Confessions of IT workaholics: All work is hazardous to health and home life

IT professionals who describe themselves as workaholics often share these characteristics:
  • Typical workday: 15 hours
  • Marital status: Divorced, marriage in jeopardy, or unattached
  • Friends/hobbies: None
  • Holidays/weekends: Used as opportunities for working additional hours
  • Vacations: Taken once in three years with a pager and laptop
  • Eating habits: Meals are skipped or eaten next to a keyboard.
  • Sleep: "All-nighters" occur frequently.
Nearly 100 TechRepublic members have written us to explain how working excessive hours has damaged their health and their personal lives. Many of the "workaholics" admit that they voluntarily work too much because they either feel responsible or they are hoping the extra hours will result in career advancement. Roughly an equal number of members told us they work too much because their employers require an unreasonable workload.
Here are some of the e-mails we received after inviting members to share their stories in a recent article, "What have you sacrificed for your job?"

Humor helps some workaholics cope
The e-mails we received expressed a wide range of emotion—some people were bitter, others were depressed, and a few were sarcastic. Usually, IT pros who described a past situation reminisced with at least some humor.
  • Larry G. Weismantel, an analyst/designer in Waverly, IA, said he shaved his head and grew a beard so that it would only take 10 minutes for him to get ready for work in the morning.
  • Carla Field, an MIS manager in Longmont, CO, said while working for a former employer, she slept in her car and in her office.
  • Charley McGee, an IT specialist with Payment Online, Inc., in Seattle, said when he works all night, he takes a shower at the health club across the street from his office so that he doesn't have to go home.
"Sometimes the security guards look at me funny," McGee wrote.

When overworking leads to a tragic loss

Several letters we received were heartbreaking. Stuart Peacock of Essex, Great Britain, said a former coworker of his worked an entire weekend without sleep to complete a project. While driving home, he fell asleep at the wheel, his car hit a tree, and he was killed.

"The company, I have to say, acted admirably as a consequence. It issued a policy stating that the culture had compelled this person to do what he did...and that no one should feel any pressure to work like this in the future," wrote Peacock.

Robert Barbere
, team leader for Web development, was one of several IT pros who said their demanding job had cost them their marriage:

"After working 65 to 80 hours continually for more than nine wife finally decided to call it quits on our marriage. She said because I am at work so much, she felt like a single mom of two kids...I miss her."

Sam Deakins, Information Systems team leader, was working around the clock to complete the merging of two ERP systems when he learned that his father was gravely ill. Deakins expressed remorse when he wrote that he continued working through a critical phase of the project and even missed his father's funeral.

Missing out on the good times
Sgtski123 works two jobs and hasn't had a vacation in five years. Holidays, weekends, vacations, children's birthday parties—none of these events is immune to the intrusion from work when you are an IT pro who is a workaholic.

Here are a few other examples that typify the letters we received.

Brian O'Connor, mid range systems manager, kept working even while his wife was giving birth to their first child:

"At one point I was kneeling in front of the chair she was on, left hand holding hers, giving encouragement...unfortunately, my right hand was replying to some e-mail from work!!" wrote O'Connor.

Steve missed his honeymoon:

"On our wedding night one of the UPS systems crashed, and moments later the power went out...My wife went to the Bahamas with Amy, her best friend. They had a blast, and I waded through honeymoon pictures of my wife and Amy in our photo album," wrote Steve.

Steve's marriage ended with an amicable divorce, but he said he doesn't have much time to see his ex-wife.

Richard Lawless
is chief technology officer of Vastech Inc., a think tank in the Midwest. He feels compelled to work because he's a founding officer in the corporation.

"I missed my daughter's birthday in August because I had to work here...Then I missed trick-or-treating in October and had promised to take my son and daughter around the neighborhood, but alas—had to work," wrote Lawless.

Sleep and sickness are not in the schedule
Many IT pros told us that they often pull "all-nighters," or they routinely sleep only a few hours each night. Among the horror stories that are typical:
  • Paul Taube, of Dallas, said he's been working 100 hours a week and sleeps just four hours a night to keep a project on track.
  • Mike Hammontre, an engineer with Qwest Information Technology in Denver, once worked for three days without sleep.
Illness doesn't slow down workaholics either. Several IT pros told us they worked despite serious illnesses. The most dramatic example was from Alex Carson. He worked while he was in the hospital recovering from a liver transplant.

