“So You’re The One!”

The software industry works best with a large number of buyers. Customer feedback and bug reports are a critical source of product improvement. But what happens when no customers call or write?

Long before I joined the software industry, someone had to design the software system that would keep us all employed for a number of decades. On an IBM mainframe, we ran COBOL, a legacy business programming language with roots in the 1960’s. Buying mainframe time was always hideously expensive.

That’s why Dave, our chief programmer and system architect, bought a COBOL emulator program on floppy disk that could be loaded onto an early Macintosh personal computer.

Using just his Mac, Dave was able to design and test large parts of our software system. It was as complicated as the New York City transit system. He’d then load that prototype code onto the IBM mainframe for rigorous system-level testing, which is what I did there.

Dave had a problem with his Macintosh COBOL program, so he called up the company that created it. “One moment,” they told him. They transferred him to Customer Service, where Dave told them what he needed to know. “One moment,” they said again, and he was put hold for about five minutes.

Finally, someone came onto the line, where Dave again explained the problem, and asked if they had a fix for it.

“So you’re the one!” the guy said. “What do you mean, ‘I’m the one?'” Dave asked.

“We only sold one copy of that program. We always wondered who bought it!”

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