The Old Guard (1)

Once upon a time there was a young programmer named Zeke. Zeke had grown up on large mainframes, the size of a dozen refrigerators sitting side by side, where every byte was chiseled carefully out of the finest magnetic ores by generations of wizened Bitmakers, strung lovingly in its memory frame, and polished and given regular checkups by men in spotless white coats. Zeke knew that if his programs wasted any bytes, that he would hear about it from the men in white, and that he would have betrayed the eternal and holy struggle of the Bitmakers to provide the best, most reliable memory that customer money could buy. Zeke strove for perfection, studying at the feet of masters.

Several decades went by. Zeke polished his technique, and his programs performed wonderous functions in their alloted space, no more, no less, more finely crafted than that of any other programmer in the skyscraper that Zeke worked in. From time to time there came rumors of a new generation, water-cooler talk of technologies where kilobytes didn’t really matter, where systems programmers lit their cigars with punch cards and burned communications bandwidth with wild abandon. Pretty much everyone in Zeke’s organization thought that these things were wrong or impossible, or that if they were possible, that they would be unreliable and that paying customers would never stand for it, or that the customers would be back, tails between their legs, begging for the comfort of the old, reliable systems.

Sales margins began to slip. Early on, making computers had been like printing money. But, slowly at first, and with quite reasonable explanations from the sales force each quarter, the amount of money from the installed base started to dwindle. Sales were harder to make, concessions to the customers were more significant, and the expense of keeping a skyscraper full of engineers maintaining thirty year old technology began to be more visibly a part of the costs dragging the company into oblivion.

One day Zeke came to work, and in the exact center of the blotter that lay in the exact center of Zeke’s immaculately clean desk, was an exactly typed pink slip with his name on it, and a large severance check.

Zeke packed his meager desk belongings into the company-provided box and went west.

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