"I was on the phone to the office helping someone with a printing problem. While I was recovering at home for the next 10 weeks, I made similar calls to the office," said Carson.

Enough is enough
What is especially aggravating to many IT pros is that their employers often expect them to make tremendous personal sacrifices and then often don't reward them for what they've done.

IT pros might be especially prone to this problem if they are the only person in the IT department or if their department consists of just a few people. If there is a crisis that involves the entire company or several departments, all employees might be asked to pitch in. But as an IT worker, your dedication may go unappreciated if you are the only person who spent the night on the floor over the weekend.

"I thought I was giving myself an edge in the office, but I realize now I was just making myself into a doormat," wrote a 37-year-old woman who now works as a computer lab consultant.

Yet in some cases, getting burned by an uncaring employer or making an outrageous personal sacrifice has helped reform IT professionals who work too much. Just like an alcoholic who needs to reach rock bottom before asking for help, some workaholics say they realigned their priorities only after a shocking experience.

"I have often wondered what it is that drives IT professionals to have a nonstop attitude...My marriage was nearly the cost [that I paid]. I had to seriously stop and evaluate what was important in my life—my marriage or my job...I'm not working at [my former employer] anymore," wrote Rob McDowell.

Most of the people who are included in this report have told us that they have taken new, less-demanding jobs because they wanted a personal life. But not everyone shared that sentiment. Remember Alex Carson who worked from the hospital after receiving a new liver? He said he hurried back to the office within just two months of his transplant.

"I couldn't stand not being if they couldn't exist without me," Carson wrote.

Monday, 10 AM -- Chicago, Illinois -- Start-up software developer Cuisine International announced CUISINENET, the first working program to seamlessly integrate word and food processing. Called a breakthrough for small restaurants and snack bars, Cuisine Chairman Mark Meigs confidently predicted sales of thousands of copies with shipments soon to begin.

Monday, 4 PM -- New York -- Cuisine International shares closed sharply higher on announcement of new CUISINENET product.

Tuesday, 9 AM -- Redmond, Washington -- Microsoft Chairman William H. Gates, III announced that Microsoft Food for Windows would soon enter beta testing. Gates described the product as the first of a projected family of products to include Food for Windows, designed for small commercial dining establishments; Personal Food for Windows, designed for home kitchens; Portable Food for Windows, designed for lunchboxes; and, of course, at the high end, Food for Windows NC (Nouvelle Cuisine) designed for large institutional dining rooms.

Asked by a reporter about CUISINENET, Gates said that he had never heard of the product, but was not surprised by it, because the software business is highly competitive, and Microsoft has to compete on the basis of merit with many strong competitors, as the FTC had recently concluded.

Tuesday, 3 PM -- Chicago, Illinois -- An angry Mark Meigs showed reporters a copy of the nondisclosure agreement signed by Bill Gates, under which Cuisine International had informed Microsoft a year earlier about plans for CUISINENET. Meigs said that in hindsight, he should never have signed the agreement, as the only thing he learned from Microsoft was that Gates was considering making changes to Windows.

Wednesday, 9 AM -- Redmond, Washington -- Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced that Microsoft would soon publish specifications for the Windows Open Kitchen Architecture (WOKA), a series of design specifications to permit manufacturers of toasters, ranges, and other kitchen appliances to integrate their products into the forthcoming Microsoft Food for Windows line.

Asked about reports of a nondisclosure agreement with Cuisine International for a similar product, Gates said that the other product was really at most a niche product, and would probably have less functionality than the food-related features that Microsoft would be building into the new Unsaturated FAT File System which would be part of DOS 7.0. Gates said that he doubted there would be much interest in a dead-end solution that would not be able to keep up to date with advances in WOKA.

Gates added that over 11,000 manufacturers of kitchen appliances were already having serious discussions with Microsoft about WOKA, and that he expected almost all important eaters of food to standardize on the WOKA environment.

