Jul 082011

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Reading Cowboy Coding and the Pink Sombrero I’m reminded of the two occasions when I deserved that Pink Sombrero, or at least a sombrero. Since I’ll have done cowboy coding exactly twice before retiring, allow me to share the experience with you.

Bacardi mojito served in Bacardi branded glass.

Image via Wikipedia

This happened a handful of years ago. I was working for a prominent player in the electronic trading market. Our internal process dictated design review by an architect, code review by at least two developers, including one from a different team, commit, SCM build signed-off to QA, QA sign-off to Operations after testing, Ops performs pre-market testing with real currency before final deployment. Our customers are bankers and traders gambling millions on commodities around the globe, so there is a reason for such a strict process.

During a relaxed Sunday evening I got a call from Frankfurt Operations team. Something about the deployment tests failing. I was on standby for this deployment as a technical support for the Ops. The market opens Monday and there was a pre-market test that we couldn’t miss.

I’m in Yerevan. The developers responsible for the deployed component are in Mountain Time, in deep sleep. The European market-open time is in between. Immediately I was on my office workstation via remote desktop talking with a sleepy manager, VP of Software and a couple of guys from Ops. I started reading logs and code. I was promised at least one of the original coders to review my fix. After a marathon of about 7 hours we had a fix. The other guy reviewed it and, to my surprise, the VP of Software approved hotfixing my local build on the production farm.

Obviously this isn’t like a CSS fix on a live web-site. Leaving the code size and complexity aside, the module in question typically processes thousands of orders a day, each worth a few grands, some tens. Mistakes here cost a tad more than page views. Luckily, all went better then expected. The next day I went to the office and I felt like a walking million dollars. Where is that pink sombrero when you deserve it?

A couple of months went by, when again I got a similar call. This time some commodity price was missing or incorrect. The fix wasn’t very difficult. We had to find the correct price, write a small DB update script to patch the Price table and test. Only thing was that there wasn’t nearly as much time as last time. Specifically, the pre-market test had come to a close and we had to fix the issue before market-open and go live without testing.

Fortunately, I found the price of the commodity in question on a test server. Wrote the SQL to update the DB. Without blinking, I got green light to patch the production servers by the VP of Software. Still no sombrero! All went as planned, except, the price was wrong!

Early the next day at work I was already being asked by my manager and her supervisor about the fix. “Who approved it?!?” they asked impatiently and in the most irritating tone, before telling me how it blew up. Turns out the test server had old data. Everybody and their dog were in feisty mode.

And that was the last time I went cowboy coding, sans sombrero. Lesson learned, and I don’t care who approves cowboy coding… although I wish I had a Mojito while at it.

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