Tales from the Trenches – A Comedy of An Error


My first assignment with a consulting organization. I was positioned as the Cognos “expert”. Circa 1999, that meant Impromptu, Powerplay.

Framework Manager, Report Studio and all the recent bells came a few years later.

The sales guy dropped by with a big smile. “I got a great assignment for you, at the Ohio State Hospital”.

“Wonderful”, I said, excited. “What would I be doing?”

Sales: “The manager wants you to work on a Cognos project. The tool is called Powerhouse, apparently. You will know it, you’re the expert.” (Slap on back).

Me (trying not to fall off my chair): “Never heard of it”.

Sales: “I brought you a manual!”

Me (thinking): Oh boy, what a pickle.

Powerhouse was originally designed for the HP3000 mini computer. It was created by Quasar Corp., later renamed to Cognos Inc., in 1983. It was a brilliant invention of its time, I’m sure.

There was one person who knew the tool at the hospital and he had quit abruptly. The manager desperately needed to retrieve the data and reports from this antique machine, with a tube monitor with a black window with a blinking white cursor.

I went in with trepidation. The language was elegant. The structure seemed hierarchical, like a mainframe database. First query the parent, then the child.

The coding was done in a day or two. The manager was frustrated. “I committed to two weeks!”

Out of sheer boredom, I documented the s&*t out of that code. I found a printed review from the manager, many years later, in a file. “I have never seen code this well documented.” Shows what you can do given the time.

I sat, utterly bored, for a couple more days. The hospital IT was in the basement, with barred windows towards the top. It was a prison-like experience.

Sales gave him and me a concession and ended this misery in a week. He was not happy.

Two weeks later, I was hired by Cognos and moved to Ottawa, Canada, not to work on Powerhouse, however.

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