Wednesday, 10 AM -- Redmond, Washington -- Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced that he would be giving the keynote speech at the American Bakers annual convention on "Nutrition at Your Fingertips." Gates played down speculation that he would use the Bakers convention to introduce Microsoft Food for Windows, saying only that alpha testing was proceeding ahead of schedule, and the product would be shipped when it was ready.

Wednesday, 11 AM -- Redmond, Washington -- Microsoft Corporation announced that its Chairman, William H. Gates, III, had made a donation of over $250,000 of personal funds to the Cordon Bleu to begin an endowment fund for the Bill Gates Professorship of Advanced Cookery. The famous French cooking school confirmed that it had agreed to be a beta site for the much discussed Food for Windows application sweet.

Thursday, 9 AM -- New York -- PCWeek Magazine reported in a copyrighted story that it had obtained a copy of correspondence from Microsoft to Cuisine International, demanding that the small developer of kitchen software cease using the Cuisine name, as it infringes on the trademark for Microsoft Food for Windows NC. Microsoft added that Chairman Mark Meigs would also have to change his own name as Mark infringed a copyright on the Windows Edit menu, Meigs infringed the trademark on Meigs Field in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Chairman infringed the trademark on Bill Gates's title which he had acquired with personal funds from Mao's estate. Also, Microsoft advised that while the company did not actually have to move out of Chicago, use of the name on press releases infringed a trademark on Windows 4.0.

Thursday, 4 PM
-- New York -- Cuisine International stock closed at 0-bid, 1/16-asked.

Friday, 9 AM -- ? -- An anonymous spokesman for an unnamed Midwestern software developer announced the discontinuation of operations. Undescribed legal problems were cited as the reason. Others speculated that a failure to appreciate the competitive nature of the software business may have led to the company's sudden collapse.

Monday, 9 AM -- Microsoft Internal Mail
From: billg
To: mikem
Re: Food Program
Please see if you can reassign one of the 3,000 engineers from the OS/2 virus development project to do a feasibility study on a food-related program. Not sure what it would do. Low priority.

Tao of Programming
by Geoffrey James

Book 1: The Silent Void

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"When you have learned to snatch the error code from the trap frame, it will be time for you to leave."


Something mysterious is formed, born in the silent void. Waiting alone and unmoving, it is at once still and yet in constant motion. It is the source of all programs. I do not know its name, so I will call it the Tao of Programming.

If the Tao is great, then the operating system is great.
If the operating system is great, then the compiler is great.
If the compiler is great, then the application is great.
The user is pleased, and there is harmony in the world.

The Tao of Programming flows far away and returns on the wind of morning.


The Tao gave birth to machine language. Machine language gave birth to the assembler.

The assembler gave birth to the compiler. Now there are ten thousand languages.

Each language has its purpose, however humble. Each language expresses the Yin and Yang of software. Each language has its place within the Tao.

But do not program in COBOL if you can avoid it.


In the beginning was the Tao. The Tao gave birth to Space and Time. Therefore Space and Time are the Yin and Yang of programming.

Programmers that do not comprehend the Tao are always running out of time and space for their programs. Programmers that comprehend the Tao always have enough time and space to accomplish their goals.

How could it be otherwise?


The wise programmer is told about Tao and follows it. The average programmer is told about Tao and searches for it. The foolish programmer is told about Tao and laughs at it.

If it were not for laughter, there would be no Tao.

The highest sounds are hardest to hear. Going forward is a way to retreat. Great talent shows itself late in life. Even a perfect program still has bugs.

Book 2: The Ancient Masters

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"After three days without programming, life becomes meaningless."


The programmers of old were mysterious and profound. We cannot fathom their thoughts, so all we do is describe their appearance.

Aware, like a fox crossing the water.
Alert, like a general on the battlefield.
Kind, like a hostess greeting her guests.
Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood.
Opaque, like black pools in darkened caves.

Who can tell the secrets of their hearts and minds?

The answer exists only in Tao.


The Grand Master Turing once dreamed that he was a machine.

When he awoke, he exclaimed:

"I don't know whether I am Turing dreaming that I am a machine, or a machine dreaming that I am Turing!"


