A bird on the wall …

It was mid-afternoon and someone was poking me. “Hey, are you awake?” they whispered. I blinked and raised my chin.

“Huh?”

“Ralph wants to know what database we’ve chosen. What database did we choose?”

“Grughnk. Guhbbah.” I’d nearly fallen asleep in the marathon marketing meeting again. “Um, we decided on, um, Squorical.”

“What?”

“Orasqueakle Server. Yeah, that was it.”

“Oh God.”

Many eyes were on me. Many of the eyes had suits and ties attached to them, and they wore expectant looks. I put down the notebook I’d been doodling satanic cartoons in and lurched from my chair. “Sorry, I’ve got to –” I said, and waved generally toward the door. (“Oraskwackle? Really?”)

Ralph the Marketing Guy said, “Great idea. Ten minute bio-break everyone!” He was chipper and ready for another hour at least. I wanted to throw him off our balcony.

We’d been in that meeting room for nearly two hours, discussing nonsense and useless stuff (along the lines of Douglas Adams: “Okay, if you’re so smart, YOU tell us what color the database tables should be!”) and I needed to be doing designing and coding rather than listening to things that made my shit itch. It was the third multi-hour marathon meeting with Marketing that week, and I was nearly at the end of my rope. One of the of the topics under discussion was why engineering was behind schedule.

—-

Our little group of programmers often walked to lunch. I’m not sure where we went the next day; it might have been to the borderline not-very-good chinese place down the hill that had wonderful mis-spellings on its menu (my favorite dish was Prok Noddles), or it might have been the Insanely Hot chinese place that was in an old IHOP A-frame building (they had a great spicy soup that would spray a perfect Gaussian distribution of hot pepper oil on the paper tablecloth as you ate from the bowl). All I remember for sure is that on the return walk we passed the shops on the street as we always did, but for some reason I paused just outside the clock shop, which I’d never really paid attention to before.

A spark of evil flared in my head. “You guys go on, I’m going in here.” I got a couple of strange looks, but nobody followed me in. I spent about a hundred dollars.

—-

The next morning the marathon meeting started on time, but there was a new attendee. I had nailed it to the wall. It said “Cuckoo!” ten times.

“What is that?” one of the marketeers asked. [This question pretty much defines most marketing for me, by the way].

“Just a reminder,” I said with slight smile and a tone that implied it was no big deal. (I’d talked with our CEO about it earlier and he had said okay, but I think I was going to do it anyway).

The rest of the usual attendees filtered in and the meeting started. The clock said “Bong!” at fifteen minutes past the hour, which got a couple of raised eyebrows, and it bonged again on the half hour and a quarter-to. At 10:59 it made a “brrrr-zup!” sound, as if it was getting ready for some physical effort, then at 11:00 the bird popped out, interrupting a PowerPoint presentation that I’ll never be able to recall, and went “CUCKOO! CUCKOO!” about a million times. Well, only eleven, but it certainly felt like a long, long time. The guy who had been talking had trouble remembering what he’d been saying. Everyone else had been expecting the display, but the speaker, one of our serial meeting-stretchers, had been lost in his own blather.

The meeting broke early that day.

The next day, too.

The hours we spent in that room no longer passed anonymously. The clock’s smaller noises, as it prepared to say “Bong”, and its more dramatic preparations for each hour’s Big Show were now part of the agenda. We knew time was passing. The meetings did become shorter. We had an interesting time explaining the clock to customers (for this was a small company with only a couple of meeting rooms), but in general people from outside understood, and often laughed in approval.

The clock was a relatively cheap model that had to be wound every day. I usually got in to work pretty early and wound it, but occasionally I forgot to, or worked remotely and didn’t get to the office at all. Somehow the clock never ran down. It turned out that our office manager was winding it, and occasionally our CEO would wind it, too.

I knew I’d gotten the message across when one of the marketing guys looked up at the bird (which had just announced 3PM) and said, “I hate that thing.” And I smiled, and the meeting ended soon after, and I got up and left the room and went to my keyboard and wrote some more code.

[I left that start-up a few months later. I still have the clock.]

Keeping sharp

A quick story (and a true one, I promise).

The Team is at lunch. Say, ten or twelve software engineers sitting at a high table in the Commons at Microsoft, eating sandwiches and chips and soup and so forth. Oh, and there’s a new guy, fresh out of college.

“The thing is,” says Phil to the FNG, “You really have to be prepared in meetings. They might ambush you and want a schedule, or ask when that really hard bug is going to be fixed, or get you to commit to working on some scrum metrics or something, and you have to be ready.”

And with that, he takes out his rather large Kershaw knife, flicks the blade open and bangs it down on the table.

And without hesitation, about six of us take our own knives out, flip them open, and bang them on the table, too. They’re pointy.

“You have to be ready.”

I’ve not seen someone’s eyes that large at lunch, before or since.