While the whole Charlie mess was going on, I was trying to get my team on the same sheet of music. I had laid the groundwork for the version control system, and needed to standardize the development process. To that end, I was holding weekly staff meetings where I would try to introduce some new technologies and development principles.
These meetings were less than successful. I tried to keep them interesting. I even started each one with a Dilbert cartoon or some funny video I had found on YouTube. But for the most part, my team could care less about best practices, standards, reusable code, documentation, or configuration management. And it showed.
Charlie would doodle. Aggressively. Now, I too used to have a serious doodling habit, but I have since learned to curb it in meetings. When a programmer really wants to show you they don’t give a fuck about what you have to say, they doodle furiously in your meetings. Heads down, elbows flying, hard-core doodling. Some even erase their doodles and make a lot of noise wiping away the eraser rubber. They never really told me how to deal with such insolence at Toastmasters.
Mr. Coffee would nod off. For as much coffee as that ass kisser would drink, he was shockingly narcoleptic.
The TAC would ask some questions. Hard to understand questions, but he at least was faking interest.
Burning Man would look scared and bewildered. He would ask questions about the most mundane of things. One time he asked “What is IIS?”
I thought he was kidding. “Uh, it’s, like, the Microsoft web server,” I answered calmly. I tried to be patient.
But I started to wonder if this guy was ever going to do more than hack out SQL scripts for the rest of his days. Seriously, if a developer just took a .NET class, and works in a Microsoft shop, and still does not know that IIS stands for Internet Information Services, he’s beyond clueless.
I realized that I was going to have to work with Burning Man to get him up to speed. We hadn’t really gotten off on the right foot. He had come by my cube once and I had told him some mocking story about this environmentally sensitive bimbo that I used to work with at SIAN, and how she would cut up the plastic six-pack rings before throwing them out.
“I do that,” he had said.
I had tried to laugh it off, but he had looked at me, sternly, like I was some kind of Neanderthal. Not that I’m not, but I don’t need to be reminded. What a militant tree-hugging fucker, I had thought.
But I was eager to mentor the poor, frightened hippie. There was a project that had got dumped on me by the network guys where I could use his help. We needed to get our web sites off of an old server and set them up on a new server. It was grunt work, mainly loading files and making configuration settings, but for a newbie, it was a daunting task. I wanted Charlie and Burning Man to work together, load the servers, configure them, and document the settings. Then I wanted them to set up a backup server, going off of nothing but the documentation. It was a chance for Burning Man to get up to speed with the web world, and a way for me to marginalize Charlie for a while.
After one of my staff meetings, I went by Burning Man’s cube. He worked in the dark side of floor, where the staff had barricaded themselves behind six foot high cubicle walls so that no one could easily see what they were doing. It created a sense of forbidding personal space that made it awkward for one to just drop in; you had to kind of work your way around their cubicle partition to get to their desk, and you could really freak someone out if you just barged in. There was an unwritten rule in that section of the floor – if you were about to walk into someone’s five foot square domain, you tapped on the partition wall.
“Do you have a second?” I asked, tapping on his cube. His purple mane peered out from behind the partition.
“Oh sure, no problem.”
I sat down in the extra chair he had in his cube. It was dark in there, even though he sat next to a window. The blinds were always closed. Something smelled funny, I couldn’t pin it down. Lotion? Stale soy?
He had stacks of CDs on his desk. He had yet to join the iPod revolution. I looked through the stack, hoping to find some common ground in our musical taste. I saw a Bowie disk. Bingo.
“Hey, you like Bowie?” I asked.
“Some. I don’t really listen to him that much.”
“Cool. I saw him in concert. Over twenty years ago.”
“Uh-huh.” He was wearing scuffed up Doc Martins that must have been ten years old. In my book, shoes that you wear to the mosh pit are not business casual. They just make one look like a dork. A troll. And his purple hair that he had pinned in a bun behind his head was absurd. I had run into him a couple of times in the men’s room, and he was always in front of the mirror, doing something with his hair.
I tried not to think about his appearance. “Yeah, he was excellent.”
This wasn’t going well. I decided to get down to business. “I’ve got a project that I wanted to talk to you about.”
I told him about the server migration.
“Uh-huh,” he responded.
“Yeah, so if you are interested, I think it would be a good opportunity to learn some new skills. But don’t feel like you have to do it. It’s your call.”
“No, sure, I’ll do it.”
“Great. So you have some vacation coming up?” I had just signed off on his request.
“Uh-huh.” He crossed his legs delicately, and perched his elbow on his knee. He was resting his chin on his palm, like a woman. A pale-skinned, purple-haired woman.
“So, where are you headed?” I asked.
He hesitated. “Uh, have you heard of, uh…Burning Man?” He was almost whispering.
I wanted to appear hip, in the know. In truth, I knew something about Burning Man; at least enough to know that it was little more than a bunch of burn-outs sitting in a dry-eyed Nevada lake bed for a week, tripping and acting “communal.” Fucking hippies.
“Oh, yeah, I know all about it. It’s like some performance art festival thing in Nevada.”
“Well, it’s a lot of things,” he said smugly. What a damn counter-culture snob, I thought.
He went on to tell me what a great experience it was. He had been going for years. “It’s like, uh, you’ll be walking around, and some guy will come out of his tent, and give you a ham sandwich. For free. Money is strictly taboo.”
“Yeah, it’s all barter. They call it gifting. And the art, the music, it’s awesome. I mean, it’s like a life changing event.” He was getting so intensely serious, like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now when he was talking about god-like Colonel Kurtz. “Like, you survive a week out there, and you’re, uh, just so different than before.”
“Uh-huh. I can imagine.” I faked being impressed. He the spent the next 10 minutes describing a huge cube someone made of light bulbs and the bulbs would go on and off in random patterns, like some kind of 3-D analog screen saver.
Life changing event? Walking around half-naked, or totally naked, for seven days, exchanging mushrooms for ham sandwiches? This was a life-changing event for him?
I mean, we did have some common ground. When I was his age, I too was walking around the desert. Except it was the fucking Kuwaiti desert, and that desert was in the middle of a war zone, and I had a hundred pound pack on my back, and if I wasn’t careful, I could have stepped on a cluster bomb fragment and blown my goddamn toe off . That, you self-absorbed, hyper-sensitive hippie, is a fucking life-changing event, I wanted to say to him. Pussy.
I got up. “Ok, so we’ll get started on that server project when you get back. Sound good?”
“Ok, cool. Enjoy your vacation.”