave an ingratiating smile before continuing, “Of course, we’ll need a paper that outlines the business benefits so that we can then get management-signoff for the work to be done, and perform the appropriate benchmarks”

“Dan, we are about to be attacked by psychopathic creatures that look remarkably like giant cockroaches. Isn’t there some quick hack you can make to the code that runs the shield generators that will allow us to apply a reverse thrust to supplement the power of Scottie’s engines?”

“We could always form an Agile Scrum and rely on test-driven development techniques to reduce the lead-time but we run great risks if we depart from our usual commitment of high standards of resilience and three-nines downtime. That,” he drew himself up to his full height and looked severely at the Admiral, “That is surely something that you would never wish to countenance”

” Dan… they are rumoured to paralyse their victims, and lay eggs in them to provide fresh meat throughout the larval stage. They larvae then hatch messily and dramatically”

Dan was impassive. Then a placating look flashed across his face. “Look, the best I can do for you is to use the current maintenance window to provide an interim solution to your current ‘issues’. As you are aware, there are already numerous ‘overdue’ bugs reported with regard to the generator units. I think the best way forward, vis-à-vis your ad-hoc request for extra development resources, is to add “lack of reverse thrust” to this list of bugs and then go through them and appraise and refine our understanding of their precedence, reprioritizing the most urgent as ‘requested features’. Of course, we must also bear in mind all budgetary implications and ensure that all health and safety issues are appropriately considered …””.

Admiral Clarke stared quizzically at Dr Strabismus. “I got a bit lost in this speech. Did he say no or yes?”

“I think he is managing our expectations, Admiral.”

“This is going to be a long day”.



The vile space-creature clanked awkwardly into the control room inside its space-suit, from which wires and tubes protruded, dribbling a disgusting green gas. “Ah-ha!” it cried, seeing Admiral Clarke hiding behind his rather grand seat, “you have evaded me for the last time, Admiral!”

Behind him, a group of Xunil cockroaches trooped into the room.

Xunil Ruler: Xunils, annihilate these pathetic examples of an endoskeletal life-form! Exterminate! Conquer! Destroy! ‘

All Xunils: [in unison] ‘Xunils conquer and destroy! Xunils conquer and destroy! Xunils conquer and destroy! Xunils Co……’

Xunil Sidekick: Exterminate!

All Xunils: [in unison] Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!

Xunil Ruler: (interrupting) OK, OK, enough of that. What are we? Daleks? Take up positions, ready to eradicate all human beings.

Xunil Sidekick: Obey, or you shall be extermin…eradicated!!.

Admiral Clarke: What do we do now, Doctor?

Dr Strabismus: (quickly glancing up at the open door) This way!

“The pathetic carbon-based life-forms
will die immediately”

Door: [the Doctor, Admiral Clarke, and the rest of the cabin crew rush through the door. The Xunils watch intently as the humans leave] Fssshhhwhefffft

Xunil Ruler: “Ha! Their lamentable attempts at evading capture are utterly derisory! We have these pathetic creatures at our mercy. Their fate will be swift. Xunils, commence the eradication procedure!

Xunil Sidekick: Erm….what does that entail, exactly?

Xunil Ruler: Fool! We will merely need to reprogram the crude and ridiculous space vessel to use a chlorine-based atmosphere so we can discard our space suits. The pathetic carbon-based life-forms will die immediately. Send for the effete spokeshuman of their decadent IT department!

All Xunils: [in unison] Send for Dan! Send for Dan! Exterminate! Exterminate!


‘Fssshhhwhefffft’. Dan walked briskly, through the door, into the control room holding a file and looking important.

“So, impudent spokeshuman of a…”

“Despicable?” prompted the Xunil sidekick

“…yes, yes, a despicable and impudent IT department. I need your discreditable and impotent skills in reprogramming the space ship to use a chlorine atmosphere.”

Dan opened his file and glanced at the schedule. “Of course, we are sensitive to the imperatives of the current business re-engineering pressures, and will give a measured and sustainable response just as soon as the current backlog of work can be cleared.”

“Impertinent specimen of a degraded life-form! I just need a quick change to the current air-recycling system to make it use Chlorine instead of Oxygen! It is something that any of my Xunil IT team could do in minutes, if only they could read your piffling documentation and understand your pathetic IT architecture.”

“Yes, but unfortunately, our dedicated air-recycling unit response team are all currently working on some reliability issues with our transporters. I’m afraid there is little hope of any sort of reassignment of priorities”

“So you refuse to do my bidding, impudent life-form?” A stream of hot chlorine gas burst from a tube on his space-suit.

“We have a number of policies that have been put in place with clearly defined targets. The definition of policies and targets represent a key element in our management approach to ‘customer’ focus. We are responsive to your changing business requirements, within the context of these policies and the constraints of our existing workload”, replied Dan with only a momentary loss of composure.

“Enough! Silence. Tahter, take this impudent human back to our ship and perform the customary business with the anal probes.”

“Sure, Boss. I’ve forgotten though, stupendous master, why we do all that stuff with anal probes whenever we come across a human?”

“The great God Sdlavrot created all sentient things with a button that you press to revert the system software to its factory settings. It is usually down a hole somewhere. Now, enough idle chat, we shall get our own heroic and accomplished developers from our glorious mother-ship to spend their weekend making the necessary change to the software. It can’t be too hard. Then we can destroy the crew of this ship

Xunil Sidekick: Exterminate!

All Xunils: [in unison] Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!


The two insect-like forms hunched over the terminal in their alien space suits. “Who, in the name of the great God Sdlavrot , wrote this software? How primitive their thought-processes are.”

“I expect that they still peel their own potatoes, boil them for 20 of their minutes, then smash them to bits” The aliens collapsed into helpless laughter.

“Look, it is all table-driven. You just load the proportion of all the gases in the atmosphere that you want. You then execute that stored procedure and the software does the rest. Easy. What a fuss that those human-female blouses were making about such a simple change.”

“Shouldn’t we set up some sort of test-harness?”

“Test? Nah! Do creatures like us with our superior brainpower make simple mistakes? What could go wrong?”

“Well”, answered the other Xunil software developer as he scanned the contents of the table “There are some pretty toxic gasses here. If we accidentally used Helium instead of chlorine, it would rot the plastic fibers of our space-suit almost instantly, and leave us to fry in that corrosive oxygen-nitrogen mix that these humans seem to thrive on. Still, the chances of that happening appear to be slim”

“And when we’re being threatened by Tahter with instant disemboweling if we don’t meet the deadline, where better to make savings than in the Test Cycle? Who’ll notice?”


Deep in the darkness of a hiding-place in the ship’s hold, Admiral Clarke, Dr Strabismus and the rest of the crew lay waiting. “I don’t like it, there were some blood-curdling screams and then the whole ship went quiet. They’re up to something dastardly, I fear.”

There was an embarrassed silence as the crew stared at Admiral Clarke, whose voice had come out as a high-pitched squeak.

“That’s a neat trick; where did you learn how to speak like Pinky and Perky? Or is it Donald Duck?”

“Helium” said Dr Strabismus tensely, “The cunning bastards have put Helium into the ship’s air supply.”