Monthly Archives: September 2015

Remembering the past no guarantee of not repeating it

In February of 1992, Apple Computer flew me from Pittsburgh to California and put me up at the Cupertino Inn for a series of job interviews over a couple of days. I extended my stay in order to visit a few other companies too.

One of the companies on my list was a tiny e-mail startup in San Rafael called Z-Code. I was planning to visit them in the afternoon after spending the morning at a prominent computer magazine, interviewing for an editorial position. That visit went very well, and so had the interviews at Apple; and having driven from Cupertino to San Francisco for that interview, I now had a sense for how long the return drive would be, and how much farther out of the way a visit to Z-Code would take me.

If I hadn’t been such a Star Wars nerd I might have skipped it altogether. But I knew that Skywalker Ranch and Industrial Light and Magic were in San Rafael somewhere and I harbored a secret hope of spotting them as I navigated to my Z-Code visit. I visited Z-Code and, to my surprise, found that opportunity more compelling than the ones at Apple and at the magazine. Two months later I was living in California and working at Z-Code and the rest is history.

Now, almost a quarter century later, I’ve had a very similar experience. I interviewed successfully at a number of well-known medium-to-large-sized companies over the past several weeks but found a tiny startup – that I had almost dismissed, at first, as not worth my time – to be the most compelling. Tomorrow I begin at Chain.com.

Shut your mug

At Google (where I no longer work, as of about a month ago) there was a thriving culture of discussion on internal mailing lists covering every topic from politics to parenting to the latest developments in the high-tech industry. Certain topics, and certain modes of expression, were forbidden by Google’s legal team for fear of some opposing lawyer making expensive hay out of a Googler’s utterance, in context or out, in the discovery phase of the lawsuits that came Google’s way almost daily. An exuberant peon could write “Feature [X] is going to crush competitor [Y]!” and suddenly Google could be looking at a serious antitrust complaint, for instance. (For more on how companies can be on the hook for the innocent utterances of its employees, see Jamie Zawinski’s classic article about the “bad-attitude” and “really-bad-attitude” mailing lists at Netscape.)

All Googlers were required to take a training course annually to reinforce the rules surrounding internal online communication, but passion, arrogance, and ignorance could sometimes undermine that training, and occasionally someone would write something inadvisable.

At times like these, a member of Google’s legal team named Doug – who seemed to do little else but read internal discussion groups – would swoop into the thread and respectfully remind everyone to “communicate with care.” On one such occasion, his remarks transformed the thread into one all about him and his polite but firm reminders. When a couple of folks contributed short poems on the topic, I composed and posted this (1 May 2012).

Doug I am!
I am Doug!
Do you like to shut your mug?

I do not like to shut my mug.
I do not like to, I-am-Doug.

Would you, could you, if we’re sued?
Could you, would you, if we’re screwed?

I would not, could not, if we’re sued.
I could not, would not, if we’re screwed.

Will you, will you, on your blog?
Will you, will you, lest we flog?

I will not, will not, on my blog.
I will not, will not, lest you flog.

Would you like to in the press?
Try it, try! Don’t make a mess.

I would not like to in the press.
I do not think I’ll make a mess.

Could you shut your mug in tweets,
In Facebook posts, and in the streets?

I could not shut it in the streets!
Not in my posts and not my tweets!
I do not think I’ll make a mess
And will not shut it in the press
Not on my blog
Not lest you flog
Not if we’re sued
Not if we’re screwed
I do not like to shut my mug!
I do not like to, I-am-Doug!

You do not like it, so you say
Try it, try it, and you may

Saaay…
I do now like to shut my mug!
I do so like it, I-am-Doug!
And I will shut it in the press
And I will never make a mess!
And I will shut it in my tweets
In Facebook posts, and in the streets,
And if we’re sued
And if we’re screwed
And on my blog
No need to flog
I do so like to shut my mug!
Thank you, thank you, I-am-Doug!