A few years ago – make that quite a few, actually – Sophos was a lot smaller than it is now.
Recruitment was different too – back then we weren’t so much writing cybersecurity software as helping to invent the entire field of anti-malware research.
One of the paradoxical things that’s important in a small team is that you need people who are specialists but also generalists; focused programmers who can also think and work laterally when needed.
So, in the same sort of way that Bletchley Park recruited cryptographers by looking for chess players, crossword solvers, musicians and the like and then letting them loose to invent the needed cryptographic techniques…
…we used to ask prospective coders to write a limerick.
It didn’t matter if you didn’t know what a limerick was, or were no good at finding words that rhymed – what mattered was how you reacted to the idea of being asked to do something a bit out of the ordinary in the middle of an interview.
Could the problem be reorganised to make it easier to solve – would iambic pentameters be OK instead?
What was most important – meaning, metre, rhyme or wit – and how could these factors be traded off?
Would a program that could write limericks be considered a solution, even if its first output would only appear after the interview was complete?
How do you test a limerick? Can two people write a better poem than one? How do you even judge a limerick?
Most of all, we wanted to know – were you willing to throw yourself at an unexpected problem and have fun trying to solve it at the same time?
In those days, the limericks all had to start with the line There was a young lady called Prue, like this:
There was a young lady called Prue Whose instruction decoder was skew. Her PUSHes were POPs And her POPs were NO-OPs, So she booted, and started anew.
Your mission for SysAdmin Day
As a bit of retrospective fun for #SysAdminDay, we’re inviting you to submit your very own limerick with the specific aim of bringing a smile to a sysadmin’s dial.
You can start it off however you like, so you don’t need to mention Prue unless you want to.
Here are some samples to get you going:
I am truly delighted to say That it’s annual SysAdmin Day. The folk in IT Really do it for me, Keeping malware and phishing away.
Well, I clicked on a dubious link, And my laptop went straight on the blink. But in one mighty bound. A sysadmin came round - I think I should buy them a drink.
If their patience has worn somewhat thin Give sysadmins a bit of a grin You’ll find T-shirts and more In our cool online store Shop dot Sophos dot Com FTW.
See what you can do!
What you need to know
Remember than the rhyme needs to go AABBA; the metre needs to follow the pattern in the examples above – try reading them aloud to get a feel for how the rhythm goes; and the mood needs to be positive and upbeat.
Post them as comments and let’s make some sysadmins laugh.
(If you are a sysadmin, we’ll allow you to write from the other side, as it were – you may bemoan your fate, and even be a little bit critical of your users – but we still want the world to be a happier place when we’ve finished reading your verse.)
Oh, just to be clear: the editor’s decision, as they say, is final, and there are no formal prizes.
Happiness is its own reward, etc. [No more truisms, thanks – Ed.]