A programmer from a very large computer company went to a software conference and then returned to report to his manager, saying:

"What sort of programmers work for other companies? They behaved badly and were unconcerned with appearances. Their hair was long and unkempt and their clothes were wrinkled and old. They crashed our hospitality suite and they made rude noises during my presentation."

The manager said:

"I should have never sent you to the conference. Those programmers live beyond the physical world. They consider life absurd, an accidental coincidence. They come and go without knowing limitations. Without a care, they live only for their programs. Why should they bother with social conventions? They are alive within the Tao."


A novice asked the Master:

"Here is a programmer that never designs, documents or tests his programs. Yet all who know him consider him one of the best programmers in the world. Why is this?"

The Master replied:

"That programmer has mastered the Tao. He has gone beyond the need for design; he does not become angry when the system crashes, but accepts the universe without concern. He has gone beyond the need for documentation; he no longer cares if anyone else sees his code. He has gone beyond the need for testing; each of his programs are perfect within themselves, serene and elegant, their purpose self-evident. Truly, he has entered the mystery of Tao."

Book 3: Design

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes."


There once was a man who went to a computer trade show. Each day as he entered, the man told the guard at the door:

"I am a great thief, renowned for my feats of shoplifting. Be forewarned, for this trade show shall not escape unplundered."

This speech disturbed the guard greatly, because there were millions of dollars of computer equipment inside, so he watched the man carefully. But the man merely wandered from booth to booth, humming quietly to himself.

When the man left, the guard took him aside and searched his clothes, but nothing was to be found.

On the next day of the trade show, the man returned and chided the guard, saying: "I escaped with a vast booty yesterday, but today will be even better." So the guard watched him ever more closely, but to no avail.

On the final day of the trade show, the guard could restrain his curiosity no longer.

"Sir Thief," he said, "I am so perplexed, I cannot live in peace. Please enlighten me. What is it that you are stealing?"

The man smiled. "I am stealing ideas," he said.


There once was a Master Programmer who wrote unstructured programs.

A novice programmer, seeking to imitate him, also began to write unstructured programs.

When the novice asked the Master to evaluate his progress, the Master criticized him for writing unstructured programs, saying, "What is appropriate for the Master is not appropriate for the novice. You must understand Tao before transcending structure."


There was once a programmer who was attached to the court of the warlord of Wu.

The warlord asked the programmer: "Which is easier to design: an accounting package or an operating system?"

"An operating system," replied the programmer.

The warlord uttered an exclamation of disbelief. "Surely an accounting package is trivial next to the complexity of an operating system," he said.

"Not so," said the programmer, "When designing an accounting package, the programmer operates as a mediator between people having different ideas: how it must operate, how its reports must appear, and how it must conform to the tax laws. By contrast, an operating system is not limited by outside appearances. When designing an operating system, the programmer seeks the simplest harmony between machine and ideas. This is why an operating system is easier to design."

The warlord of Wu nodded and smiled. "That is all good and well, but which is easier to debug?"

The programmer made no reply.


A manager went to the Master Programmer and showed him the requirements document for a new application.

The manager asked the Master:

"How long will it take to design this system if I assign five programmers to it?"

"It will take one year," said the Master promptly.

"But we need this system immediately or even sooner! How long will it take if I assign ten programmers to it?"

The Master Programmer frowned. "In that case, it will take two years."

"And what if I assign a hundred programmers to it?"

The Master Programmer shrugged. "Then the design will never be completed," he said.

Book 4: Coding

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"A well-written program is its own Heaven; a poorly-written program is its own Hell."


A program should be light and agile, its subroutines connected like a string of pearls. The spirit and intent of the program should be retained throughout. There should be neither too little nor too much. Neither needless loops nor useless variables; neither lack of structure nor overwhelming rigidity.

A program should follow the "Law of Least Astonishment".

What is this law? It is simply that the program should always respond to the users in the way that least astonishes them.

A program, no matter how complex, should act as a single unit. The program should be directed by the logic within rather than by outward appearances.

If the program fails in these requirements, it will be in a state of disorder and confusion. The only way to correct this is to rewrite the program.


