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Eric: Previously Untitled Home Run Snark™

Hone Run Comics

(From Home Run. Click on the thumbnail for full sized job security!)

In the day job, I work IT. And all too often I see exactly what today's Home Run is talking about.

It isn't necessarily code, of course. In an IT rich environment, it has to be something like code because there's a lot of other people involved who could probably parse it. But, in an environment with few IT people and lots of lay folks, you can just as easily make the network infrastructure so opaque only you know how it's interconnected. As an example.

There are contractors who adore this, it's worth noting.

Of course, the more annoyed someone becomes with you, the more worth their while it is to pitch the whole thing and start over. Since that has to happen every few years anyway, it's important to balance one's job security code/setup with incremental upgrades, so that the investment stays fresh and there's never enough money in the budget to tear the whole thing out of the wall and start from scratch.

Or so it seems to me. All my stuff is transparent as glass, under a policy I instituted myself at our school. That policy is affectionately known as "Bus Insurance." See, I'm convinced that the moment the entire institution rests upon one person's knowledge, that person will be hit by a bus and then we'll all die in fire.

Fire, I tells you!

As a side note, I really love the simple doodle style Lin's always brought to his comic. Lack of backs of skulls or not.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at January 24, 2006 11:22 AM


Comment from: Paul Southworth posted at January 24, 2006 11:31 AM

*cough* Stale Cookie-Cutter 1992 Dilbert Humor? *cough cough*

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 24, 2006 11:33 AM

The difference between this and dilbert, for my money, is the lack of pervasive cynicism, even discussing an innately cynical activity.

Comment from: Howard Tayler posted at January 24, 2006 11:48 AM

This gag fell completely flat for me, too. There was no twist. No INSIGHT. Anybody who's worked in IT knows what "job security code" is. Using that phrase as a punchline is the sort of thing an engineer will do when he THINKS he's being funny.

A true humorist would have twisted it somehow, so that there was a payoff beyond the obvious (to anybody who's been in IT) gag.

"But how can you tell it's job security code?"
"The only comments in it are requests for a raise."

"This sounds like a pretty shaky way to keep your job"
"Yeah, but this engineer also has some very compromising yearbook pictures of the boss."

While my examples may not be especially refined, I think they make the point: comparing job security code to unsubtle requests for a raise, or even to blackmail -- THAT's the sort of insight that a good humorist would have made.


Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at January 24, 2006 12:05 PM

A big chunk of my administrative duties are things that could, in theory, be automated. But they're not likely to be in the near (or far) future, and doing some of the things by hand can be daunting. When I eventually move on to a tenure track job somewhere, I expect I'll need to spend a month or so furiously documenting what worked and what didn't. :)

Comment from: sdf posted at January 24, 2006 12:15 PM

The art style is definitely nice, but as an attempt at humour the comic fails utterly. Yawn.

Comment from: Joshua Macy posted at January 24, 2006 12:33 PM

Yeah, for anyone who's worked in IT (or even read Dilbert, or User Friendly, or just about any tech oriented strip), Job Security Code is the setup for a joke, not the joke itself.

Comment from: hitch posted at January 24, 2006 12:36 PM

hm. for some reason I don't ever laugh hysterically at Homerun...but I like it. it's in my "trawl" and I enjoy it - (and I have the dubious distinction of being Lin's first fan-mail) - and there's something about the characters that's endearing. meh. I can't defend it, but I can say it's not worth trashing.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at January 24, 2006 12:39 PM

It's also worth noting that the problem with writing "job security" code is that it locks you into doing the dreaded "code maintenance," rather than code development; I've never met anyone who wants that (although I suppose you could argue that it beats unemployment).

In standard business terms, it's the equivalent of the old adage, "If you make yourself indispensable, you've made yourself unpromotable" (i.e., if no one else can do the critically important job that you do for your company, then it's pretty obvious that your company can never allow you to do anything else).

Comment from: Branitar posted at January 24, 2006 2:04 PM

Actually most of the time its not "job security" code but "i had to do it as quick and dirty as possible to get it work and i dont have time to do it right" code. So its not even the setup for a good joke...

Comment from: larksilver posted at January 24, 2006 3:52 PM

I've worked in IT, and I thought it was.. well, if not knock-you-down hilarious, chuckle-ish for sure. I've known the guys who do that stuff on purpose, of course. Often, they're the creepy-ish ones that you wish would go away already. They lack the people skills to win friends and influence people, are often too lazy to just do a good job, and so they resort to spending gigantic sums of time developing Job Security Code to make themselves feel indispensable.

Thing is, almost nobody's indispensable. Sure, sure, things might limp along, and it might cost the company money to hire someone to come clean up your mess if you get hit by a bus, but they would survive. That's the thing guys who do that stuff forget: if you become such a pain in the arse that it's worth the hassle to get rid of you, they'll take the heat.

