Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I drove the rental car gingerly over a glaze of wet snow. Heaters ablaze. We were on an anonymous patch of sprawl in the Pacific Northwest, heading towards a given sector of the corporate campus at the prescribed time. Coworkers in a car. We pulled in to a driveway that wound between parking lots and schoolish buildings and searched for signs indicating the alphabetical and numerical designation of our destination. We finally parked in a multistory covered garage and walked up the little hill to the main building. Purple banners hung from lamp poles celebrating our product's umbrella product, itself a minor fiefdom in the company's Platform Products and Services division.

We had a meeting with Crawford Quick, the lead Program Manager for our work group. We found him alone at the head of a conference room table, right leg fidgeting spasmodically. Crawford was a tall and powerful man, broad-shouldered, borderline gigantic. He had a Frankenstein jaw, enormous hands. Crawford came from the other side of the world.

"Sit dan, gah-eeze," he commanded. A vast spreadsheet was projected on the screen. The image must have been six or seven feet wide, yet the cells in the table were vexingly small, each containing a datapoint whose near illegibility contributed to an impression of dubious plausibility. Large sections of the sheet were painted green, yellow or red.

"Thee-iss," he explained, "is a proh-ject plen!"

We followed his cursor dutifully as he described the ins and outs. He told us he sets aside an hour every Friday morning to compile the plan into a report for his boss and ours, the elusive Alan Jones.

"Ah-ee till pay-pull, den't boh-ther mah-ee. Ah-ee tun uff the phen. Nah mah-tings. Nah nithing," he said. I could imagine Alan every Friday at about 11 am. Closing his eyes.

He showed us a PowerPoint presentation on the functions and duties of the Program Manager. One slide featured the letters "PM" inside a circle in the middle, with arrows radiating out of it to Sales Account Managers, Development Leads, Test Leads, Consulting Services and the Product Unit Manager. Crawford stirred his cursor over the P and M.

"Thee-iss," he declared, "is mah-ee."

When it was over, Crawford led us down the hall to show us something. He smiled at us over his enormous shoulder as we walked. The rhythm of drab white wall and office door was suddenly interrupted by a brass plaque and a regal entrance of dark wood: double doors inset within an elegant, decorative molding and beneath an ostentatious lintel, guarded on either side by potted trees. Crawford stopped short, seemingly afraid to break the threshold's scope.

He turned to us with a mad smile. "Thet's Jah-eeh Wah-zee's oh-fiss, gah-eeze!" he whispered.

Jay Wizey was the Chief Software Architect of the entire company. Crawford turned on his heels, satisfied, and we walked back up the hall.