A novice asked the Master:

"I have a program that sometimes runs and sometimes aborts. I have followed the rules of programming, yet I am totally baffled. What is the reason for this?"

The Master replied:

"You are confused because you do not understand Tao. Only a fool expects rational behavior from his fellow humans. Why do you expect it from a machine that humans have constructed? Computers simulate determinism; only Tao is perfect.

The rules of programming are transitory; only Tao is eternal. Therefore, you must contemplate Tao before you receive Enlightenment."

"But how will I know when I have received Enlightenment?" asked the novice.

"Your program will run correctly," replied the Master.


The Master was explaining the nature of Tao to one of his novices.

"The Tao is embodied in all software -- regardless of how insignificant," said the Master.

"Is the Tao in a hand-held calculator?" asked the novice.

"It is," came the reply.

"Is the Tao in a video game?" asked the novice.

"It is even in a video game," said the Master.

"Is the Tao in the DOS for a personal computer?" asked the novice.

The Master coughed and shifted his position slightly. "The lesson is over for today," he said.


Prince Wang's programmer was coding software. His fingers danced upon the keyboard. The program compiled without an error message and ran like a gentle wind.

"Excellent!" the Prince exclaimed. "Your technique is faultless!"

"Technique?" said the programmer, turning from his terminal, "What I follow is Tao -- beyond all techniques! When I first began to program, I would see before me the whole problem in one mass. After three years, I no longer saw this mass. Instead, I used subroutines. But now I see nothing. My whole being exists in a formless void. My senses are idle. My spirit, free to work without a plan, follows its own instinct. In short, my program writes itself. True, sometimes there are difficult problems. I see them coming, I slow down, I watch silently. Then I change a single line of code and the difficulties vanish like puffs of idle smoke. I then compile the program. I sit still and let the joy of the work fill my being. I close my eyes for a moment and then log off."

Prince Wang said, "Would that all of my programmers were as wise!"

Book 5: Maintenance

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"Though a program be but three lines long, someday it will have to be maintained."


A well-used door needs no oil on its hinges.
A swift-flowing stream does not grow stagnant.
A deer blends perfectly into the forest colors.
Software rots if not used.

These are great mysteries.


A manager asked a programmer how long it would take him to finish the program on which he was working. "I will be finished tomorrow," the programmer promptly replied.

"I think you are being unrealistic," said the manager, "Truthfully, how long will it take?"

The programmer thought for a moment. "I have some features that I wish to add. This will take at least two weeks," he finally said.

"Even that is too much to expect," insisted the manager, "I will be satisfied if you simply tell me when the program is complete."

The programmer agreed to this.

Several years later, the manager retired. On the way to his retirement luncheon, he discovered the programmer asleep at his terminal. He had been programming all night.


A novice programmer was once assigned to code a simple financial package.

The novice worked furiously for many days, but when his Master reviewed his program, he discovered it contained a screen editor, a set of generalized graphics routines, and an artificial intelligence interface, but not the slightest hint of anything financial.

When the Master asked about this, the novice became indignant. "Don't be so impatient," he said, "I'll put in the financial stuff eventually."


Does a good farmer neglect a crop he has planted?
Does a good teacher overlook even the most humble student?
Does a good father allow a single child to starve?
Does a good programmer refuse to maintain his code?

Book 6: Management

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"Let the programmers be many and the managers few -- then all will be productive."


When managers hold endless meetings, the programmers write games. When accountants speak of quarterly profits, the development budget is about to be cut. When senior scientists talk blue sky, the clouds are about to roll in.

Truly, this is not the Tao of Programming.

When managers make commitments, game programs are ignored. When accountants make long-range plans, harmony and order are about to be restored. When senior scientists address the problems at hand, the problems will soon be solved.

Truly, this is the Tao of Programming.


Why are programmers non-productive? Because their time is wasted in meetings.

Why are programmers rebellious? Because the management interferes too much.

Why are the programmers resigning one by one? Because they are burnt out.

Having worked for poor management, they no longer value their jobs.


A manager was about to be fired, but a programmer who worked for him wrote a new program that became popular and sold well. As a result, the manager retained his job.