Comment from: Andrew Lin posted at January 24, 2006 5:36 PM

This is the most feedback Ive gotten on Home Run to date. Its always interesting to compare what I think of a particular strip to what others think. Most educational.

Oh, and being referred to by surname? Weeeeeeiiiird.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at January 24, 2006 6:12 PM

Until you regularly get called by a number, you don't know the meaning of "weird" when it comes to appelations.

Comment from: cyco posted at January 24, 2006 7:12 PM

I think that this particular strip had potential, but the last panel fell completely flat for me. As previously stated, there is a need for some additional insight, not just further explaining of the joke.

Comment from: Nentuaby posted at January 24, 2006 7:42 PM

Heh, in my freshman year of college nearly every male in my dorm (20+) ended up being called by surname. It had to do with four guys named "Matt" and the domino effect.

Also, Eric:
My respect for you just jumped another notch or two. Real professionals live and breathe by "bus security."

Comment from: Chaomancer Omega posted at January 24, 2006 9:32 PM

Another programmer here. I am well familiar with "Job Security Code", having sometimes been assigned the task of defeating its purpose. I seem to have a knack for deciphering how code works without documentation, so my job has sometimes consisted of anything as small as fixing obscure bugs, to removing the mess left by a "Job Security" programmer, to on one occasion being assigned to reverse-engineer the main product of one of the company's partners, allegedly so that we could use it for in-house testing of our products that were to integrate with it.

That last, I have to say, bothered me, so I wasn't unhappy when it was sidelined for more urgent matters. That place was evil. And I am neither speaking in hyperbole nor metaphor; I literally mean that by my moral standards, the company I worked for at that time was evil. I won't name the company or exactly what it did (the first because even with the veneer of anonymity that can be hazardous; the second because it would take too long), but suffice to say that if you have ever become frustrated with marketing on the internet getting in the way of what you're looking for... chances are, this company was at least a contributing factor. I have never been happier to leave a job.

Anyway, I had a wry smile on my face when I read this strip, but I didn't laugh. As Howard Taylor says above, "Job Security Code" doesn't work for a punchline here. We were only given a definition... not a substantial joke. It can certainly work as the setup for a joke... but in this case there wasn't a significant payoff for me.

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at January 24, 2006 10:05 PM

I think the joke would work if I was first-level support and all convinced that User Friendly was making fresh observations.

But I'm *bitter*.

Comment from: Charles Duffy posted at January 24, 2006 10:46 PM

I'm just impressed to see someone drawing a comic who (1) has reasonably well-drawn art (the style's simple but effective and doesn't come off as crude as some other programmer-drawn comics I'm familiar with), *AND* (2) has technical clue.

Well, that or I like finding other people who see the value of Python.

This particular punchline, though, I agree falls flat.

Comment from: John Fiala posted at January 25, 2006 11:00 AM

Bah. You think Job Security code is difficult?

How about VB6 code written in French?

Comment from: DarkStar posted at January 25, 2006 11:30 AM

Ugh... We've been dealing with clearing out some stale stuff that was "Job Security" stuff. There were simply a LOT of processes that only he knew how to do. Then he left. We've been re-developing stuff, and it seems to have fallen on me to document a lot of the process stuff. I hate documenting things. And I'm bad at it. But I don't want to be hit by a bus, and then die in a fire.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at January 25, 2006 12:09 PM

Hey, John Fiala, if you can read the VB6, I can read the French.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at January 25, 2006 3:23 PM

Bah. You think Job Security code is difficult?

How about VB6 code written in French?

I once had to fully grok some actuarial and insurance software whose source was a large chunk of poorly formatted BASIC code in Finnish.

Actually, it wasn't that much different from BASIC code in English, or any other language; after all, Finnish for GOTO is, well, GOTO. It just gave a whole new spin to the standard Best Practices notion of "meaningful variable names." It was kind of cute (in a Gawd-do-I-have-a-migraine kind of way) to read page after page of things like

IF Tlusiopikka1 > 4 THEN GOTO Nikkpriinen ELSE GOTO Pri

For once, having the code be largely uncommented actually helped; instead of looking like a bunch of Finnish with a smattering of BASIC keywords, the source code listing looked like, well a bunch of BASIC with a smattering of barking psychosis.

Comment from: Flogger posted at January 25, 2006 4:05 PM

Fell flat for me. But I'm just as jaded as Wednesday. :)

Eric, have you had a chance to visit The PC Weenies? As an IT person, I think you may enjoy it.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at January 26, 2006 4:55 PM

Catching up on recent Snarks, I'm surprised no one took the "extra" panel from this strip and used it to "fix" the Penny Arcade strip.

(Sarcastic quotes added to confuse which one of those words I really mean.)

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