“That’s three P-1 bugs this week, Bill.”
“Yes sir, I know.”
“All the managers had a meeting about it this morning. So . . . how do you want to do this? Go the HR route, or –”
“I’ll take the Yard.”
“I talked it over with my family last night. Yes, I’m sure.”
“Right. Just between you and me, I’m happy you made that choice.”
“I don’t want to let the team down, with this final push. And all.”
“Okay, I’ll call security.”
HugeSoft’s pillory is located on the main campus to one side of the famous soccer field, near the center line, on a little mound raised up and covered with grass. It is easily visible and strategic to one of the company’s largest cafeterias. There are no trees, and there is usually no shade until late afternoon. It is a point of debate whether a day on the mound is easier in warm weather, or during one of the frequent rainy days in the area where HugeSoft is located. Three posts are set in a line, about ten feet apart. Usually only one or two are occupied. During heavy ship cycles there are waiting lists.
You’re tied up most of the day. The stint starts around 8am. HR meticulously video tapes the entire ordeal, from the traditional walk past the CEO’s office to the finishing-up dunking ceremony in the fountains. Anyone can say a safe word and be released immediately, no questions asked. Only half a dozen people have done this. People are led to a post and loosely tied to it; water is at hand, and on hot days sun-screen is applied. If it gets over 80, it’s over. It’s not the Middle Ages or early Colonial America, it’s no picnic, but it’s also not a joke.
Bob Kneeth is a Vice President. Sundar V. is a high-level engineer. Both of them have spent a day out in The Yard.
“You can easily have a bad month,” says Kneeth, “Everybody does now and then. You break the build a couple of times because you tried a shortcut and it backfired. Or you’re not getting enough sleep; that happens a lot. Then your boss and HR show up in your cubical, and frankly it’s kind of a relief.”
Sundar: “It’s really catharsis. If they wanted to get rid of you, they’d just fire your ass, and frankly that’d be a lot easier and cheaper. This tells the rest of company, ‘These guys, they fucked up. But they’re worth saving. Pay attention to what you do, because quality matters.'”
Kneeth (laughing): “The only really bad time is around lunch, when they throw stuff at you. HR’s there to make sure you don’t get hurt, and there are plenty of foam toys, but they can throw food at you if they want to.”
Sundar: “Mexican day is the worst.”
Kneeth: “Some people have allergies, and there are signs saying what you can toss.”
Sundar: “Yeah. I got off easy, because I’m vegan. One of my buddies is Jewish, and no one knew what the devil to toss at him because HR decided bagels were too hard.”
In the engineering groups it is traditional to bring a change of clothes and pull an all-nighter after spending the day on the Yard. In the morning, HR comes by and all records of the event are erased. It didn’t happen.
“It’s both funny and not funny at all,” says an anonymous engineer. “It’s a serious quality thing, and if you’ve been out there more than twice you’re probably going to be out on the street after that. But everyone makes mistakes, and this is a way of acknowledging that we’re human, and that even serious mistakes can be forgiven.”