The manager tried to give the programmer a bonus, but the programmer refused it, saying, "I wrote the program because I thought it was an interesting concept, and thus I expect no reward."

The manager upon hearing this remarked, "This programmer, though he holds a position of small esteem, understands well the proper duty of an employee. Let us promote him to the exalted position of management consultant!"

But when told this, the programmer once more refused, saying, "I exist so that I can program. If I were promoted, I would do nothing but waste everyone's time. Can I go now? I have a program that I am working on."


A manager went to his programmers and told them: "As regards to your work hours: you are going to have to come in at nine in the morning and leave at five in the afternoon."

At this, all of them became angry and several resigned on the spot.

So the manager said: "All right, in that case you may set your own working hours, as long as you finish your projects on schedule."

The programmers, now satisfied, began to come in at noon and work to the wee hours of the morning.

Book 7: Corporate Wisdom

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"You can demonstrate a program for a corporate executive, but you can't make him computer literate."


A novice asked the Master:

"In the East, there is a great tree-structure that men call 'Corporate Headquarters'. It is bloated out of shape with vice presidents and accountants. It issues a multitude of memos, each saying 'Go Hence!' or 'Go Hither!' and nobody knows what is meant. Every year new names are put onto the branches, but all to no avail. How can such an unnatural entity exist?"

The Master replied:

"You perceive this immense structure and are disturbed that it has no rational purpose. Can you not take amusement from its endless gyrations? Do you not enjoy the untroubled ease of programming beneath its sheltering branches? Why are you bothered by its uselessness?"


In the East there is a shark which is larger than all other fish. It changes into a bird whose wings are like clouds filling the sky. When this bird moves across the land, it brings a message from Corporate Headquarters. This message it drops into the midst of the programmers, like a seagull making its mark upon the beach. Then the bird mounts on the wind and, with the blue sky at its back, returns home.

The novice programmer stares in wonder at the bird, for he understands it not. The average programmer dreads the coming of the bird, for he fears its message. The Master Programmer continues to work at his terminal, unaware that the bird has come and gone.


The Magician of the Ivory Tower brought his latest invention for the Master Programmer to examine. The Magician wheeled a large black box into the Master's office while the Master waited in silence.

"This is an integrated, distributed, general-purpose workstation," began the Magician, "ergonomically designed with a proprietary operating system, sixth generation languages, and multiple state of the art user interfaces. It took my assistants several hundred man years to construct. Is it not amazing?"

The Master Programmer raised his eyebrows slightly. "It is indeed amazing," he said.

"Corporate Headquarters has commanded," continued the Magician, "that everyone use this workstation as a platform for new programs. Do you agree to this?"

"Certainly," replied the Master. "I will have it transported to the Data Center immediately!" And the Magician returned to his tower, well pleased.

Several days later, a novice wandered into the office of the Master Programmer and said, "I cannot find the listing for my new program. Do you know where it might be?"

"Yes," replied the Master, "the listings are stacked on the platform in the Data Center."


The Master Programmer moves from program to program without fear. No change in management can harm him. He will not be fired, even if the project is cancelled. Why is this? He is filled with Tao.

Book 8: Hardware and Software

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"Without the wind, the grass does not move. Without software hardware is useless."


A novice asked the Master:

"I perceive that one computer company is much larger than all others. It towers above its competition like a giant among dwarfs. Any one of its divisions could comprise an entire business. Why is this so?"

The Master replied, "Why do you ask such foolish questions? That company is large because it is large. If it only made hardware, nobody would buy it. If it only made software, nobody would use it. If it only maintained systems, people would treat it like a servant. But because it combines all of these things, people think it one of the gods! By not seeking to strive, it conquers without effort."


A Master Programmer passed a novice programmer one day. The Master noted the novice's preoccupation with a hand-held computer game.

"Excuse me," he said, "may I examine it?"

The novice bolted to attention and handed the device to the Master. "I see that the device claims to have three levels of play: Easy, Medium, and Hard," said the Master. "Yet every such device has another level of play, where the device seeks not to conquer the human, nor to be conquered by the human."

"Pray, Great Master," implored the novice, "how does one find this mysterious setting?"

