When Is A Kiss Not A Kiss

Fredrick Hudgin

© Copyright 2022 by Fredrick Hudgin

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

I taught my first data processing officer course at the Army Institute of Administration at Fort Harrison, Indiana, after being a second lieutenant for all six months. My class of 29 officers varied in rank from second lieutenant up to lieutenant colonel. We were a few days into their introduction to the COBOL computer programming language. Many of the young officers already had computer programming while in college. Those young men and women charged ahead with energy and easy success. The older officers struggled.

The army had decided all of its officers, especially combat officers, had to have a second, noncombat, specialty. The data processing officer course was the plum that everyone tried to get. The problem was those senior officers were no longer detail-oriented. They had grown very used to making decisions and then delegating the details to their staff. The detail-oriented parts of their brains had gotten a little rusty from un-use, and computer programming is very detail-oriented.

Those captains, majors, and the lieutenant colonel had trouble accepting that the lieutenants could excel at something while they, as older officers, could not. So they tried harder.

They were making all of the mistakes that new programmers make. Their solutions were too complicated. They would box themselves into a blind alley with their program logic and couldn’t figure out how to fix it. They should have corrected their design and then re-coded. What they did was add to what they had already written, making it more and more complicated. A bad design can never become a good program.

Finally, in frustration, I tried to get their attention by using an acronym I had learned in OBC (Officer Basic Course) three months earlier. The army has acronyms for everything, and if you use an acronym, your credibility goes up by at least 50%. People have made a career in the army by creating and using acronyms.

Class,” I announced to them proudly. “Remember the K.I.S.S. principle.”

They all paused from their efforts and looked up at me. I could see in their eyes they were ready for the new second lieutenant to say something dumb. K.I.S.S. meant, Keep It Simple Stupid.

I began my explanation of the phrase. “Keep it simple …” and I stopped as I looked into the eyes of the lieutenant colonel. I knew if I finished the phrase, I would be in deep do-do. There was no way a second lieutenant could get away with calling a collection of captains, majors, and a lieutenant colonel stupid.

The lieutenant colonel looked at me with amusement, clearly wondering how I would salvage my lesson. My pause grew longer and longer, and my face got redder and redder. The whole class became silent. Everyone in the room knew how the acronym ended and knew just as clearly that I had put myself into a spot.

Finally, a captain in the front row raised his hand and finished it for me. “Keep it simple, sir.”

He saved my butt.

I used that acronym in every class I taught after that, always drawing out the suspense of the last word before saying “sir” instead of “stupid.” It got a laugh every time. After those officers graduated and continued their military careers as data processing officers, I hoped they remembered getting KISSed in COBOL class and kept their solutions simple.

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