Good error messages

I recall our little team getting into trouble many moons ago. We were writing a creditor system, and one of the requirements was for comments to be attachable to individual invoice lines. In COBOL every data structure has to be predefined. One of us thought that surely, surely, 400 comment lines would be enough for any one invoice line. This turned out not to be the case.

We knew something was going down when we saw a conga line of angry ladies marching in to the manager’s cubicle. Words were exchanged. Then the conga line marched back to the accounts office. Then the manager requested our presence in the accounts office. And there on a screen was the error message that happened when one single invoice line accumulated 400 lines of comments and the user tried to add one more:

This is a creditor system, not a f***ing Leo Tolstoy novel

Minus the asterisks.

The flowers provided to all the accounts ladies probably wiped out most of the week’s profits. It was worth it watching the manager trying not to laugh though. And one young programmer learned important lessons about limits, error messages and customer relations.


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