The Legend of Ghoulian Brophy4th October 2023
As Halloween decorations start to be put up in various places around the world, many folks are setting their various online identities to “spooky” names like JenniFear or Lucyfer and it always reminds me of my favourite incident of unintended behaviour in software - specifically, the Legend of Ghoulian Brophy.
One year at Slack (the company) everyone got really into this meme of spooky names and loads of staff updated their internal display names on Slack (the product) to something spooky. We had a good laugh about it and thought nothing more of it.
But what of the unintended behaviour? Well, at that point in Slack the company’s life, your Slack profile was considered a system of record for a lot of internal systems. Including…our billing systems. For context, at Slack, you’re generally one of two customer types. Self-serve (so like you pay with a credit card), or managed (so you purchase Slack via a Salesperson, you get an invoice etc).
These invoices would be sent out via email and would include friendly notes along the lines of “For more information, contact your dedicated Slack account manager Jane Doe”.
But where was that name pulled from? You guessed it, the relevant Account Manager’s Slack profile. Which meant, for a few glorious days, Slack (a multibillion dollar company by then) was issuing invoices, for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars, encouraging customers to contact people like “Ghoulian Brophy”.
Stressful and embarrassing for our customer facing teams? No doubt. Utterly hilarious for the rest of us? You know it. So remember kids, make sure you know what your systems of record are, lest you become part of the legend of Ghoulian Brophy.