They don't call it intelligence for nothing

They don't call it intelligence for nothing


5 min read

The stack — C#, Oracle

The Experience — 4 Years

The Job — The intelligence corps

It's my time to serve

This may be doxing myself a little, but where I live there is a mandatory military service, for 3 f%$#ing years. Luckily for me, I had some skills, computer skills. It works here like this, you go do a lot of tests, intelligence tests, aptitude tests, physical tests, and at the end you get stationed somewhere (usually NOT where you want to be). I was in the running for a few different positions, and then one day out of the blue, I got a phone call. Come now to interview for a new position, nothing that I ever heard of, well of course I went. They were looking for someone with programming experience that they didn't need to send to the military academy to learn, and I fit the bill…

One thing led to another, and within the week I found myself in basic training on my way to the intelligence corps, as a developer in a small unit. After a few weeks of basic training (even us developers go through boot camp), I arrived at my unit. This is where I found out that just me and 1 other guy are the only people in the unit that can “speak computer”, and no I don't just mean program. We were in charge of the whole system there, from the network, to the servers, and of course the software.

How to learn C# in 3 easy steps

  1. Get enlisted to the military, to a plush desk job as a programmer.
  2. Be 1 of 2 people in charge of the whole system.
  3. Never forget that if you don't get on top of things within a few months, they will ship you out to somewhere much worse.

Easy right?

But in all seriousness, I had to teach myself C# on the job. At least I had the running code, and the coveted PC on the internet. You see in the intelligence corps, and probably most military installations, no one has internet access on their PC. Well technically neither did I, but what I did have was access to the only PC (that was air gapped from the network) which had internet access.

By this time of my life (luckily for me), google was a thing already, and there were more and more resources online about programming. Even more for things like C#, because it was Microsoft's. But (I hate it that there is always a “but”)… The computer in question is air gapped, so no copy paste.

Into the deep end

This was the first time I truly worked with a DB (I don't really count MS Access). It was my first time, and they threw me into the deep end (without floats). Our systems used Oracle, till this day I think it's an amazing DB, but it's a beast. Our system was complex, and today, I would have never built it this way (I didn't build it back then either, the system was operational when I got there).

I know I'm going to spark some debate about this, but I dont think business logic is supposed to be in stored procedures (there I said it). This architecture caused some very weird side effects, for example, releasing versions requiring simultaneous release of new stored procedures, or updates to old ones. Triggers that can cause chain reactions of events, and you can't quite see them in any IDE.

If that wasn't bad enough, we didn't really have a server side. The C# was a desktop app, installed via group policy to all PCs on the network. The server was basically the stored procedures in Oracle. So things like creating thread pools to handle large tasks, or locks on editing were all out of the question.

This is where I started thinking about how code should be built, and it was the start of the path to architecture. Even if it still took a few years to find out what I should do, at least now, I know what I shouldn't. It was an important realization, one that I have since seen on some of the juniors I mentored. Writing code without bugs is important, but writing code in a maintainable way, is just as important.

My partner in crime

About half way through my service, the other guy I was with finished his tour. It was up to me to find a replacement. I had access to candidates (and it's not like they had CVs, they are all 18 year old fresh out of high school), I gave them tests to do, asked them questions. Remember back then I couldn't send them anything online, all by phone, or in person.

After a few weeks, and at least 50 candidates, I had found him, my new partner. Again we couldn't send him to learn in any course, so I had to find someone with the knowhow from home. Additionally even after I selected him, it took months for him to get to me. He had to get security clearance, and go through boot camp. So months later he was finally here, I would like to introduce you to a new character (that will have a recurring role in the articles to come), my business partner (and best friend).

Like any relationship it was rocky at first. I won't go into the details, but what I can say is that we went through a lot together. Things that built our relationship strong. Little did I know (spoilers) that we would be working together till this day (over 16 years).

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