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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The wild world of software

Warning, extreme geek content

I am finally emerging into the light after a long dark day in a very very long tunnel, navigating the lower depths of Microsoft Access 2002. I can’t tell you how frustrating the last couple of days have been. I know databases, and I know Visual Basic. But I don't know Access very well, and forward progress on my project for Bunnyfoot feels like tunneling through granite. I spent eight hours today trying to get one thing in a dialogue box to talk to another (for those who know Access - setting up a RecordSource on a SubForm).

I just couldn’t see the way to do it. It was one of those extremely maddening programming situations where you know the solution is elementary, but it sits on a very important borderline. On the one hand, it’s not so basic that a beginner’s book to Access will show you how to do it. And neither will the Access Help file. But at the same time it is too easy to be found as a solution that can be found by any kind of Google search or on any of the myriad of Access web forums.

And so you flounder, trying to work out the solution. A hint here, and a hint there slowly, slowly, slowly point you to the solution. You try to tailor your Google searches cleverly to no avail. You post on the busiest forum you can find, but watch in despair as the threads before and after yours get viewed more and replied to. You idly use the Intellisense in the hope that it will show you the trick you're missing.

Eventually you work it out,more by accident than design. And after all that time, it’s inevitable a one-liner, so basic you can’t believe you’ve lost two, three, four, even five hours, looking for it.

But, for all that lost time, you’ve acquired the knowledge, it won’t come back to bite you. And like getting over the crux in a climbing route, the rest of the work is plain sailing: tweaking buttons, adding meaningful messages and tidying the interface.

Before you know it, and after a long day, you’ve finished your project. The only dilemma now is: what do you invoice your client? Should he pay for your hourse of frustration, or has he employed you with the assumption that knowledge bottlenecks shouldn’t happen?

And in celebration, I give you my favourite Dilbert cartoon ever. I imagine your look of dismay as I tell you that I myself have done this victory dance many times.

Dilbery Victory Dance

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