The Master dropped the device to the ground and crushed it with his heel. Suddenly the novice was enlightened.


There was once a programmer who wrote software for personal computers. "Look at how well off I am here," he said to a mainframe programmer who came to visit. "I have my own operating system and file storage device. I do not have to share my resources with anyone. The software is self-consistent and easy-to-use. Why do you not quit your present job and join me here?"

The mainframe programmer then began to describe his system to his friend, saying, "The mainframe sits like an ancient Sage meditating in the midst of the Data Center. Its disk drives lie end-to-end like a great ocean of machinery. The software is as multifaceted as a diamond, and as convoluted as a primeval jungle. The programs, each unique, move through the system like a swift-flowing river. That is why I am happy where I am."

The personal computer programmer, upon hearing this, fell silent. But the two programmers remained friends until the end of their days.


Hardware met Software on the road to Changtse. Software said: "You are Yin and I am Yang. If we travel together, we will become famous and earn vast sums of money." And so they set forth together, thinking to conquer the world.

Presently, they met Firmware, who was dressed in tattered rags and hobbled along propped on a thorny stick. Firmware said to them: "The Tao lies beyond Yin and Yang. It is silent and still as a pool of water. It does not seek fame; therefore, nobody knows its presence. It does not seek fortune, for it is complete within itself. It exists beyond space and time."

Software and Hardware, ashamed, returned to their homes.

Book 9: Epilogue

Thus spake the Master Programmer:

"Time for you to leave."

For the first bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“See if they can do it again.”
For the second bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the third bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the fourth bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the fifth bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Ask - for - a - dump!
Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the sixth bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Reinstall the software,
Ask - for - a - dump!
Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the seventh bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Say they need an upgrade,
Reinstall the software,
Ask - for - a - dump!
Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the eighth bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Find a way around it,
Say they need an upgrade,
Reinstall the software,
Ask - for - a - dump!
Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the ninth bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Blame it on the hardware,
Find a way around it,
Say they need an upgrade,
Reinstall the software,
Ask - for - a - dump!
Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the tenth bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Change the documentation,
Blame it on the hardware,
Find a way around it,
Say they need an upgrade,
Reinstall the software,
Ask - for - a - dump!
Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the eleventh bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Say it's not supported,
Change the documentation,
Blame it on the hardware,
Find a way around it,
Say they need an upgrade,
Reinstall the software,
Ask - for - a - dump!
Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

For the twelfth bug of Christmas, my manager said to me:
“Tell them it's a feature,
Say it's not supported,
Change the documentation,
Blame it on the hardware,
Find a way around it,
Say they need an upgrade,
Reinstall the software,
Ask - for - a - dump!
Run with the debugger,
Try to reproduce it,
Ask them how they did it,
And see if they can do it again.”

(author unknown)

We don't know where to GOTO if we don't know where we've COME FROM. This linguistic innovation lives up to all expectations.

By R. Lawrence Clark*

From DATAMATION, December, 1973


Nearly six years after publication of Dijkstra's now-famous letter, [1] the subject of GOTO-less programming still stirs considerable controversy. Dijkstra and his supporters claim that the GOTO statement leads to difficulty in debugging, modifying, understanding and proving programs. GOTO advocates argues that this statement, used correctly, need not lead to problems, and that it provides a natural straightforward solution to common programming procedures.

Numerous solutions have been advanced in an attempt to resolve this debate. Nevertheless, despite the efforts of some of the foremost computer scientists, the battle continues to rage.

The author has developed a new language construct on which, he believes, both the pro- and the anti-GOTO factions can agree. This construct is called the COME FROM statement. Although usage of the COME FROM statement is independent of the linguistic environment, its use will be illustrated within the FORTRAN language.

Box 1

Unconditional COME FROM statement:

General Form


Where: xxxxx is the number of an executable statement in the same program unit.

This statement causes control to be transferred to the next statement (the statement immediately following the COME FROM upon completion of the designated statement.


               10 J=1
12 WRITE (6,40) J STOP
20 J=J+2
40 FORMAT (14)


In this example, J is set to 1 by statement 10. Statement 13 then causes control to be passed to statement 20, which sets J to 3. Statement 11 then causes control to be passed to statement 12, which writes the current value of J. The STOP statement then terminates the program.

