Hitchhiking Through the Virtual Universe

Tread carefully through the maze of bugs, fixes, patches, and upgrades.

September 23, 2012

Next month, fans of author Douglas Adams will celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the first release of his classic, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

If you’ve read the book, seen the movie, or watched the old Public Broadcasting System TV series, the rest of this column will make a lot of sense. If not…well, it might still resonate.

In the spirit of “Hitchhiker,” I present credit unions with their own encyclopedia in the same genre, which I must say is much more interesting than any of our “official” tomes:

Core system: Technically, a computerized system used by credit unions to process transactions against individual accounts. Historically, it was invented by a lonely MIT programmer in 1969 who was dared—during a drinking binge—to come up with “the most inefficient method to add two numbers together.”

Years later, this resulted in the first 10 million-line calculator, or as it’s better known: “Core System 1.0.” (The same bet heralded some other famous pieces of crud, including every version of Microsoft Windows.)

Bugs: Errors in coding affectionately referred to as “undocumented features.”

Bug fixes: Errors in coding, now resolved, affectionately referred to as “chargeable enhancements.”

Patch: A series of programs designed to introduce bugs into a working system.

User: The being whose purpose is to find all the bugs the programmers left in the system.

Programmer: The being whose purpose is to keep users entertained.

Administrator: The person whose purpose is, honest to goodness, completely unknown.

Implementation project: A process by which a new core system is turned on—much to the terror of those who use it, and to the absolute terror of those who install­ed it.

Implementation milestones: Key events in the timeline of an implementation project, often described as “equivalent to riding a pogo stick through a minefield.”

Turn-up date: The date the system is turned on; sometimes referred to as “TEOLTUAE,” or “The end of life, the universe, and everything.”

Demo: A process by which a core system vendor shows something almost, but not quite, totally unlike what they’ll deliver.

Testing: A theoretical process by which a program is verified, by observing when certain input occurs if a certain expected outcome follows. It’s theoretical because in the history of core systems this has never happened.

Integration: Connecting two systems together in a manner that leads them to marry, bicker, and eventually divorce in a dysfunctional manner.

Legacy system: An older core system that, through the passing of its original creators, has eliminated all inefficiencies and bugs inherent in it. Legacy systems are therefore despised by newer systems—in the same way old bitter divorcees hate their young 22-year-old replacements.

Conversion: The process of converting information from a defunct legacy system to a new, soon-to-be-defunct legacy system.

Upgrade: Originally referred to as a “downgrade,” the term was changed in 1965 by marketing departments because of negative consumer reaction. The term now refers to the process of installing new software—leading to increasing problems, decreasing efficiencies, and increased mortality among credit union information technology personnel.

Training: A fictional panacea that makes all problems vanish like money from a teenager. Its absence can be used by staff to explain their way out of any error.

42: Not only the answer to life, the universe, and everything else, but also the number of years one will age after going through a core conversion. (Confused? Read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”)

Good luck!

JAMES COLLINS is president/CEO of O Bee CU, Tumwater, Wash. Contact him at 360-943-0740.