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8/6/2003
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Programming--Simple Enough For An Ape?

From the too-weird-too-be-true file: A Midwestern firm says it has trained apes to do some programming tasks.

The latest worry keeping IT workers awake at night isn't a virus, a Windows bug, or a malevolent hacker. It's the prospect of coming into work and finding a chimp in your cubicle.

As absurd as it sounds, that's the goal of Primate Programming Inc., a new company dedicated to the "advancement and gainful employment of nonhuman great apes within the United States information technology sector." The business is offering gorillas, bonobos, and other apes to businesses as a low-paid alternative to expensive programmers.

Mark Bajek, president and CEO of Primate Programming, says he was inspired to start the business after reading academic studies discussing how apes can learn language and perform complex tasks. Bajek had a flash of inspiration, hooked up with Dan Mezick, president of New Technology Solutions, a company that trains computer programmers, and the endeavor was born.

According to Bajek, primates are ideal for routine tasks such as running scripts, performing maintenance, and writing reports.

For just 93 cents per hour, a company can hire Mitch, a hardworking chimpanzee with recent JavaServer Pages training and a typing speed of 25 words per minute. For 91 cents per hour, there's Pebbles, an orangutan with extensive domain experience in banking and brokerage apps.

The idea might sound like just a clever satire of corporate penny-pinching, outsourcing trends, and inane management decisions. But Bajek says the enterprise is on the up and up.

And customers are lining up to employ a simian workforce, Bajek says. Businesses today have been working to find cost savings any way they can, including layoffs and by outsourcing IT jobs overseas. "We're taking that whole thing to DefCon 5," Bajek says. "Corporations want to reduce their IT costs, in some cases to over 100%."

If successful, the hairy scheme might even open the door to cost savings in other parts of a business. Could primate personnel excel at management and sales jobs? "There's no doubt, considering their territorial behavior," Bajek says.

The Rest Of The Story

OK, so we're just monkeying around with this story. Primate Programming is, in fact, a parody created by Dan Mezick, president of IT consulting and training company New Technology Solutions.

Mezick says he first played with the idea of primates taking over for programmers in a short satirical article he included in an E-mail to customers. Response to the parody was far greater than the straight articles he'd penned, so he set to work building an entire Web site to elaborate the gag.

The Primate Programming home page receives more than 100,000 visitors a day, and Mezick gets scores of phone calls and E-mails about it.

He says he's not sure why the joke has hit such a nerve, and he believes it appeals to technology workers on many levels. But it's likely the attraction has something to do with anxiety over job losses and overseas outsourcing.

In fact, Mezick says, about a third of the calls and E-mails he gets are from people who don't get the joke--including businesses that are actually considering some orangutan outsourcing. "One company asked me what tasks could they be able to perform and when," he says.

Mezick says he'll maintain the site as a running hoax, responding to inquiries as "Mark Bajek" and making the humor more elaborate as more people fall for the prank or add their own new perspective. "It's a new form of humor, of interactive satire," he says. "You don't joke with it, it jokes with you."

To join in the gag, visit Primate Programming Inc: The Evolution of Java and .Net Training.

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