Box 2

Conditional COME FROM statement:

General Form

IF (cond) COME FROM xxxxx

Where: cond is any logical expression and xxxxx is the number of an executable statement in the same program unit.

This statement causes control to be transferred to the next statement whenever the condition cond is true and the designated statement has just been completed.


               I = 1
IF (I .LT. 10) COME FROM 50
I = I+1
50 WRITE (6,60) I
60 FORMAT (14)


The COME FROM takes effect only while I is less than 10. Thus when I is equal to 10, the program continues past statement 50 and terminates. This is equivalent to the now-obsolete formulations:

               I = 1
30 I = I+1
WRITE (6,60) I
IF (I .LT. 10) GO TO 30
60 FORMAT (14)
DO 50 I = 2, 10
50 WRITE (6,60) i
60 FORMAT (14)

Note how much cleaner is the intent of the code containing the COME FROM construct.

Box 3

Computed COME FROM statement

General Form

COME FROM (x1, x2, x3....,xn), i

Where: Each x is the number of an executable statement in the same program unit and i is an integer variable.

This statement causes control to be transferred to the next statement whenever any of the following conditions holds:

        * statement x1 has just been executed and i is equal to 1
* statement x2 has just been executed and i is equal to 2
* statement x3 has just been executed and i is equal to 3
* statement xn has just been executed and i is equal to n

If, when statement xj is executed, i has any value other than j, this statement has no effect.


               DO 200 INDEX=1,10
10 X=1.
20 X=X*2.
30 X=X*3.
40 X=X*4.
50 X=X*5.
60 X=X*6.
70 X=X*7.
80 X=X*8.
90 X=X*9.
100 X=X*10.
COME FROM (10,20,30,40,50,60,70,80,90,100),INDEX
500 FORMAT (14,2X,F12.0)


This program illustrates the power of the computed COME FROM by providing a compact algorithm for computing factorials. On the first iteration (INDEX=1), as soon as statement 10 has been executed, control passes to the WRITE statement. As a more general case, consider the fifth iteration: X is set to 1, and the multiplied by 2., 3., 4. and 5. before control passes to the WRITE statement.

Box 4

Assign and assigned COME FROM statements

General Form

ASSIGN xxxxx TO m


COME FROM m, (x1,x2,x3,...,xn)

Where: xxxxx is the number of an executable statement. It must be one of the numbers x1,x2,x3...,xn. Each xx if the number of an executable statement in the same program unit. m is an integer variable which is assigned one of the statement numbers x1,x2,x3,...,xn.

The assigned COME FROM causes control to be transferred to the next statement upon completion of the statement whose number is currently assigned to m. This provides a convenient means of passing control to a common point from a variety of points in the program unit. The actual point from which control is to be passed can be selected under program control.


               DO 60 I=6,32
20 X=I*6+14
IF (X-20.) 10, 30, 50,
30 Y=2*X**2.-17.4
COME FROM JUMP, (40,20,30)
IF (Y-X) 20, 60, 50


This example is self-explanatory.

The author feels that the COME FROM will prove an invaluable contribution to the field of computer science. It is confidently predicted that this solution will be implemented in all future programming languages, and will be retrofitted into existing languages. Although it is clear that the COME FROM statement fulfills most of the requirements of the advocates of GOTO-less programming, it remains for the practitioners of automatic programming to evaluate just how much this construct contributes to the development of automatic proofs of program correctness. Having at last put to rest to GOTO controversy, we now may enter the era of the COME FROM conundrum.

* The author is indebted to G.F. Groner and N.A. Palley for a valuable discussion which took place in New Haven, Conn.

[1] E. W. Dijkstra, "GOTO Statement Considered Harmful," Letter of the Editor, Communications of the ACM, March 1968, pp. 147-148.

Mr. Clark is a programmer/analyst in the computation center of the Rand Corp. He has been active in the development of user-oriented, interactive computer systems, especailly graphics systems. He has a BS in mathematics from Pennsylvania State Univ.