Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dutch Courage:

I’ve waited many, many years to tell this story. There’s no statute of limitations involved, but I have to assume that people I work with can read my blog, and this story could, let’s say, put a certain damper on opportunities.

I was working as a contract programmer at a fairly large company. My boss, Bob (I don’t even remember his actual name) called me in to help him prepare for a status meeting (with Marketing and his own superiors). His project was going badly. We were way over-budget and behind schedule, and none of us programmers knew when our code was going to be bug-free. I had inherited a lot of code written by another programmer, and discovering what he had omitted or missed was a wild, unpredictable adventure.

We talked awhile about where we were, and then he sent me on my way. His office was set back in a sort of suite that he inhabited by himself. I was a good fifteen feet away from him, having walked down the entryway, when I let myself out. I turned back to look at him, just in time to see him finish taking a swig from a bottle and stashing it back in his desk.

Oh, my God. Was I working for a guy who needed a slug of alcohol to face a tough meeting? (It was morning, by the way.) I really needed to know! As a consultant, I always tried to stretch the work I was hired for into new and longer assignments. I tried to develop good working relationships, and I usually supported my boss in every way, hoping that he would be strong enough to keep me around for more work. I wondered if, at this company, I was backing the wrong horse.

It was going to be easy – but risky – to find out. I knew exactly where he had put the bottle. I just needed to get into his desk to see what it was; after all, my eyes might have played tricks on me. But I had to try to get into his desk when he was not at work; when his desk was unlocked; when nobody would see.

If someone caught me in his office and wondered why I was there, I could cover myself. I typed up a little generic note about a programming problem; I would explain I had gone to his office to leave a note on his desk. As for the rest of my risk, well, it was risky.

I often worked late because we were behind schedule. About ten days later, Bob went home (I was pretty sure) without locking his office. I worked very late, waiting until there were few people, few prying eyes, still in the building. I prayed that a security guard would not come by and lock Bob’s office for him. Finally, all seemed quiet, and I ducked into his office.

I had no alibi if someone saw me open his desk, and as I’ve already indicated, you could see that drawer being opened from the entryway. I yanked on it, hoping his desk was unlocked. The drawer flew open. I brushed a few file folders out of the way, and there it was: a big bottle of Listerine.

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